Systems that restore health.

Why We Eat . . . . and why we keep eating.


Dr. Jeffry Weiss
Medical & Advisory Board – Insulite Laboratories

Since 1950, the amount of nutritional information available to the public has roughly doubled every seven years. During that same period (1950-2000), obesity rose by 214% until today, where 64.5 percent of adult Americans (about 127 million) are categorized as being overweight or obese.

The average American weighs 30 lbs. more today than 100 years ago. In that light, one might conclude that there is a direct correlation between knowledge of obesity and obesity itself.

The point is – we aren't foolish. We know that a salad is better for us than a pizza; that grilled chicken is better than a smothered burrito; that tofu is preferable to a cheeseburger; that fresh fruits and vegetables are better than candy bars and French fries. People are swimming in information. We've become anesthetized by information overload. But more information has not and will not lead to enlightened behavior, less craving for food or improved health.

Do''t blame obesity on your genes. It takes eons for our genes to adapt to changes in the environment, while escalating obesity is a phenomenon of only the past few decades. To say that obesity is genetic flies in the face of evolutionary evidence. Consider that there was far less obesity just a century ago. In the early 1900's only one in 150 people were obese. In the 1950's less than 10% of the population was classified as such.

Table 1 shows us that the overall number of adults who are overweight or obese has continued to increase each decade. A BMI, or Body Mass Index, of 25 equates to a person who is 25% over their ideal weight.

Table 1
Increase in Prevalence (%) of Overweight (BMI > 25),
Obesity (BMI > 30) and Severe Obesity (BMI > 40) Among U.S. Adults.
(BMI > 25)
(BMI > 30)
Severe Obesity
(BMI > 40)
1999 to 2000 64.5 30.5 4.7
1988 to 1994 56.0 23.0 2.9
1976 to 1980 46.0 14.4 No Data
1964 to 1970 39.5 11.3 No Data
1950 to 1960 33.0 9.7 No Data
Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Health, United States, 2002. Flegal et. al. JAMA. 2002;288:1723-7. NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 1998.

In Table2, we see that by every indicator – age, gender, and decade – the prevalence of overweight has become more and more systemic in our society.

Table 2
  Men Prevalence of
overweight / obese (%)
Women Prevalence of
overweight / obese (%)
1988 to 1994 1999 to 2000 1988 to 1994 1999 to 2000
20 to 34 47.5 58.0 37.0 51.5
35 to 44 65.5 67.6 49.6 63.6
45 to 54 66.1 71.3 60.3 64.7
55 to 64 70.5 72.5 66.3 73.1
65 to 74 68.5 77.2 60.3 70.1
75 and
56.5 66.4 52.3 59.6
Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Health, United States (Table 70) 2002.

Commenting on the prevalence of obesity in America, John Foreyt, Ph.D., obesity expert at Baylor College of Medicine, concluded that, "At the rate the average waistline is expanding in the United States, everyone will be overweight in another 100 years . . . It's not our genes that are the problem; it's our environment."

In the 1960's, men consumed an average of 2,200 calories per day. By 2000, that had increased to 2,700 calories per day. During the same period, women went from 1,500 to 1,950 calories per day. And that alone is sufficient to explain the "how" of the obesity epidemic.

Replying to the question, "Why are so many of us fat?", Jeffrey Friedman, a molecular geneticist at Rockefeller University, asked, "Why, despite equal access to calories, is anyone thin?"

While the statistics may tell us that we are, in fact, eating more, they do not tell us why we are doing so. Nor do they tell us why we ate roughly the same amount of calories for hundreds of years; but then, in the last 50 years we suddenly began consuming 20% more calories than previously.

Some say our diets have changed, that we are consuming more fats. Yet, during the past 50 years, while obesity rates have skyrocketed, the consumption of saturated fats rose only 7%. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total fats in our diet have fallen from 40% in 1990 to roughly 34% today.

So, let's look at what has transpired since 1950. The most predominant and fundamental changes have not so much been in our diets as in our lifestyles. This trend began in the 1950's with:

  • The completion of an interstate highway system that spawned suburbia, separating neighbors with lawns and garages and forty-foot wide streets.

  • The evolution of inexpensive air travel, along with jobs spreading far beyond the city limits, has influenced people's decision and ability to move more frequently. This has led to circumstances where people live for an average of five years in one place, making long-lasting relationships as fleeting as the next job offer or flight out of town.

  • A changing economic climate that requires two working parents, leaving children to fend for themselves and succumb to the influences of the media, malls and mass marketers.

  • Technology that begat computers, faxes, e-mails, and video-conferencing, which have distanced workers and friends and have made face-to-face communication more rare.

  • A rapidly-paced culture, with 20% less free time than in the 1960's, that has generated the need for fast food establishments and, along with them, an ever increasing proliferation of fats, processed foods, and sugar in our diet.

  • A lack of participation in and appreciation for the role of exercise in our evolution.

  • Our separation from nature due to ever expanding cities.

  • Television, which has stolen the motivation to pursue goals, engage in new pursuits, and, with 44 % of commercials advertising snack foods, entices viewers to eat incessantly.

Yet we do not have to return to the society of the 1950's, or give up all our modern conveniences, to regain our health. What we must do is take a new approach.

The strategy of focusing on what we eat is turning people away from the real
problem. That message has been unsuccessful for decades. Further studies, weight loss programs and media emphasis on the same note, will not bring the desired results. The first and foremost question to ask is . . .WHY WE EAT.

Early man ate only enough to meet his caloric requirements. Present day inhabitants continue to eat for a very different reason: to gain a euphoric feeling through the chemicals released in the body by the foods we eat. And what are these chemicals that are so powerful as to induce behaviors that are sometimes irrational and often detrimental to our health and continued evolution? Endorphins.

In 1993, an experiment was conducted to determine the power of endorphins.
Scientists inserted electrodes into the brains of rats. After the rats ran a maze, they could either pull a lever, which would, through the electrodes, trigger the release of endorphins, or they could pull a lever that provided non-endorphin releasing food. The observable results were that the rats chose endorphins, neglecting food, which, in some cases, resulted in death. And each day we run our own maze, fueled predominately by food, rewarded by endorphins and the euphoric feelings they provide.

It is time for us to take responsibility for our own conditions and circumstances. As we have clearly identified, obesity is not genetic. However, we must also recognize society's role in this epidemic. The world we live in has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. We have been separated from our friends, neighbors and nature by economics, housing, suburbia, and technology; tempted by the constant images of food on television, and lured by the instant gratification offered by the ever-present fast food chains.

Our hopes and dreams have been masked by the new face of society. Yet we have the power to unmask this illusion, the power to see clearly what our culture can and cannot give and to provide for ourselves what it can't.

Jeffry Weiss attended Drexel University (B.S.), Temple University (M.B.A.), the University of Pennsylvania (M.A.), and Clayton College (PhD, Naturopathic Medicine). He has consulted on matters of diet and obesity with the health ministries of the UK, Australia and Mexico and with the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services on nutrition. Under the aegis of his project, Vested Interest and Economic Incentive, Dr. Weiss has developed a statistical protocol for a food tax that encompasses personal preferences in deciding suitable fees for Medicare and Medicaid in the U.S. He has provided numerous individuals with nutritional advice for their conditions which range from diabetes, liver disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, ADD, CFS, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease and obesity. Additionally, he has counseled several school districts about improving nutrition for school lunch programs. Dr. Weiss is the author of "Why We Eat…and Why We Keep Eating" and "The End of Alzheimer's" and has published a variety of articles in scientific and consumer journals. He is a member of the Medical & Advisory Board of Insulite Laboratories, a company that is dedicated to healing insulin resistance and its related disorders, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes and excess weight gain.

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