The other factor involved in obesity is poor nutrition. The main problems appear to be: fast-foods with lots of salt, sugar, colour additives and artificial flavourings; snacking and eating hurriedly at our desks or on the go; low consumption of fresh foods like fruit and vegetables. All of these factors combine to push our weight up. They also leave us hungry for more. Yes, they deliver lots of calories, but they are not very nourishing or good for our well-being.
It’s now well known that too many fizzy drinks can have an adverse impact on children’s behaviour. For nine months during 2001 Oxford academic Bernard Gesch gave half of the inmates at a young offenders institution dietary supplements, while the others received an identical-looking placebo.
Within a fortnight the prisoners who were receiving the real vitamins, omega oils and minerals had reduced their level of aggressive behaviour by 37%. Those who were taking the placebo had no change in their aggressive behaviour. At the end of the experiment when the dietary supplements were withdrawn, the behaviour of young men who had been receiving the real supplements quickly deteriorated to its previously aggressive level.
Some research studies have linked the rise in the number of children who find it difficult to concentrate (attention deficit disorder) with the increase in foold colourings and fizzy drinks.
Poor nourishment can affect our mood in other ways. When we feel overweight our self-esteem goes down, some people develop depressions and an unhealthy pattern of binge eating, followed by dieting, can take hold. Many people, especially young women, are in the grip of conditions like anorexia and bulimia.
Somehow, we’ve lost our healthy relationship with food. But many of us could improve our health and sense of well-being by taking a little more care over what we eat – and by increasing our level of physical activity.
Cambridge academic Dr Nick Bayliss recommends that we should spend more time eating in company, since this helps to balance our approach to food: 'The company of caring people is as much an essential sustenance as a good meal, and will stop us trying to fill the emotional gaps with food or drink.'
He also suggests that we should eat more slowly, chewing our food carefully, which allows enzymes in our saliva to break the food down more efficiently – making it far more useful to our bodies. It also makes each mouthful more satisfying, making less food go further.
His tips for eating better include:
- Low-sugar, high variety, modestly portioned meals
- Steamed food, rather than boiled
- Snacks of raw fruit, different colours of vegetables and unsalted mixed nuts (allergies allowing)
These help to even out our blood sugar level, which will boost our energy levels and make us feel more positive.