We ALL need to address the obesity epidemic by teaching our patients the difference between real food and manufactured calories.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | July 3, 2019 | 3 min read
By Roxanne Sukol, MD, Cleveland Clinic
Whether you’re in pulmonary medicine or pediatrics, obstetrics or orthopedics, your practice is affected by the obesity epidemic. Obesity has changed the way medicine is practiced.
Teach your patients the difference between real food and manufactured calories
Be assured that your patient already knows there’s a problem, so it won’t help matters at all to tell them that they weigh too much. If they are like my patients, they’ve already tried everything they can think of, and they won’t need or appreciate reminders to “eat less” or “exercise more.” The likelihood is that they’ve already tried, and likely more than once. What can you tell them that they don’t know yet? What can you say that might really help? Teach your patients about the difference between real food and manufactured calories.
Here are some suggestions for what to share with your patient, whatever your specialty:
Real food nourishes; manufactured calories entertain. That’s the difference.
Foods are loaded with color, fiber, and nourishing fats, like vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, seeds, and whole grains. They nourish you at the metabolic level, for example avocados, black beans, grapes, mangoes, oatmeal, peanut butter, quinoa, romaine, sunflower seeds. Eggs, fish, cheese, poultry. That’s food.
Fun, on the other hand, is nothing like food.
Food-like items, which the processed-food industry sometimes describes as “junk,” or “fast,” or even “food” (e.g., processed American cheese food), are made primarily from white flour, white rice, corn syrup, corn starch, and commodity oils (soy, corn, cottonseed), not to mention sugar, many versions of which are often layered in and among the ingredient lists of ultra-processed items.
There’s a reason you can eat a big bag of candy at the movies, and then go out for dinner afterward. Your brain knows it wasn’t nourished, and it’s still hungry! Think about it. What if they sold roasted Brussels sprouts, salmon, and sweet potatoes at the movie theater? Would you go out for dinner afterward? Probably not. A major problem with the standard American diet is that a great many people, under the mistaken impression that they are being nourished, spend a large proportion of their days eating entertainment. Maybe that’s why some folks stay hungry all the time, and can’t figure out why.
It’s not that you can never have manufactured calories, it’s just that you mustn’t eat them instead of food. I’m not saying that you should never purchase anything from a vending machine, or that you can never eat another chip, cookie, or donut. What I am saying is that they don’t nourish you. You want to be a well-nourished human being who sometimes enjoys a treat. But treats aren’t food. They’re entertainment. They’re just for fun.
You don’t have to stop making your special blueberry muffin (or brownie or apple pie) recipe on Sunday afternoons, especially if that recipe is precisely what makes your life worth living. There’s a place for entertainment in your diet and it’s perfectly reasonable to enjoy treats from time to time (especially if you also go for regular walks and your blood sugars are normal). You just need to first make sure that you are nourishing yourself well on a daily basis. It’s not treats that are the problem, it’s the fact that we’re drowning in them. A daily diet of cheese crackers, buckets of nuggets, corn chips, and soda pop is not a prescription for good health. Real food does not generally come in buckets, or in shiny, crunchy packages with creative names, like “Special K.” What is special about K, anyway? Fun is fine, but it isn’t food.
When you eat food that sticks to your ribs and keeps you satisfied for a long time, there’s a good chance it was nourishing. If, on the other hand, you find yourself famished an hour later, it was probably entertainment. Teach your patients to “Trust your gut, and remember that fun is fine, but it isn’t food.”