Everything that used to be a sin is now a disease - Bill Maher
Recently the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease. According to the New York Times, it overrode the recommendation of the committee which had been appointed to study the matter.
I am not sure where I fall on this issue. There is no question that obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is a genuine problem. It is a growing problem, if you will. There is no question that personal lifestyle choices are at play. You can choose whether or not to put all that crap into your mouth and swallow it. You can just say no, and say it without ruining your enjoyment of food.
You can also work it off.
Forget fat. Forget sugar in its numerous guises. Forget Atkins or South Beach or Pritikin or Scarsdale. Paleo, Cro-mag or Andorian – it’s all a smokescreen. In the end it is all about math. GIGO – Garbage In Garbage Out. A calorie is all that matters. A unit of energy taken in needs to be expended or that magnificent machine known as your body stores it for future use. For long term storage it is kept as fat. You want to get rid of it? Move. Burn off what you take in and you don’t store it.
It’s not that easy.
Still, I am certain that there is more to it than just individual decision making and sedentary lifestyle. Consider alcohol and tobacco. Both begin by choice and continue with a certain amount of personal volition. No one forces you to inhale that first time or, outside of religious ritual, compels you to take the first drink. They are both enjoyable.
They both contain addictive substances.
I lack the expertise to tell you why alcoholism is a disease and cigarette smoking is not. In a way it seems backwards. Alcohol can be consumed in ways that not only are not harmful, but possibly beneficial. A cigarette is just a coffin nail.
I must admit that part of my concern with this issue is the misuse of words. I take my words very seriously. The use of the word “war”, for instance, for things that do not involve armies and pitched battles, has led us to accept a war footing in situations where it should not apply. I worry that the same thing may be happening with the word disease. Again, I just don’t know enough about what defines a disease to come to a conclusion - it is more of a gut feeling.
I may be wrong.
I will tell you what I do know. Or think I know. I do know that salt, sugar and fat are more than mere ingredients in food. They have a specific effect, physiologically and psychologically, on your body. Tickling your palate and tickling various centers of your brain at the same time. The food industry manipulates this and much more.
More knowledgeable people than I have discussed these issues. Among them Dr. David Kessler, former Surgeon General of the United States, in his book The End of Overeating. More recently in two books, both called Salt Sugar Fat, by Michal Moss and Alexandra Kaster, respectively.
From reading these and other writings on the topic I believe that it is clear that food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to understand the effects that these substances have upon our bodies. That they by using terms such as bliss point at the point where these ingredients are properly balanced so as to provide the most mental satisfaction and stimulation possible. I know that when I read about the methods and manners used by these food manufacturers the first thing that comes to mind are the revelations made, beginning with Dr. Jeffrey Wygand, regarding the manipulation of tobacco products by cigarette companies.
There is more and more evidence that sugar in particular acts upon the body in a way that causes a reaction that, if not addiction, contains every element thereof. I can attest to that. Stay with me, people.
I am not a big fan of programmed diets of any kind. There is so much information out there about what you need to do to maintain a healthy diet. The worst year of my life my year from hell was the year my doctor discovered that I had both height blood pressure and high cholesterol and put me on the American Heart Association diet. No salt. No fat. No flavor. At the end of that year my blood pressure and cholesterol had both increased I have these problems because my ancestors had them.
Michael Pollan was right: each food, not too much, mostly plants.
However, I have come to understand that period of carbohydrate free eating results in dietary ketosis. This causes a loss of weight, mostly water, over a relatively short period of time. In this the cleansing. On this South Beach diet and the Atkins diet and their ilk are correct. The problem is maintaining that loss.
There are times, especially after holidays and other stretches when I eat a bit too much (of those things I should eat less of), that it’s necessary for me to shed a few pounds. Usually to fit in to a suit or tux. When those times arise I spent a couple of weeks, carb free. It’s not easy.
The last such occasion was just a few weeks ago. It came during the gestation of this particular blog post. I noticed my feelings as I walked past area of the house that had carbohydrates. The urge for just one taste. The peculiar lust that I had in my heart watching my children continue to enjoy. the physical sensations of need I felt.
I know what withdrawal feels like. I’ve been through it while quitting two different addictive substances. This was withdrawal. Sugar withdrawal. And sugar is a contributing factor - a major one - to obesity.
So, there’s a problem here. If calling it a disease will get us closer to a way of addressing it - good. If it means that money will be directed for research, and insurance companies will pay for treatment more freely – super. More attention needs to be focused on the issue.
Addiction is more complex, and more prevalent, than we may think.