How did food go from being ‘subsistence’ to causing obesity

I am NOT a nutritionist. I feel like I know quite a bit about food because I have been working as a personal trainer and triathlon coach for many years and have been on the almighty quest for the ‘right way to eat’ most of my life…as is the case for many of us. My other perspective on food comes from my psychology background. I am NOT certified in nutritional psychology but I’ve taken several courses and feel like I have a fair grasp on how food effects psychology, thinking, emotions, focus, concentration, etc.

Some food history

Originally food was only used for survival. For many years this was because there was not the abundance of food we have today. People ate mainly to sustain life. Around the time of the industrial revolution food began to take on a new meaning.

According to the food historians, the precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe sometime in the mid-17th century. This is due to primarily to advances in technology (more reliable ovens, manufacture/availability of food molds) and ingredient availability (refined sugar). At that time cake hoops–round molds for shaping cakes that were placed on flat baking trays–were popular. They could be made of metal, wood or paper. Some were adjustable. Cake pans were sometimes used. The first icing were usually a boiled composition of the finest available sugar, egg whites and [sometimes] flavorings. This icing was poured on the cake. The cake was then returned to the oven for a while. When removed the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy [ice-like] covering. Many cakes made at this time still contained dried fruits (raisins, currants, citrons).

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that cake as we know it today (made with extra refined white flour and baking powder instead of yeast) arrived on the scene. A brief history of baking powder. The Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book [London, 1894] contains a recipe for layer cake, American (p. 1031). Butter-cream frostings (using butter, cream, confectioners [powdered] sugar and flavorings) began replacing traditional boiled icings in first few decades 20th century. In France, Antonin Careme [1784-1833] is considered THE premier historic chef of the modern pastry/cake world. You will find references to him in French culinary history books (hillybilly_cupcakes).

Why tell the story of ‘cakes’? This is really the story of all confections, the change in family dynamics around food and how food led to today’s obesity epidemic.

Changes in family dynamics

The change in family dynamics has had a huge impact on how we eat. As is evident above, there are more cakes available and there are more of all confections available and fast food has been on the rise and is a much cheaper option (always) but particularly now, in a society struggling with unemployment and numerous other economic issues.

It is in our family that we learn how to eat. That carries with us through our adulthood. If we don’t learn ‘healthy’ eating habits when we are kids then as adults we don’t (usually) have a healthy relationship with food. As kids: primarily eating fast food, eating a lot of fast food, eating a lot of junk, having a lot of sugary drinks and snacks and watching parents deal with anger, stress or frustrati0n with food. All of this carries over into adulthood.

As kids, we didn’t know any better. As a kid you do what you are told. As adults, we don’t know any better but we can learn and change. I do not say this lightly but you do have a choice. Part of that choice is changing physical patterns and for many of you a bigger part of that choice is changing the mental & emotional patterns.

How I can help

I work with people just like you to overcome mental & emotional patterns so they can reach their goals and get what they want: health, happiness & life!

Food should be more than sustenance, it should be pleasurable but when it’s pleasurable to the point of doing harm, is that still pleasure. Herein lies the most difficult part of emotional eating: differentiating between pleasure and harm.

Have a great day! Let me know how I can help! I do individual work in person in the Bay Area and phone and Skype everywhere else in the world!

Dr. Michelle

Photo credit: Erik Hartberg

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