“Let us pour you a cup of happiness.”
I was on my way to work one morning when I glanced over at a beloved local eatery. The parking lot was full, and as with every morning, many people were welcoming in a new day with a caffeinated beverage and/or a sweet treat. Up on the sign, these eight words loomed prominently and summarized just what so many of the customers were feeling.
A few years ago, I published an article entitled What’s the Satiation Point for Pizza Joints. In the article, I noted that within 2.0 miles of my home, there were no less ten (now soon to be eleven) pizza places. Since 1970, it isn’t just pizza joints that have proliferated as restaurant sales have increased at a rate more than 30 times than that of the U.S. population. Although many might assume this is a reflection on a huge increase in “eating out” versus dining at home, the sobering reality is that nationwide, grocery store sales increased by over 80% in the last two and a half decades. In other words, we are just eating way more than ever (even while we continue to move less). Given this, it should come as no surprise that almost 3 in 4 men in the U.S. are overweight or obese and that being overweight is considered the “new normal.” Consider that in 1990, no state had an obesity rate of greater than 19 percent. By 2010, no state had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. It’s no wonder that obesity has quickly become the leading cause of preventable death.
Yet a closer look at the staggering statistics brings us back to those eight words on the sign. For starters, I like most people love that something I must do to survive can be so pleasurable. The fact that our bodies require a basic function that can create such positive, soothing feelings is a luxury that I daresay many organisms would certainly envy. Yet like any advantageous condition, a situation can occur where excess creates a dire situation, like the one that our employers and our healthcare system are currently experiencing with regard to the poor health of the population. No matter how you feel about this entire situation, it only a takes a cursory review to realize that we are truly at a breaking point financially and logistically in solving this crisis. When Starbucks spends more on healthcare than coffee, and stable, financially sound companies and municipalities are struggling to absorb the health costs of their employees, there is no doubt that each human being must consider what roll they are playing in this epidemic.
But for each of us to consider this, we have to be honest with ourselves. This honesty begins and ends with how food (and drinks) makes us feel, whether it is a “pick me up” first thing in the morning or the only perceived pleasure in an otherwise depressing existence. As the food industry reaches new heights with its marketing and rich, calorie dense concoctions, it is clear that food manufacturers share much of the blame. But as we wait (and hope) for healthy trends and potentially legislative solutions, hunger pains arrive and we must consider where the options for us lie.
Years ago, I worked with a nurse who started every day with at least one Coca-Cola (and often had more throughout the day). Having done this for years, and being well versed in how diet affects so many areas of functioning, she was aware there were much healthier options. But as she candidly told me one day, her Coke was one source of guaranteed goodness no matter what personal or professional challenges she faced that day. Sadly, though, she was also aware that this goodness did not come without a price.
Few things have more potential for addiction than food, but I would argue that no addictive commodity is more disregarded for its pernicious possibilities. Said another way, although people are starting to “wake up” to the serious concerns with chronic unhealthy eating, I believe that overeating and unhealthy eating is so commonplace, accepted, and even embraced that it overshadows so many problems this addiction can cause.
I love the moments just before and while I eat foods that taste good to me, although my cravings have shifted somewhat over the years. It is quite a gift that what sustains us can also please us. But no matter how much it does both, it can also threaten us. And regardless of what dietary strategies or activity commitments are undertaken, if we don’t cultivate healthy, substitute sources of happiness other than food (and drink), such as those I describe here, then individually and collectively, the weight of this crisis is only going to grow larger. As someone who has witnessed the costs of food addiction in those close to me, I know that I am vulnerable to its pull. So in order to avoid this easy trap, it’s important that I enjoy food for what it gives me, but intentionally create a lifestyle that is not dependent on its happiness. Otherwise, what starts out as a blessing may turn into a cup of despair.
For more information about food addiction and related resources, you can visit the following website: