I recently shared this article on Twitter and forwarded it to my coaches at my gym, (because I know they love this kind of thing too.):
Despite the click-baity title, the article is incredibly interesting. The author saw a photo of Brighton Beach from 1976. He was surprised by how skinny everyone looked. (Click on the article above to see the photo.) After sharing it on social media, he got all of the explanations you might expect. And then he researched them – and found out they were all wrong.
I would have assumed it is because we are all eating more. Isn’t that what we have been told over and over? That portions today are larger than they were in the past? But according to his research, that doesn’t pan out:
So here’s the first big surprise: we ate more in 1976. According to government figures, we currently consume an average of 2,130 kilocalories a day, a figure that appears to include sweets and alcohol. But in 1976, we consumed 2,280 kcal excluding alcohol and sweets, or 2,590 kcal when they’re included. I have found no reason to disbelieve the figures.
It’s surprising – but not. My gym offers an eating plan for the members. I have done it myself. Over and over again I hear the same things from people, “I am eating WAY more food than I usually do – and I am losing weight!” The nutritional coaching program I am completing has a philosophy of not having people cut food out of their diets. Instead, they recommend adding more – more healthy, whole foods. Add more vegetables to your plate, more lean protein at every meal, and so on.
Here’s what the article had to say about it:
So what has happened? The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.
I’m not going to get into the whole “sugar addiction” debate. But sugar has calories, and when we eat more calories than we burn, we gain weight. There are other factors, of course, (and yes, it is possible to overeat “healthy” food too), but the point is, we have had a major change in how food is made, packaged and sold, and it happened within my lifetime.
Food has been engineered. I don’t mean GMOs, I mean profit savvy companies have hired food scientists to make their products more palatable, shelf stable and less expensive. How do they do it? They strip the nutrients from the food and replace them with chemicals. They know what combinations of flavors we crave, the textures, the sights, and smells. They make food that can sit on a shelf for months. And by removing nutrients, it no longer satiates. We want more… and more.
I had a rather vivid experience with this not long ago. I went to watch some friends competing in a weightlifting meet. It was about 40ish minutes away. The last time I was at this venue, they had a couple companies in offering really delicious wraps and salads for the attendees and competitors. So, anticipating they would be there again (and remembering the awesome chicken spinach wrap I had had,) I didn’t pack a dinner. It was a mistake – there was no food there at all. I don’t know if they just weren’t there this time or if my timing was off, but in either case, there was nothing to be had.
By the time I left, I was famished and I had a long drive ahead. In between the venue and the expressway entrance was an Arby’s. I don’t eat fast food anymore, I began boycotting it in my early 20s. (That’s a story for another post.) But, back in the day, I did love some Arby’s. So, I thought, “What the heck?” and ordered my old favorite – a beef and cheddar and a side of potato cakes. Their potato cakes are so dang good, it’s crazy. I ate it on my way home. It tasted good – like I remembered – and I even tried to make sure I enjoyed it since it had been a long time since the last time I had Arby’s. But I got done and thought, “I am not satisfied at all.” I was still hungry! It should have been plenty of food, I ate it slowly, so my body had plenty of time to realize I had fed it. And that’s when I started thinking about this concept – companies making food that doesn’t quite satisfy. It would be easy for me to say that the next time I went through a drive-through I would need two sandwiches, and maybe a large order of the potato cakes.
I don’t mean to pick on Arby’s – as far as fast food places go, I think they are better than most. This was just the experience that I had. But I guarantee if I had made my own roast beef sandwich, I wouldn’t have been hungry afterward. This exemplified the idea to me that our food itself is changing. We are being manipulated.
Which means, look at your labels. Know what is in your food. Or better yet, choose mostly foods that don’t have labels at all.