Food and Health

This is an article I wrote back in 2006 for the dojo Web site. I post it again because I think it’s just as important now as it was back in 2006.

My name is Sue, and I am a CocaCola addict. And, no, that is not a rhetorical device. I mean that literally. For many years I drank a can of Coke every morning for breakfast. In addition, I would drink Coke or root beer with pizza (maybe twice a month) as well as the occasional root beer float for desert. When middle age arrived and decided to settle into my body, I found it ever harder to maintain a reasonable weight. I decided to investigate just how much my breakfast Coke was costing me in calories. What I found was that it cost me dearly both in terms of calories and in terms of the potential effect on my health.

Here’s where it all started: the calories. For simplicity’s sake I figured that I had been drinking about 400 cans of soda each year. That’s 365 cans of breakfast Coke plus 35 cans at other times. Each can is 155 calories. That’s 62,000 calories a year, enough to put almost 18 pounds on me each year if I didn’t cut back on my eating or increase my exercise. On top of that, the 400 cans of soda contain 83 cups of sugar. At 2-1/2 cups to a pound, that’s 37 pounds of sugar a year.

Thirty-seven pounds of sugar! First I was appalled. Then, being something of a researcher by nature, I was curious what that kind of sugar intake does to a body. OK, what I really wanted was assurance that if I gave up my daily Coke, I’d be healthier. Here’s what I found. It’s enough that on the day after Thanksgiving day in 2006, I went off the soda cold turkey (so to speak).

The high fructose corn syrup in sodas is not a health food.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the sugar I had been drinking all these years, is not the same thing as fructose. I figured HFCS was maybe a concentrated form of fructose, but it’s not. Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. HFCS is a synthetic compound, one that involves several layers of processing involving enzymes and bacteria and fungus by-products. The end result is fructose chemically melded to glucose, something that is not exactly fructose and not exactly glucose. Despite being in “natural” sodas, it is not “natural” by any definition I’m aware of. It has all the problems of refined sugar and perhaps a few of its own. When you combine it with carbonated water and flavorings, you get a drink that is sweet and appealing, but that beyond that has no other redeeming values.

Sodas make you fat

OK, so I didn’t exactly need “20-20″ to tell me that a lot of Americans are fat. I’ve been to the mall lately. What I didn’t realize is how much the increase in obesity in America has paralleled the increase in HFCS consumption. Though, researchers don’t go so far as to say that the obesity epidemic is caused by sodas sweetened with HFCS, nobody seems to doubt that sodas play a role, maybe a major one.

“Well, duh,” you say. 62,000 calories, 37 pounds of sugar per year? Yeah, that sounds like it could play a role in obesity. But it seems there is more than just calorie math going on here. Some of it has to do with satiety, some with the way HFCS is processed by the body.

Satiety is the mechanism by which the body signals the brain that it’s had enough food. If you eat all the calories you need, your body responds by telling your brain, “I’m full.” You stop eating; your body uses the calories you’ve already taken in; and you don’t get hungry again until you need more food. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. If you take in too many calories via sweetened soft drinks, however, this feedback mechanism doesn’t work quite as well. Fructose, including HFCS, stimulates insulin secretion less than other sugars. When there is less insulin secretion, there is less leptin release, leptin being the hormone that signals the brain that body’s had enough food. So you’ve drunk plenty of calories for the day, but your brain doesn’t get the signal until you’re over your daily allowance. Studies show that when people add sweetened soft drinks to their diet, they don’t decrease the amount of other calories they take in; they just add food calories to soft drink calories and get fat.

On top of the satiety issue is the metabolism issue. In technical terms, HFCS is more lipogenic than either glucose or starch. That means it’s more likely to be turned into fat by the liver than other sugars. When your body takes in sugars, it uses some to replace glycogen (fuel) stores in the muscles, it sends some as glucose to the brain for it to use as fuel, and it stores the rest as fat to be used later, just in case you need fuel but don’t have the food to provide it. HFCS is less likely to go to the first two uses and more likely to be made directly into fat. It’s not certain that the fat produced from HFCS is stored more readily than that produced from other sugars. But in general, any fat the body doesn’t use, it stores. So if your body has just missed the cue that it’s already taken in enough calories, and if you now have lots of nice new fat floating around your bloodstream looking for something to do. . .

Sodas are bad for your cardiovascular system.

The hazards of sodas go beyond obesity, however. The more lipogenic the sugar, the greater the hazard.

In men especially, HFCS raises triglycerides, the fat in the bloodstream that’s associated with coronary artery disease. Moreover, all refined sugars can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. HFCS is no exception. In fact, HFCS may raise cholesterol more than most sugars. The effect seems to be compounded if you eat a high fat diet (think: pizza and soda) or if you are sedentary or overweight. HFCS may also increase your blood pressure.

In other words, for years I had been avoiding red meat, eating reduced fat cheese and less of it, favoring olive oil over butter; and it turns out that it may not be fat that’s responsible for my borderline cholesterol. It may be sugar. It may be my daily Classic Coke.

Sodas jeopardize your bones

As a young woman I watched my grandmother recover from a broken hip. I’ve seen the consequences of osteoporosis in my family, and can say with authority that it is not a nice disease. Consequently, I’ve been following the recommendation– taking calcium, doing my weight-bearing exercise. But without realizing it, I was doing one thing wrong: I was drinking my daily Coke.

According to the Framingham Osteoporosis Study women who consume cola on a daily basis have lower bone density than women who don’t. Researchers have wondered why that could be. They speculated that soda replaced healthier drinks. In fact a study showed that increased intake of sodas is usually accompanied by decreased intake of milk and the calcium it provides. But lately they’re beginning to think that it’s more than that. Consumption of HFCS changes the balance of minerals in the body in a way that can lead to bone loss. They aren’t sure exactly how that mechanism works yet. But they’re pretty sure that something is going on, and it’s not good for the bones.

Sodas are bad for your teeth

Your mother was right. Soda does rot your teeth. Higher intake of sugared soft drinks is associated with increased numbers of cavities in the teeth in children. In fact, colas are ten times more erosive to teeth than fruit juice. We won’t even mention the stains.

Sodas may make you more likely to have blood sugar problems

A while back, the media was running with a recent study, proclaiming that sodas cause diabetes. Not surprisingly, it’s not that simple. We don’t know that the connection between HFCS and diabetes is a simple causal one. It probably isn’t. What we do know is that consumption of high fiber carbohydrates is associated with a lower chance of diabetes; consumption of highly-refined, low fiber diets is associated with increased risk. You can’t get much more highly refined and low fiber than a can of soda. We can also say that HFCS does seem to have an effect on the way the body regulates blood sugar, and that effect doesn’t look good. In animal studies fructose has been associated with insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. High consumption of simple sugars, including HFCS, leads to loss of chromium, which in turn impairs glucose metabolism. And statistically speaking, the more HFCS you eat (or drink) the greater the chances that you will have blood sugar problems.

That may not be enough for researchers to make a definitive statement, but it’s enough for me to change some of my habits.

Sodas may create other health problems as well

So. . . obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, rotten teeth– we seem to be picking up a pattern. HFCS is not health food. But stay tuned, there’s more.

In an admittedly extreme study, rats who were fed a lifetime of Coca-Cola instead of their usual water had a much significantly higher cancer rate than normal rats. Students in Norway who consumed more soda were more likely to be hyperactive and have conduct problems in school. People who drink sodas are more likely to have gastroesophageal reflux. And now we find that sodas that contain ascorbic acid (for tartness) and sodium or potassium benzoate (preservatives) tend to undergo a chemical reaction that forms benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen that’s associated with leukemia, aplastic anemia, and other blood diseases.

The advantages of HFCS over sugar

In the interest of equal time, here’s what the industry says about HFCS (boiled down by me, of course): HFCS is easier for food manufacturers to work with than sucrose. It’s relatively cheap. It has lots of advantages over sugar for consumers. Besides, HFCS is sweet, sweeter than sugar. People like sweetness. It tastes good.

So I gave up the Coke. I save a bit of money, about $120 per year, reduce the amount of aluminum I consume, put a bit less cash in the hands of the multi-nationals, have a bit more room in my frig. But most of all, I’ll stop stressing my body for a few minutes of sweetness that’s become more habit than anything.

Postscript: 2/19/07

It has been almost three months since I wrote this. Here’s an update. I have to say that the first month without soda was not easy. Every morning, I’d stick my head in the refrigerator and reach for the red can. It wasn’t there, and that’s when I’d remember. For a while I drank water, then grapefruit juice, now one of several 100% juices I’ve discovered. I craved the Coke quite badly for a while, still do sometimes. But more than that, I saw how much of my soda drinking wasn’t a taste for the stuff; it was mere habit. I’d drink it before even waking up in the morning. I’d go to a restaurant, and there was the soda machine waiting with free refills. I’d eat pizza, and I’d think about my can of Coke. If my cravings and habits are any indication, I probably underestimated when I guessed I drank 400 cans per year.

Besides the cravings and habits, there are two other things I’ve discovered. One is just how much the colors of soda cans attract. I’m seeing them now not just as someone who loyally went for the red can, but as an expatriate from the land of pop. I find myself noticing the happy colors, the bold graphics hinting not of obesity and osteoporosis but of sparkly refreshment. They were a Pavlovian trigger for me, and I never realized it. I’d see the colors, associate it with sweetness and carbonation, and I’d want it (and maybe an order of fries or a slice of pizza to go with it). I didn’t want it because I was thirsty; I wanted it because it was attractive. The colors and graphics seemed to call to me to the point where all I had to do is see a soda machine and I’d start thinking about breaking my resolution.

The other thing I discovered I discovered a couple of days ago. I was very hungry, having come off of two hours of karate without enough to eat before hand. I needed to drive across town for an appointment and swung by Jack in the Box for some fries to tide me over until supper. I’m not sure why, but I ordered a small Coke to go with it, my first in nearly three months. Do you know what I discovered? It’s not that good. It tasted foreign, fakey, too sweet, and with an odd aftertaste. I didn’t finish it. My mouth discovered what my brain already knew– that Coke is not food; Coke is a simulated food-like substance, a pseudo-food. Get off it for a while, and your taste buds will tell you: the emperor has no clothes. This isn’t food. In fact it isn’t even a very good pseudo-food. Now maybe Jack in the Box did me a favor and served me a cup with the mix a bit off, or maybe this is what happens once the “addiction” is broken. But I don’t think I even like the stuff any more. All the better for me and my health.

Postscript: 8/12/11

I am happy to report that since it was written, I’ve drunk maybe four or five Cokes. That’s not too bad for six years. I can say without a doubt now that it was an addiction. You don’t crave something for five years because you think it tastes kind of good. I still want it, usually because I’m responding to CocaCola red in a restaurant or because someone walks by with a can of it. If I have one, I think about it several times a day for a couple of weeks afterward.

I’ve given up HFCS in everything I eat at home. I sometimes get in in restaurants. An interesting twist on the cravings is that if I eat anything with HFCS in it, I crave Classic Coke. I can tell which restaurants use the stuff from my cravings. That’s why I’m off the fast food completely now (that and about 50 other reasons). Fast food is HFCS Central. I’m eating more real food that I cook myself, and when I go out it’s for good-quality food, not just something fast. And, by the way, my cholesterol is down quite a bit. I’d like to knock off a few more points, but since I gave up the HFCS and fast food, it’s down noticeably.


Yet another reason to choose real food over simulated, food-like substances: A recent study out of Purdue shows that eating Olestra, a synthetic fat substitute, can actually put weight on you. Read my report on the study on Natural News.


Do you realize that not too long ago, “organic” food was just “food”? It’s only been about 60 years since the Green Revolution decided it could do Mother Nature one better, introducing large-scale monoculture, pesticides, herbicides and eventually genetically engineered plants and animals. What used to be simply a tomato is now a designer food, or a political decision, or basic self defense.

Organic food is about much more than just pesticide residue. Take a look at my latest article with Natural News, “Consider Four More Reasons to Buy Organic” for a look at the global implications of your food choices.


I’ve been experimenting with a recipe for cooking dried beans in the solar oven. I’ve found one that I think makes some the best beans I’ve ever tasted. I wrote it up and put it on eHow, so it will reach a larger readership than this blog. If you’re curious, you can find it here. The trick is overnight soaking and then allowing the rising sun to bring up the heat gradually. Not tracking the sun allows the beans to cool slowly in their juices making for a nice tender (but not mushy) bean.
The quality of solar-cooked beans and sweet potatoes alone are are reason enough to get a solar oven. I have a SOS Sport. If you’re thinking of getting one, email me, and I’ll tell you about my experiences with it.


My mother, who is in her early 80s, recently went in for a doctor appointment. The physician, a young, personable, well-educated physician, commented that at 80 my mother really didn’t need to be watching her diet any more. When I heard about it, I thought, “there is the central problem with Western nutrition theory wrapped up in one statement.”

According to your typical M.D., food contains nutrients. Some nutrients cause health problems. Some solve health problems (health problems like early death, hence the statement that at 80, you don’t have to watch your diet). Don’t eat eggs because they contain cholesterol and cholesterol is bad for you. Do eat orange juice because orange juice contains vitamin C, and vitamin C is good for you, especially if you are fighting a cold. So what’s my problem? Isn’t cholesterol bad for you? Isn’t vitamin C good for you?

Frankly, I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. I’m going to give the researchers who study such things credit for knowing their field and for doing due diligence in their experiments. I’m going to assume that vitamin C is good for you. My point, however, is that though we drink orange juice for vitamin C, orange juice isn’t vitamin C. Orange juice contains vitamin C. It also contains carbohydrates, water, other vitamins, minerals, acids and probably other nutrients we don’t even have a name for yet. Beyond what’s in it are its properties. It’s sweet. It’s sour. It’s wet. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) would say that it’s “cool.” Then there’s the issue of what it does. Western medicine would say that the body reacts to the acid in the orange juice in a particular way. TCM would say that it rectifies qi and moistens the lungs. In other words, orange juice is more than just vitamin C, and it interacts with your body in a ways that pure vitamin C doesn’t.

So what?

Well, let’s say you’re coming down with a cold. You know that vitamin C is good for the immune system. So you swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, and you stockpile orange juice. You start swigging it at the rate of a couple of quarts a day, and before long the cold blossoms and then settles into your chest. From a TCM standpoint, none of this is a surprise. The sweetness of the orange juice is dampening, the sourness constrains, and the coolness, well, it makes things cool. So what you have in orange juice is a recipe for gunk and congestion that you can’t cough loose. The vitamin C, however, might be good for your immune system as you once again get stuck in a coughing fit that you fear might turn a lung inside out.

In our attempt to pinpoint the nutrients of food, we’ve lost the common sense that tells us how our bodies react to foods. We don’t drink the orange juice and ask ourselves if we feel better. We drink it because someone with a microscope and a graduate degree has told us it contains something good for us. We’ve forgotten that we are the experts on how our body feels from the inside. Is orange juice good for a cold? Try it. Then try a nice oolong or black tea instead. Listen. Really listen to what your body has to say.

I’m not saying to ignore what Western medicine has to say about foods. Use their insights as a jumping off point. Test them. Western researchers are concerned about demographics and long-term survival rates. They want a discrete variable, a vitamin or mineral, they can test in a lab. You want to stop feeling like crap all the time. The two are very different perspectives on food.

And while I’m on the subject, examine very closely any food whose label brags about something that’s supposedly good for you– fiber, vitamin D, probiotics, less fat, whatever. You could argue that someone stopping by your house to give you a hundred buck is a good thing. But someone driving the hundred buck through your front window and into your living room in a tank, well, that’s maybe not as good. What do you have to eat to get the much-vaunted fiber? How does it make you feel?

Beware a health food restaurant where everyone gets up from the table coughing and hacking up phlegm. (Listen to your favorite restaurant sometime. I guarantee you an eye-opening experience.) Beware the enriched bread that makes you feel logy and stuffy. Beware the fortified cereal that picks up blood sugar and then drops it like a Magic Mountain roller coaster.

Bottom line? Spinach never brags. Marketers brag.

Learning to listen to your body, and how your food choices affect it, is a much-neglected way of life in modern America. You’re not going to find many people practicing it. You’re not going to find many modern professionals who can help you develop the skills. But it really is central to navigating the mine field of food choices, food research, and food marketing pressure we experience every day.

If you want to go beyond following rules handed to you from above to develop your own inner wisdom about how your body lives with the food you feed it, you will be walking a road less traveled. Your best company along the way could be a TCM practitioner. I’d suggest Bob Flaw’s The Tao of Healthy Eating: Dietary Wisdom According to Traditional Chinese Medicine as a good place to start. In Tucson, David Price does dietary counseling from a TCM perspective. A TCM take on food is essentially the accumulation of thousands of years of people listening to their bodies. It’s as good a place as I’ve found so far to begin to learn to listen to my own body.

So do you need to be concerned about what you eat at 80 (or at 50, or 20, for that matter)? Only if you want to live in harmony with your food. Only if you want to live aware of your body. Only if you want to live deliberately as a whole person for all the days that are allotted you.

Thanks to timlewisnm on Flicker for the orange picture.


Hunger is simple enough, right? Hunger is your body saying, “I want food.” When we’re hungry we need food; when we aren’t hungry we don’t need food. It’s that simple. . . or . . . wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple?

In reality, a number of things masquerade as hunger. Being able to tell them from the real thing is is crucial if we’re going to be able to maintain weight and health.

One of the things that masquerades as hunger is a wonky blood sugar. If you eat something sweet, especially something with a high glycemic index, your blood sugar rises quickly. Your pancreas looks up and says, “Wow, dump a bunch of insulin. We have sugar to process.” If everything is running at peak efficiency, your pancreas guesses right and drops the perfect amount of insulin to process the sugar. Your cells pick up the insulin and use it to process the sugar, and everyone lives happily ever after. If, however, you’ve eaten a typical Western diet with lots of sugar over the course your life, your cells are a bit shell-shocked. The pancreas releases insulin and the cells just sit there. So the pancreas releases more. Before you know it, you have too much insulin in your bloodstream. This insulin finishes processing the sugar you ate and then settles in to work on the sugar you normally keep in your blood to run things like your brain. You now have low blood sugar. You haven’t burned the calories in the original sugar hit yet, but your blood stream thinks it’s out of fuel.

What does that have to do with hunger? Low blood sugar feels a lot like hunger. If your blood sugar is low, you’ll want food. If your blood sugar drops before you finish burning the calories in the last meal (or snack) you ate, your body will tuck the excess calories away for later (in other words, will turn them to fat) and will ask for more food.

How do you keep your blood sugar stable? The biggest thing is to eat low on the glycemic index. Lay off the processed sugar, go easy on all processed carbs. Limit the sugar you take in even if it is “good sugar” like fruit juice. Eat carbs with a little bit (Hey, I said a little bit!) of good quality minimally processed oil and a little bit of protein. If you’re like most people, the sugar cravings will be fierce for about a week. If you stay off processed sugar and carbs completely, they should die back within a week or two. If the sugar jonesing is driving you crazy, find a good traditional Chinese medicine practitioner (the real thing, not just a chiropractor with needles or a community acupuncture needle jockey). They will be able to help a lot.

Blood sugar is only one thing that can masquerade as hunger. Another is simply habit. You get home from work or school, and what to you do? You sit down with your TV in the evening, and what do you do? Can you do income taxes without M&Ms or Budweiser? Is there a soda or a bag of chips sitting next you at the computer as you read this? Habits and rituals feel a lot like hunger sometimes.

Want a challenge? Pick your worst food habit–eating in the car, in front of the TV, at the computer, whatever–and see if you can go a week without doing it. Think of it as liberation. If someone knocked on your door every evening at 8:30 and forced you to eat, you’d probably be pretty ticked off. The habit is doing the same thing. By breaking it, you are breaking some of your self-built chains. Perhaps more importantly, you are training yourself to recognize when you are hungry and when you just usually eat food.

Boredom also feels like hunger. So does sadness, ennui, existential angst. It makes sense. Eat the right food (or the wrong food, depending on how you look at it), and you have an instant party in you brain. Entertainment food keeps your brain distracted. You don’t have to look at your life or address what’s bumming you out when you are under the influence of cheesecake, or onion rings, or pizza. Do you know the two-year-old in your brain, the one who, every time you try to meditate, pray, study, or get some work done, pokes its head up and says, “I’m bored. This is stupid. I want to do something fun.” That two-year-old can feel just like hunger. And by the way, so can the six-month-old in your brain who just wants to put everything in his mouth for the sake of putting everything in his mouth.

And finally, what goes on in your brain during Red Lobster and Cadbury commercials also masquerades as hunger. Go ahead and tell me you aren’t affected by commercials. We’ll go find an fMRI and run you through and take a look at everything that lights up when you watch a commercial. If you’re watching a commercial for a major national food company, you can bet they’ve run folks through tests and scans to make sure the commercial works. Do you think Coke would pay “American Idol” who-know-how-many-millions to place Coke glasses and commercials strategically through the show if they weren’t sure they were working? You can bet they’ve tested those placements, and that they’re working on you on some level. Next time you get a craving while watching TV, ask yourself, “Why am I hungry for that? Why now?” Watch carefully, and you might be able to see the manipulation at work.

How do you tell if it’s real hunger? Where does the feeling originate? Is it above your neck? It’s not hunger. Is it below your neck–in your stomach, or in a shakiness in your muscles? That’s probably hunger. (Though if you ate that Three Musketeers bar in your desk about forty-five minutes ago, you could very well have a blood sugar thing going on. Remember this feeling next time you’re succumbing to the marketing onslaught in the grocery store checkout line. If you buy that Klondike Bar, its your own stupid fault if you can’t tell if it’s hunger an hour after you eat it. . . . But I digress.) Pseudo-hunger is usually a mouth thing, a brain thing. It has triggers, but it doesn’t have an organic cause.

Hunger is a gift. Pseudo-hunger is a master cracking its whip, making you dance. Hunger keeps you healthy. Pseudo-hunger can make you fat and sick. Learning to tell the difference is a step toward healthy eating.


I’m writing these posts–hopefully this will end up being a series–to talk about what I’ve learned about food, weight, health, and what all that has to do with mind and body. It’s a huge topic, but if comes down to something quite simple: Food can make you healthy, or food can make you sick. Food can make you fit, or food can make you fat and sluggish. Given the messy priorities of modern agribusiness, restaurants and food manufacturers who care more about your return business than your health, and the fact that it takes work and skill to eat well, it’s little wonder that we all tend to slide toward poor food and poor health. The first step toward digging yourself out of this pseudo-food quagmire we’re all in is information.

So. . . Important chunk of information number one: If you look at the way that food affects your brain, you’ll see that there are two different kinds of food.

The first kind of food is real food. Real food is grains, vegetables, meats. If these real foods come with a label–they often don’t–the label simply says “chicken” or “tomatoes” or “rice.” If you look at the ingredients list, it will have one entry and one entry only. When you cook them, you cook them like real people have always cooked real food: you bake them, braise them, stir fry them, boil them, steam them. If you’ve ever done any deep frying, you know why you don’t deep fry them, at least not very often. Deep frying is expensive (because of all that oil that gets used only once or twice), and it’s a pain. It splashes, splatters, drips. It’s tough to clean up after. And then there’s the whole problem of disposing of the oil. Trust me: if you cook from scratch for most meals, you won’t want to mess with deep frying very often.

Your brain on real food looks like this: You’re hungry. You eat the real food. Your brain registers that the food is satisfying. When you are full, your brain says, “I’m full.” In other words, your brain reacts to real food like it reacts to, well, food.

The second kind of food is entertainment food. It’s food with a substantial amount of of at least one, but sometimes all three of the following: sugar, salt, and fat. Think of birthday cake. Sugar and fat. Think of potato chips. Salt and fat. Think of onion blossoms with dipping sauce. Sugar, fat and salt. Most fast food is entertainment food. So are a lot of the prepared foods you find in the freezer section of your grocery story. Read the labels. You’ll be amazed at the amount of sugar, fat, and salt a manufacturer can pack into a small amount of prepared food.

So why do I call it entertainment food? Because of how your brain reacts to it. Watch your brain on entertainment food. You eat it. Your brain’s pleasure center lights up. “Good stuff,” it says. “I want more.” So you feed it more. How does it respond? “Good stuff,” it says. “I want more.” The pleasure center of your brain shouts down the part of the brain that says when it’s had enough.

Think of the last time you had, say, fish and chips or pizza. It’s very easy to eat 1000 or even 2000 calories of of these foods. Now think about eating 1000-2000 calories of, for example, a nice hearty bowl of lentil soup. You probably couldn’t do it. Your body and brain wouldn’t let you. Why? Because a different part of your brain is in charge when you eat real food than is in charge when you eat entertainment food. Food is supervised by the food center. Entertainment food is supervised by the pleasure center, the center in charge of drugs, alcohol, and sex. And that part of you brain doesn’t know when to quit.

Now, let’s say you are a food manufacturer or a restaurant owner. You can offer food that is good, nutritious fare, that customers eat in moderation and appreciate. Or you can offer food that lights up a customer’s brain like Vegas at night, that make them always want more, that calls to them a week later. Which one is going to make you more money? Is it any wonder that most of the food available to us already prepared is entertainment food?

Take a look at David A. Kessler’s The End of Overeating. It’s an eye opener. Overeating is only marginally about willpower. It’s mostly about your brain getting used to one long party. As with any party, however, if we live in the party constantly, day in and day out without a break it makes us sick and addicted. It’s true of any of the behaviors that light us up. It’s true of what we eat.

Photos by mikehipp and Emily Carlin. Thanks, guys, for the Creative Commons licensing!