Take something to eat if you’re hungry


Famous scene from Monty Python's Meaning of Life


I weigh a little over two hundred pounds. Not a healthy weight for a guy just under 5’7″ (170 cms) but still much better than what I carried around a few years ago. But if you’ve ever been around my mother at a dinner table you’d realize it’s a miracle I don’t weigh four-hundred pounds. 

I’m not going to blame her entirely for my weight problem, after all it has been 35 years since I moved out, but seeing her force feed my father while in a hospital bed recently recovering from a fall was surreal. When he left some juice on his tray and refused to drink any more, she took a spoon and forced the last few drops into his mouth. 

This is the world I grew up in. There was no possibility of leaving food on the plate. To my mother, the more you ate, the healthier you were. Period. 

In today’s column, I write about my mother’s attitude to feeding. It was inspired by an exchange I had with a woman recently. She was at a nutrition booth at a health rally and we talked about eating habits. I mentioned that I had managed to keep my weight off for a number of years (something exponentially more difficult than merely losing the weight) and she said, “It’s like someone who steals saying ‘now I don’t steal as often as before.’ The person still steals!” I wanted to strangle her. 

Her assumption was based on the fact that overweight people do something wrong and that once they do the right thing, their weight will return to normal. AARGH! If it were only so simple. The problem is that both fat people and skinny people do what comes naturally to them. They simply eat until they no longer feel like eating. The problem lies in how the body senses need. The more we feed it, the more it needs. This is a delicate balance that can easily be tipped when we mess with nature – as we do in our modern, and unnatural, world. 

In the natural world – the world of animals or of our ancestors – obesity is exceptional. Once we live in an artificially created one – such as a sedentary world – all bets are off. 

When I was in Vietnam (where I adopted three of my kids) there were no large people except for the tourists. Their world in the mid 1990′s was still one of deprivation and hard physical labour. However, there were a small number of people who were well off economically. They were easy to spot. They were a little chubby and most were riding motorcycles. Wealth usually meant you could hire someone to do your physical chores. 

We simply cannot separate the individual from the world in which he or she lives. I am the product of the interaction between my innate temperament and the environment in which I grew up. This environment includes not only my mother’s attitude towards food but also the structure of my society. So to all the skinny people out there, I say, “Good for you. Just don’t be so smug.” To the rest of you, all I will say is “Keep up the fight. We’re in this together.” 

Here is today’s column: 

Take something to eat if you’re hungry
(Source: Entre satiété et poids santé. Journal Métro, April 10, 2012) (Voir plus bas pour version Française)  

It was nearly two o’clock in the morning. I had just left my father at the emergency room where they decided to keep him overnight for observation. I decided to drop in on my mother just to let her know what happened and to reassure her that everything was fine. 

I gently woke her and said, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine and will probably be home tomorrow.” I then said goodnight and was about to leave when I heard her say, “Take something to eat if you’re hungry.” Her obsession with feeding people still came through her medication-induced semi-conscious sleep state. Remarkable. 

When my parents emigrated from Italy, they were typical. No money, but armed with a strong work ethic, they made a good life for themselves and raised three healthy boys. The only problem was that their idea of health was all about feeding us as much as possible. 

As a child, every time I met a relative or acquaintance they would remark how healthy I was. My mother would beam. But as a roly-poly little kid I was a far cry from what would be considered healthy today. In fact, I stood out from most other school-aged kids at a time when childhood obesity was quite rare. 

I think of this when I hear thin people judging overweight individuals. To them, it is a simple question of self-control. Unfortunately hunger is a little more complex. Animals in the wild eat until they are no longer hungry. Yet you don’t see too many fat wolves out there. If an overweight person did that, the pounds would continue to add up. 

In the natural world bodyweight is balanced by calories burned versus calories consumed. But in a relatively new and artificial environment, such as our modern world, this balance can be easily tipped and set off a cycle of wanting more food than is required. This can happen through the sedimentary lifestyle, or through the simple act of overfeeding a child, or through our own overeating – something easy to do when we are bombarded with pictures of succulent and enticing foods. 

Unfortunately, once the balance is tipped, the natural act of eating becomes the enemy and the only way to overcome this is to stop eating even though you remain hungry. This is why losing weight and keeping it off is so difficult. It simply isn’t natural. 

Voici la version Française: 

Prends-toi quelque chose à manger
(Journal Métro, Montréal, 10 avril, 2012)  

Deux heures du matin. Je viens de laisser mon père à la salle d’urgence, où on l’a gardé en observation pour la nuit. Je décide de passer voir ma mère pour la rassurer. 

Je la réveille doucement et je lui dis : « Ne t’en fais pas. Tout ira bien. Il rentrera probablement à la maison demain. » Je lui souhaite une bonne nuit et je m’apprête à partir, lorsqu’elle dit : « Prends-toi quelque chose à manger, si t’as faim. » Son obsession à vouloir nourrir les gens refait surface, malgré l’état de semi-conscience dans lequel l’ont plongée les médicaments. Remarquable. 

Mes parents étaient les immigrants types d’Italie : pas d’argent, mais une solide éthique du travail, et ils ont élevé trois garçons en santé. Le seul problème, c’est que leur idée de la santé consistait à nous gaver. 

Quand j’étais petit, à chaque fois que nous rencontrions des gens, ils leur disaient combien j’étais en santé. Aussitôt, ma mère rayonnait! Mais, potelé comme je l’étais, je serais loin de ce qui est considéré comme « en santé » aujourd’hui. En fait, je me démarquais de la plupart des autres écoliers, à une époque où l’obésité infantile était encore plutôt rare. 

Je pense à cela lorsque j’entends des gens minces porter un jugement sur des personnes qui ont un excès de poids. Pour eux, il s’agit d’une simple question de maîtrise de soi. Malheureusement, la faim est un peu plus complexe que cela. Les animaux sauvages mangent jusqu’à satiété. Et pourtant, on ne voit pas souvent de loups obèses. Si une personne préobèse agissait ainsi, elle continuerait à grossir. 

Dans la nature, le poids atteint un équilibre, car le corps brûle autant de calories qu’il en consomme. Mais, dans un environnement relativement nouveau et artificiel, comme notre monde moderne, cet équilibre peut facilement être rompu. Il s’ensuivra un cycle où l’on désire manger plus que ce qui est nécessaire. Cela peut être dû à la sédentarité ou au simple fait de trop s’alimenter, ce qui est facile lorsqu’on est bombardé d’images qui font salivées. 

Une fois que l’équilibre est rompu, l’acte naturel de manger devient un ennemi, et la seule façon de résoudre ce problème est d’arrêter de manger, même quand on a encore faim. C’est pourquoi maigrir et maintenir son poids santé est si difficile. Ce n’est tout simplement pas naturel. 

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Posted in Human nature.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012

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2 comments to Take something to eat if you’re hungry

  1. Ray Barillaro
    On Apr 10th 2012 at 20:47

    If that scene from Monty Python does not make you want to stop eating I don’t what will it’s so gross but yet we still watch it cause after all it’s Monty Python..as all Nonna’s and Mamma’s say “did you eat something” it’s there first greeting.

  2. Diane Grenon
    On Apr 13th 2012 at 19:47

    C’est toujours aussi agréable que de vous lire. Et croyez-le ou non, vous m’encouragez à maintenir mon poids.