As a weight management practitioner for over 20 years, I have reached a number of conclusions, with perhaps the most controversial being my belief that overweight and particularly obese people should eat more food. I am pleased to say that in many circumstances I have managed to convince my clients that this is indeed a logical way forward for them. For those that have adopted this approach, I can also say that most have lost weight and improved their health. I can't stress enough the importance of this as a weight loss strategy and to illustrate the point to my clients I use a simple group behavioural experiment to explore my apparently counter intuitive proposal. I have undertaken this group activity perhaps fifty times and the outcome is almost always the same on each occasion.
This investigative session normally involves my clients meeting together in a group session for the customary motivational interview that would typically accompany an obesity management programme. At the front of the room are two tables either side of the room, each containing edible items. On one table I have placed eggs, fish, rice, vegetables, and fruit and so on. On the other table are sweets, chocolate, cola, candy, ice cream etc. I ask the gathered audience to get up and go to stand by the table of food. After a few prompts to get them to their feet and usually a little horseplay with a Snickers bar, the group to a person congregate next to the ‘healthy' table.
I ask the group why they have chosen to stand next to this table. Initially they say things like "it's healthy" or "it's natural". I press them and ask them why they think it is healthy and natural, and what makes it so. They suggest that it has not been processed or modified. Some state that it is what we were intended to eat, and that it is food that we have evolved on. Not wishing to let them off the hook too lightly, I press them on all of these responses and ask but why? How do you know that a Snickers bar does not in fact work better for your body than a banana, for instance? What is it about the items on the table you are standing next to that you instinctively know that this is what we should be eating?
Following much furling of brows and at times consternation, one of the delegates will finally say the magic words:
"But these have grown!"
"That's right, they have grown!"
We then examine each item, the aubergine, the egg, the rice, and the carrot and indeed no one can deny or fail to see that they have all grown. In contrast at the other table, the bottle of cola and the pack of M&M's requires far more imagination and guile to conclude that they too have at some point grown. There are things in there that once grew, but the refining, processing, extracting and modifying that they have been subjected to have changed them beyond recognition. Then of course there are the additives, flavouring, emulsifiers, colourings, preservatives sugars and fats.
Back to the real food then, and an exploration by the group regarding this marvel of nature that is foods that grow. All of the energy on our earth comes from the sun. It takes around eight minutes for the escaping light and heat to reach our planet. On arrival it warms and illuminates our planet, but more than this, something quite remarkable happens when light from the sun reaches all plants.
In particular, inside the leaves of plants are special cells known as chloroplasts and they really are a species of wonder.
Chloroplasts are the foundation for all animal life. They take in water (H2O) from the earth and free the oxygen from it allowing all creatures to breath. Chloroplasts then go on to take in the byproduct from animals which is carbon dioxide (CO2) that is abundant in our atmosphere. Using the energy from the sun these miraculous cells combine the CO2 with the leftover hydrogen from the water, and convert these abundant and unremarkable products into an organic form of energy collectively known as carbohydrate; consisting primarily of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (CHO).
We (the creatures) then eat the CHO from the vast array of edible plant foods available to us. Once ingested they travel to our own specialist energy units known as mitochondria where we unlock the energy of the sun allowing us to grow and thrive.
We may eat the chicken, who itself has eaten the CHO, thus we can unlock the energy of the sun in a stepwise manner when we eat animals and their products. Creatures then expel the by-product of such metabolism as CO2, whereupon the plants re-synthesise it back into an edible fuel source and the cycle starts once again driven by the energy of the sun. And so this beautiful symmetry of nature, this miracle of life, is there for all to see in the humble turnip. This is food and this is how it works for us and all other animals on the planet.
My suggestion to my readers, is the same as that which I put to my clients; examine your food, and if you can't immediately figure out how it has grown, take a second thought.
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