Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reaons We're Larger Than Life (Not Just Our Sparkling Personalities)

Biologically speaking, humans can only eat approximately 1500 pounds of food each year, which means the food industry growth rate is about 1% each year. The 1% being the annual growth rate of the American population. I know I were in charge of a giant corporation, I wouldn't be happy with those numbers, and of course the food industry and those with an interest in such things aren't happy. So how do you make people eat more food than is desired or, in some cases, physically capable?

There are many reasons for obesity in this country, and everyone has their own theories. We've become more sedentary in our ways. Gym classes have been cut, and kids prefer to stay indoors and play video games. We're a richer nation and can afford to eat bigger and better. We have many poor citizens who can't afford healthy foods.

While these are all generally true, there's one thing that everyone overlooks. Since the late 1970s, when the farm programs were dismantled and food products became a huge hit, we're consuming an average of 200 more calories each day. Our sugar consumption (combining all sugars: cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, etc) has climbed from 128 pounds per person to 158 pounds per person. That's going to cause some weight gain.

Another problem: Processed foods are much more calorie dense and contain many extra fats and sugars. While fruit is very sweet, there isn't anything in nature that rivals the amount of sugar in a soda. Same with the amount of fat in a chicken nugget.

Another cause of the extra calories we're consuming daily? Supersizing. I suppose you could say the first documented instance of supersizing was in 1980 when Coca-Cola switched from sugar to HFCS because the corn product was cheaper. Instead of raising prices, they increased the size. McDonald's gets the most credit, though, because in 1993, executive David Wallerstein discovered that people are still hungry when they finish their meal, based on the fact that most people go digging for little bits of fries at the bottom of their bags (or popcorn, as he previously worked for a movie theater), but no one would purchase 2 orders of fries. But they would order a large one. And a giant one. They would definitely not stop when they were full.

When I was younger I could occasionally talk my parents into bringing me to McDonald's and, because I was too old for the kid's meal, I would order a regular meal. Of course I got it supersized. And of course I tried to stuff everything in my body. I always felt disappointed when I had food leftover. Somehow, I was not a fat kid.

I'm not alone in this. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look around and see people, already completely full at restaurants serving them giant platters of food, continue to stuff their face. Though of course, scientists did study it and found that when given large portions were presented, people ate 30% more.

I'm not sure, but I've never seen anything official regarding an unusual feeling I experienced when I cut back my food portions (though I've heard others mention this before), which was this: Even after I ascertained that I was no longer full, I still wanted to eat. I still wanted to chew. It was completely mental, and looking back, I'm not sure how I managed to get over those initial few tortuous weeks.

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