A Big Picture View of the Nutrition World

I’d love to share a recent interview with you where I talked about the work I do: the current state of affairs in the nutrition world, the role industry plays in our health, the economics of eating healthy, the impact of culture on metabolism, where nutrition innovation actually comes from, and more. Indeed, there’s a fascinating dimension to eating that has remained largely unaddressed. Currently, if you want to talk about people’s motivations and inner universe around food, the only recognized academic place to do that is in the realm of clinical eating disorders – which make up about 4% of the population. What about the other 96%? What about the rest of us who overeat, binge eat here and there, have some weight we’re trying to lose, or have our challenges around nutrition and health?

Q: You have an unusual approach to food and nutrition. Tell me more about it.

MD: The collective conversation around nutrition tends to focus on rules, standardization and a painstaking analysis of food. It looks like this: The Experts say, “Eat this; don’t eat that. We’re going to dissect the food we’re telling you about and explain everything that’s in it, and what each of those components does in a human body. Then we’ll homogenize all bodies, create one standard, and say ‘Here’s what all human bodies need when it comes to nutrition. Here’s a list of what you should and shouldn’t eat. Here’s what’s good. Here’s what’s bad.’”

At best, that’s only about half the story. The other half of the story is who you are as an eater: what you think, what you feel, what you believe, what you bring to the table.

We all eat, and we all have a relationship with food. That’s what I focus on. Many people know about nutrition, and a lot of us know too much. We’re suffering from what I call a “high fact diet”. A typical bookstore may have a hundred different books written by a hundred different experts – MD’s, PhD’s, dieticians, nutritionists – that all say something different, and each has scientific proof of why their system works.

My approach is different. I focus on the psychology of eating, or what I call:

Dynamic Eating Psychology.

It encompasses our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors toward food. All of these have a very real impact on how food is metabolized in the body.

Q: There is a lot of information out there, from bookstores and Internet sites to government programs geared toward educating people about nutrition. But it seems that, except for among the most educated and wealthy segment of the population, the nutrition of our nation hasn’t improved significantly over my lifetime. In fact, with the current epidemic of obesity, one could argue it has degenerated. Why is that?

MD: The nutrition conversation in the country is driven in large part by corporate economics. Profit is a powerful motivating force in the food production. Manufacture as much as you can, sell it as cheaply as you can – that’s it. Overall, that’s how the food industry operates.

So, it doesn’t matter what’s happening to the earth, or people’s bodies. Industry isn’t interested in health: it’s interested in money. And that philosophy drives scientific nutrition research. Food and nutrition research is mostly for hire these days, and a shocking amount of it is paid for by industry – the sugar industry, the corn syrup industry, big agriculture, pharmaceutical companies, the dairy lobby, and familiar names like Coke and Pepsi.

Then we get into these fascinating conversations about which foods are good or bad for you. Is it better to eat chocolate, or not? Should I eat dairy or be vegan? Yes, this is an intellectual and scientific question. But can’t you feel it in your body? Can you sense it? This is an innate ability that we’ve lost over time. We override body wisdom through advertising, or the huge quantity of food that’s served in restaurants and movie theaters. We focus on big and we focus on fast.

Our nervous system, which is highly articulate, figures out a lot of interesting things about what works for the body and what doesn’t. But it needs time; it takes your body approximately 20 minutes to realize it is full. Biology needs that much time to ask itself, “What did I eat? How did that feel? Did I have enough fat, carbohydrates?”

Eventually your body figures out what’s happening, and will give signals accordingly: “need more food, need less food. Hmmm, need more protein, need something a little sweet and tasty.” But our culture asks us to move fast, but when we’re moving fast and eating fast, we don’t notice.

Q: And eating rapidly isn’t good for digestion, either, I understand.

MD: That’s right: besides minimizing the communication between the body, the gut and the brain, rushing also creates stress, which shuts down our digestion – depending on the intensity of the stress response. Over the long term, that kind of chronic, low-grade stress has even greater impacts on metabolism. When you’re creating “stress physiology” among many other things you’re elevating cortisol and insulin. Those two hormones alone, when elevated day in and day out, signal the body to store fat, store weight, and not build muscle – which is the opposite of what most people want.

Q: Please explain cortisol.

MD: It’s a fascinating hormone. Let’s say we’re sitting here, and you’re completely calm and relaxed. Then I take a hypodermic needle filled with cortisol, and inject it in your arm. In a few minutes, you’ll start to get antsy. You’ll look at your watch. You’ll start thinking “I’ve got things to do. There’s stuff happening. There’s so much to get done today!”

Cortisol causes the brain to alter time perception.

It produces a sense of urgency, and it seems to speed up time. This is a physiological response from more primitive times; when a lion is chasing you, you have to make quick decisions based on survival, and time needs to be more compressed because we may not have much of it left.

In our normal waking day, if we’re over-secreting cortisol, it’s signaling the brain to think time is running out and shifting us into survival mode. What do people always complain about? “I don’t have enough time,” – “There’s not enough time to cook nourishing meals”. For sure, so many of us have busy schedules, but many of us feel a time crunch because we are in a state of low-grade stress physiology.

And we keep giving each other those messages through the media. Speed up, move faster, get famous now, be successful already… We do what the media tells us, and we eat what the experts say to eat, but we don’t slow down and reflect, “Is this even working?” Or on a bigger scale, “Does our culture work? Does our way of living work?”

Q: How does the way we nourish ourselves ultimately change? Do the first seeds of ideas come from research and studies from leading universities?

MD: Big innovation in the field of nutrition seldom comes from the hallowed halls of universities; it always comes from the outside. For example: people like Michio Kushi. Walk into any supermarket, and you’ll find tofu or miso. These are both macrobiotic foods that started out as strange, bizarre 1960s nutrition cult experiences. Look at the organic food movement. It really launched in the 1960s with a bunch of hippies, and now every grocery store you go into has a good selection of organic foods. Or supplements: the idea of vitamins and other nutritional supplements didn’t come from researchers at Harvard or Tufts, but from people like Adele Davis and countless unknown or lesser known practitioners, herbalists, traditional healers, and nutritional renegades.

Another example is Dr. Robert Atkins, of the Atkins Diet fame. He was ridiculed, ostracized, looked upon as a blithering medical fool. But he stuck to his guns, and the truth was, he had some powerful insights that were later proved correct. Does it mean his system is right for everybody? No. But he introduced an important concept: if you’re eating way too many carbs (which most Americans were), not enough fat and not enough protein, you may have some health or weight issues. That slowly crept into the mainstream, and now it’s widely accepted.

Q: But you say that what’s causing obesity and ill health in this country is not bad food.

MD: For sure, our diet has been corrupted – it’s causing dis-ease and it’s killing us – but to me, bad food is ultimately a symptom, not the cause. It’s a symptom because someone is creating that harmful food, marketing it, and making us believe in it, but behind all of this is the human psyche, sometimes behaving at its worst. The people driving this industry understand what they’re doing – they’re not dumb. They know they’re selling you a poor quality product, but that’s not interesting to them. What’s interesting to them is profit. So we’re faced with money-driven food production, and a dumbed-down population that’s not taught to embody their own wisdom. The result is we’re easily conditioned to eat junk until it kills us, never seeing any connection between what we eat and its impact on our vitality.

Q: And then we have an economic situation where, if you don’t have enough money, you can’t buy the higher quality foods. You’re buying pasta and processed cheese and muffins. You’re basically living in survival mode.

MD: Agree. We live in a world of nutritional “haves” and “have-nots.” And that gets us back to how we structure politics, how we structure our world. Food is just a reflection of that, of us. It’s a snapshot of our inner world and of how humanity has yet to learn how to truly take care of each other.

Look at any one person in terms of their economic standing, their gender, or their demographic, and then look at their diet and their relationship with food and their body. Most of the time you’ll see that it all makes sense. You can tell some people “Don’t eat at McDonald’s” all day long, and they’re not interested in hearing it because, guess what? You can get a dollar meal! What financially struggling human wouldn’t eat at McDonald’s? A meal for a dollar is mind boggling if you’re only making a few handfuls of dollars a day. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s called survival. But it makes thriving virtually impossible.

Then on the other side of that economic divide, let’s take the typical highly educated, fascinated-with-nutrition, 25-to-50-year-old woman in this country. Her eating and her exercise programs are often driven by poor body image: the viral cultural belief that you have to be skinny and perpetually look like a 17-year-old.

Q: Are you saying that women generally have a different relationship with food than the typical man does?

MD: Yes – many do. That’s because women have a different relationship with the body, because the culture asks something different of them. Our culture is not saying to you, as a man, “We need you to have the perfect body and the perfect weight in order for you to be lovable and get everything you want.” What we tell you, the man is, “Make a whole bunch of money and be powerful, then you can have whatever you want.” Now if you’re handsome, or fit, that helps – but if you’re rich, it doesn’t really matter what you look like; you can get what you want – says the collective message.

For women, the message is:

“Just look a certain way, and then you can get the guy and win all the prizes.”

Many women (and men) have what I call a “false-positive diet” and a “false-positive body.” They’re eating the right foods and doing the right exercises, they have the body they want, and yet internally, they’re miserable. They’re doing exercises they can’t stand, eating a diet that requires constant pressure and willpower, and ceaselessly bracing against the fear that if they don’t keep doing all this exercise, dieting and denial of pleasure, they’ll gain weight, which means they’re screwed. If internally what’s going on is fear and hating the body, I don’t care how much a person weighs, or how fit they are. It’s all an illusion of the ego.

But there’s good news about all of this: there’s plenty of room for improvement in the food chain, and in the many possible ways our world can be healthier and more humane for all its eaters. So if you care about nourishing yourself, or the world, then the world could certainly use your assistance.

Are you ready to jump in? How do you choose to be part of the circle life and sustenance?

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • Arielle Brown

    Thank you for this post, Marc. This covers so much ground as to where we are in the food, body and health industry. It makes it easy to understand and is inspiring for change.

    • Hi Arielle –

      Thanks for joining in the conversation.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
      We’re all in this together.
      Great inspiration, hope and passion can lead to great change.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Todd Nettelhorst

    Thank you Marc, really appreciate this interview. I agree with Ariele’s comments and we MUST start educating our children with the proper knowledge!

    • Hi Todd –

      I’m glad you felt the interview had merit.
      I’ve found that much of what I learned the hard-way around food and eating, I was able to pass onto my son in more balanced, positive lessons. Life is an education in the best possible way.
      Thanks for joining in the conversation here.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • GaryD

    Marc I could not agree with you more, I think society puts a lot of pressure on woman and their relationship with food. My wife really struggles with food, we are now on the “other side” of anorexia but it was a long hard struggle and at times all I wanted to say to her was eat but I knew that it was her that had to come to terms with her relationship to food. I am pleased to say that we are over it and she is much healthier state but I know that this relationship with food will be her (and mine) constant battle

    • Hi Gary,

      Wow. That’s a hard and often heartbreaking road to walk with a loved-one. So grateful to hear that she’s “out of the woods” – congratulations. The battles we fight with food are such delicate and personal matters. Just know that there’s hope for full healing. Thank you for sharing your story. My thoughts and heart-felt wishes are with you and your wife’s continuing journey.

      Warm Regards,
      Marc David

      • Yes Marc, your explanation of how weight is portrayed in society according to gender is spot-on. I’ve tried to find ways of explaining it to my dad and I’m glad I was finally able to show him this piece.

        • Happy to hear this was helpful to you – here’s hoping Dad had a positive response as well.

          Best,
          Marc

  • Chantelle

    Hello Marc,

    This was such a great, insightful interview. I really appreciate your philosophy on food and eating and other overall state of nutrition in this country. The truth is that all the information for a thriving life is out there, so why do people continue to make food choices that are harmful to them? We have to get to the root of that to hopefully help us to move forward.

    Thanks for all the work that you do! I would love to go through your Eating Psychology program… fingers crossed!!

    • Hi Chantelle,

      Thank you.

      You raise an important question – “why do people continue to make food choices that are harmful to them?” and there are so many reasons why. Often, the reasons we’re struggling is not about what we put in our mouths (a factor, yes) but with our relationship with who we are as eaters, and the real life challenges we face with being human and alive. Until we’re willing to be present to ourselves, and the needs of our bodies, as well as the needs of our heart and spirit, we might struggle against the rules and external rulers that we try to measure up to in the world.

      We have plenty of work to do together.
      I see that you’ve signed up for the free informational tele-class this Thursday.
      Looking forward to it.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • summer

    Marc, your articles as well as your books have had a huge impact on my life. Thank you very much for sharing your insights.

    Summer

    • Hi Summer,

      You are so welcome!
      It’s such an honor to hear my work is having a positive impact.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Marc, as always, so well-spoke and inspiring!
    Thanks
    Karin

    • Hi Karin,

      Nice to see you here!
      Thanks for the kind and supportive words.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Very nice job. Excellent insights, accurate, and well written.

    • Hi Dr. Max

      Thank you for your kind praise.
      I appreciate you taking the time to join the conversation here.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Karen Semon

    Loved your article. More people need to pay attention to the insights you share.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thank you so much – I truly appreciate your support.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Patricia

    Such a great post Marc. Thank you.

    I am just getting to understand the cortisol link to eating. I attended a lecture at the end of last year where (very paraphrased and abbreviated), I learned that we should enjoy our food when eating. To elaborate, I’m coming from an angle of feeling guilty when having something “naughty”. When we feel guilty (bad), our cortisol level rises and so does our fat retention.

    Hence, if you’re eating something [“naughty”] because you love it, then do just that, enjoy it and be happy while eating it. Just get back on track (if on a diet) right after.

    I know that’s cutting out a whole lot of the lecture but that was the gist of it. Hope that made sense 🙂

    • Patricia –

      It’s a tough one to crack and really embrace, but once you get it – it’s such a relief. Isn’t it interesting that we need permission to experience pleasure in our lives – even (and maybe especially) when it comes to “naughty” food? Being in love with our life can go a long way towards “curing what ails us”.

      Thanks so much for joining in and sharing your perspective.

      Best,
      Marc David

      • Yes, after dealing (and now recovering) from in eating disorder, it’s hard to fully enjoy my food without freaking out and feeling guilty. I’m working on this and hopefully it will help to bring my cortisol levels down! Thank you for this great post, Marc.

        • Hi Rachael –
          My best wishes on your continuing journey into more wholeness and I have no doubt you can get where you want to go!

          Best regards,
          Marc David

  • Great insights. Your remarks about cortisol really hit home. Sounds just like me.

    • Hi Caryn,

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad that this discussion on cortisol rang true for you. I expect it does for so many of us who are leading stressful lives.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • We got told about your website today. Extremely insightful and interesting to read about this side of nutrition. Thank you (and thank you to our friend for sharing!) e & c

    • Hi Sisters,
      Glad to have you here!

      Warm Regards,
      Marc David

  • elizabeth

    I too appreciate the love/hate relationship we all seem to have with food. For me, the bigger issue is a kind and humane food chain which means a plant based diet. It is remarkable how much easier food choices are when an ideology is attached to those very same food choices. It supersedes temptation I have discovered.

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I’m glad you’ve found an eating style that nourishes you and brings you peace.
      For some, a plant-based style of eating is the ticket, for others, learning to trust the body’s wisdom and legitimate needs can also bring peace.
      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective here.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Anna

    My goodness. I found myself speed reading this so that I could eat breakfast before the laundry comes out of the dryer, so that I could look pulled together enough for an appointment that is to take place in one hour. Oof- dah! No wonder I have digestion issues.

    • Hi Anna,
      Aha! Caught yourself – this is good.
      The first step is awareness 🙂
      Thanks for connecting.

      Marc

  • sue

    Thank you for sharing. It is great to see someone getting this information out there. There is one thing I will disagree on. At one time I was a single mom with three kids and I was on food stamps. It was tight, but I cooked. . Cooking makes a big difference. Shopping in bulk, baking items, buying discounted meat, made the food budget work. If I went to a McDonalds it was for a treat, because I had a little extra. People who are poor can eat good food, we should not make up excuses for them. They have the same struggles about food that you mention. They are rushed, do not cook, low self esteem etc.. I can’t tell you how many times I have waited in the welfare office and just watched people. Cigrettes are expensive, coffee drinks, pop, alcohol are expensive, theses are items that poor people spend a lot of money on.

  • mary malnor

    Once again your words ring so true . Thank you for sharing your insight .

    • Hi Mary,
      I’m so glad you are connecting with my work. Thank you for reaching out to let me know!

      Best,
      Marc

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.