I realize that I am somewhat unusual. Eating healthy comes very easily to me, I grew up in a home where carob chips and fruit leather were the big treats of the week, and by the time I was in high school and my dad started buying Hansen's Sodas as a treat, I was too knee deep in my obsession with looking good in my homecoming dress to add all the extra calories. Don't get me wrong, I am not a food angel, and sometimes being in the nutrition world is a catch 22. It seems that if I eat too healthy, I am considered a nut and way too obsessed. But oppositely, I've also received the half joking sneer, "Nutrition huh? Is that why you just put away that whole pack of sour candy?"
I also played sports all of my life, and fell very easily into committing to exercise and physical fitness as if it were my daily practice, learning how to compete with myself instead of other teams. There are a collection of people with the same stories as mine. But the majority of America is different.
Because our food choices are highly based on what we grew up with, (the culture, the tastes, what was considered daily food) if you grew up in a home that provided you with high fat, high calorie options, this is probably still your comfort food, and therefore what you are naturally drawn to. If your mom/dad or whoever made your dinner never made you quinoa growing up, it's doubtful you will suddenly choose it over mac-n-cheese.
There is a big difference between "being on a diet" (probably short term) and "following a healthy diet" (a lifelong habit). Sometimes people need to follow a "diet" in order to learn how to incorporate changes into their everyday lives (I've had 26 years to do this), but as most of us can attest, that which we consider a "diet" will not stick. If it restricts, cuts out food groups, or makes us eat food we don't really like, we probably won't stick with it. And so begins the curse of yo-yo dieting.
This is why scientists are spending the big bucks on drugs that you can take to override your cravings. Most have heard of the big diet pill Alli that came out recently that is supposed to be a miracle pill. Read the fine print, however, and you will notice that the statistics offered as proof of its effectiveness are only seen with additional diet and exercise modifications. In fact, straight from the Alli website it states that you know you are ready for Alli if:
"I am willing to do the hard work to lose weight gradually
I am committed to following a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet (an average of 15 grams of fat per meal)
I am committed to eating smaller portions
I am committed to making time to be more physically active"
I left out the points that were specific to Alli (fun side effects such as "stools that may be hard to control") . You may notice that this list is a bullet proof, solid outline on how to lose weight (for a healthy person with no underlying issues such as thyroid problems). No rocket science involved, and no pill needed either.
But we want something easier to just get the job done so we can still eat our junk and look good without all the counting calories and physical fitness business. So pharmaceutical companies like Pfiezer, Merck, and Sanofi-Aventis have been trying to develop a pill that actually blocks pleasure receptors in the brain. Doesn't that sound like fun. Now you can eat all you want, but not enjoy it. Unfortunately for Merck and Sanofi-Aventis, the clinical trials of these drugs proved to also provide 'psychotic side effect', so they both individually suspended the clincial trials. (Read more here)
We as a nation are obviously out of control in terms of our diet. Our obesity epidemic is raging, our levels of Type II diabetes (an entirely preventable and treatable disease with diet and exercise) has grown exponentially, and heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US. Maybe it's time to spend some money on educating consumers on how to make healthy food taste good, or to teach children how to garden and cook their own food, instead of delegating one hour a year in middle school to giving an insanely boring lecture on a food pyramid that kids could care less about. In theory it shouldn't be so difficult, but the reality is harsh. There are too many underlying issues in each person's life, too much money in advertising, in cheap, crappy food, in pharmaceutical sales, and in food politics.
So for now, we spend millions of healthcare dollars on entirely preventable conditions, and spend even more on attempting to find chemical fixes for our own, as Micheal Pollan puts it, "national eating disorder." It may seem depressing, but it's the truth.
Diets don't work, but lifestyle changes do. Committing yourself to making those changes, whether it is as simple as replacing your extra helping of white rice with more vegetables, or ignoring the snack aisle at least three out of the four times you go to the grocery store, or maybe choosing one night a week to get the family together to cook a heathy meal. If you are confused on what to eat and what not to eat, then just ask. Most people like myself who enjoy healthy eating and diet, and who work in the nutrition profession would love to provide you with information (many nutritionists make grocery tours part of your sessions). We just don't offer it up for fear of overstepping our bounds. Incorporating a few changes at a time will suddenly add up, and you won't be following a "diet", you will be exemplifying a healthy lifestyle.