Thursday, 6 May 2010

Our Hidden Conflicts With Food...

“Please Sir, may I have some more?” These famous words from Oliver Twist have been echoed the world over. A sentence which the developing world could be accused of taking to the extreme with its permanent feast of overindulgence. For those in famine, food is the basis of survival, often linked to the provision of others in more affluent nations. There's no getting away from it, food is big business. Feast or famine, all of us are driven by our need for it. Why then do our attitudes towards food differ so greatly? Are these governed by nature or nurture?

I have always been fascinated by food and people's relationship to it. I don't think I know anybody who doesn't have a dysfunctional relationship with food – men , women and children. It's a phenomenon seeming to affect us all. The Channel 4 series, Supersize vs. Superskinny serves to confirm this affliction further. I however have a problem with this lightweight programme and their feeding clinic. For those who haven't seen it, two individuals from either end of the weight scale – over and under, swap diets for a week supposedly to learn from each other. One gets to eat like a bird, while the other is usually forced to gorge themselves silly on all the wrong foods. After a week, they are supplied with a healthful food plan and sent away for 3 months before returning to report their weight loss or gain. I understand the objective, but can anyone tell me what stands to be gained from swapping extreme diets? Is it really necessary? Yes, it highlights unhealthy attitudes and disordered eating patterns, but surely other tactics could be employed. The programme content doesn't attempt to inform you what a healthy moderate diet actually consists of or show the contestants, sorry participants, following their new diet plans. The recent series also reports on a group of recovering anorexics alongside methods of achieving the impossible - the perfect body. A notion which is further compounded during the ad break. I'm left confused as to what the programme's trying to be. Am I missing the point here? On the one hand Supersize vs. Superskinny emphasises our most extreme eating habits and the physical impact of these, and on the other it promotes the body beautiful. Where's the balance? As a viewer and an aspiring holistic nutritionist, I find this practice dangerous and greatly lacking in educational value. Yet for some reason, like so many of us, I'm still compelled to watch.

Our relationship with food is like the chicken and egg debate – what came first? Are our habits formed by our upbringing and genetic influences? Or do we get corrupted by societal influences, such as mass marketing, convenience foods and the must-have, must-be lifestyle? The answer has to be both. At its core lies perfection and self-worth – those under eating striving for flawlessness and those battling the bulge using food as compensation for their perceived inadequacies. Despite these hidden conflicts and guilty pleasures, we have to realise that food doesn't have to be our nemesis. Where we choose to draw the line is a matter of personal responsibility, although often it's our state of health that is the wake up call. Drastic measures, such as fad diets, or surgery are not the answer to making ourselves feel better, nor should it fall to healthcare to correct the error of our ways. The buck stops with us. Understanding our shared intimacy to food is an education benefiting us all. The question I ask of you is, why wait to reap the rewards tomorrow when you can start today?