Programmed Eating Habits

Written by Dr. Mel Siff

Dr. Siff Examines some possible reasons for overeating.

Some folk maintain that the most effective way of losing excess body fat is to eat 5-6 smaller, well balanced meals a day? Interestingly, this is precisely what some people advocate as the best way of increasing lean body weight. In other words, it appears as if the best way to both gain muscle and lose fat is to eat more frequent smaller balanced meals. Maybe we need to change our entire eating rituals to enhance our physical being, be it to lose weight, gain weight or minimise the incidence of many diseases of modern civilisation.

To determine what is the optimal frequency of eating for any given population is under certain circumstances, we need to look back through history at the evolution of eating customs over the years, as well as at how so-called "primitive" people and animals eat. A great deal of eating in the wild seems to be opportunistic - if it is there and you are genuinely in NEED of food (i.e., are hungry), then eat it.

Far too often we eat because we WANT to eat (imagined need) or because it is expected socially of you on a given eating ritual occasion called lunch, supper or dinner. Far too often refusing to eat is regarded as "rude" or a sign of being ill! Far too often parents induce their offspring to overeat by impressing upon kids that they will fall ill if they don't eat enough or "will never grow up big and strong like dad unless they eat up!

Some folk would have us wander a bit into some Freudian and related psychology and suggest that many people enjoy filling their mouths with food because they are still in the "oral-anal" phase of human development and are using their adulthood to satisfy the need to eat, suck, smoke or otherwise keep the mouth busy in some sort of pleasurable oral activity. The "anality" of the syndrome may be expressed in the use of foul language and behaviour relating to the nether regions of the body. However, let's leave that to the psychologists and attend to matters more physiological in orientation!

Is there any scientific support why we eat according to the custom of three meals a day? Is the main purpose of "tridiurnal eating" one of social habit and organisational convenience than anything else? Is there any reason at all why we have to eat daily? Then, why do we have to start a meal with something called "hors de-ouevres" or "starters" and end with "dessert" or "pudding"? Is there any real need to include these components or is there any good reason why we need to follow any specific eating order?

The very presence of these items on a menu is enough to entice some folk to focus more on the frills and empty calories than the "main" dish. When I was speaking at a sports conference in Taiwan recently, I found it most interesting that a very large array of different foods was served at the same time and you could choose what to eat in virtually any order. I found it a fascinating and relaxing way of eating and socialising - once I had mastered using chopsticks! It stimulated me to seriously re-examine all of my eating habits or those that my culture had programmed me into following.