Food is one of life’s true gifts and joys. It’s what brings us together in celebration, the material we turn to in times of sadness, the exquisite fillet steak we afford when we get that job or sign that contract.
ood is everywhere we go – we plan holidays around it and watch TV shows about it. We read books about the lives of great chefs and then buy cookbooks to help us recreate those foods in our own kitchens. We make superstars of those who can create the best dishes. Food is the connecting factor of life.
We love food – although food writer Michael Pollan says, “You are what you eat.” By that he meant that the diet of the animals we eat has an impact on the nutritional value of the food we eat.
When I first started out as a writer, I was inspired by the wonderful memoirs of superstar chef Anthony Bourdain kitchen confidential, and his message permeated my first book. Bourdain asked an interesting question in his book – namely: Do we want to eat without fear?
For many of us, this question remains unanswered.
We stick to the same foods and don’t venture out of the realm of what we’ve always known. We have our meat and three veggies and maybe a take away at the weekend. It’s pretty normal, but if we keep eating the veggies, it’s all good – right?
Well… not so much.
It’s common knowledge that we’ve all overdone it when it comes to comfort foods over the past two years of lockdown.
From childhood obesity to adult obesity, the news is not good. We are fat and getting fatter.
Ireland has the second highest obesity rate in the EU, with more than a quarter of the adult population in the republic classified as obese, according to the European Commission.
The EU-wide survey found that 26 per cent of Irish adults were technically obese in 2019. Only Malta had a higher rate at 28 percent. You might think that 26 pieces doesn’t sound that bad, but the EU average was 16 pieces. And that was before lockdown.
In fact, we’ve been gaining weight consistently for the past decade. The same EU-wide poll in 2014 showed Ireland ranked seventh in the EU in those lean days, with 18 per cent of us being obese.
But what is obesity? Are we talking about morbidly overweight people or is it just a few extra pounds that we really shouldn’t have?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can affect health. Body mass index (BMI) is a ratio of weight to height and is commonly used to classify obesity in adults.
BMI applies to most adults between the ages of 18 and 65 and the healthy range is 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is obese.
Rising obesity rates aren’t just a Covid problem. Global obesity has almost tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and 650 million of those were obese.
The great shame here is that obesity is preventable. We’ve all read about the Mediterranean diet, and it seems like it’s still a major contributor to these people’s health. The weather is better, the food is lighter and smaller meals are eaten.
However, the European Commission has stated that weight problems are increasing rapidly in most EU member states.
Obesity itself is not the only concern. A high BMI leads to other health problems and increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even certain types of cancer. Obesity is killing us – and it’s particularly prevalent among men, with 61 percent of men being overweight. This compares to 49 percent of women.
Regarding our children, studies in the UK and US have shown that there has been a sharp rise in childhood obesity during the pandemic. Confined to quarters, we turned to sweets and home cooking to keep our kids entertained. Reports from the UK also showed that obesity rates rose from 9.9 to 14.4 per cent in the 2020/2021 school year.
Of course, the food itself is not the enemy. We don’t want to create bad associations with food, which in turn could trigger eating disorders. But what we need to do is redesign our food pyramid and revisit our exercise regimen.
I come back to Michael Pollan again. He has a simple but great piece of advice: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Foods packed with sugar fGood that doesn’t spoil, groceries we buy at a drive-through aren’t usually our main fruits and vegetables.
For me, I redefined my relationship with food seven years ago. I had overcome a serious illness and decided to live a healthy life. I gave up processed foods, started shopping at the local produce market — checking grocery miles and eating whatever was in season — and I also worked on my physical fitness.
Exercise and a healthy diet have helped change the way I see the world and myself. A treat—a treat—came sparingly, and while I lived a very spartan life back then, I’ve relaxed a bit now, to a level where food and comfort can coexist.
We don’t need everyone to become a marathon runner, but what we do need is to return to the positive relationship our parents and grandparents had with food.
It sustains us, it enriches us – it should not kill us. That should be a guide for anyone tempted to approach cookies this summer. Think before you eat and the world will be a better place for us.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/ballooning-to-second-place-on-eus-obesity-list-should-give-us-plenty-of-food-for-thought-41484900.html Rising to second place on the EU obesity list should give us plenty to think about