Who is really responsible for our good health?
Should vegetables be served free in restaurants? That question was posed by health writer Paula Goodyer this week as an incentive to encourage people to make better food choices.
Goodyer reckons that if a bowl of veggies came to the table for free then we’d be forced into swapping an expensive side of chips for the healthier option.
It’s a good idea in theory. Mostly because we really should be doing everything we can to help each other make better food choices, especially when we’re eating out. But that doesn’t mean that everything healthy for us should be free, or that we should be relying on other people to do the right thing for our health.
If that were the case then restaurants would also have to stop charging for fish, lean cuts of meat and low-fat diary products, and where would that leave the farmers who put all that time, energy and love into harvesting healthful food.
The other issue here is shifting the responsibility for healthy eating onto someone else. And the idea that we need a financial reward or external support mechanism to make us look after ourselves.
The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has recently jumped on this bandwagon by proposing a restaurant ban for any soft drink over 16-ounces in size. Again, on the surface of things, this seems like a sensible idea. Soft drinks are one the biggest health evils because people consume them with food. They are a hidden calorie minefield, with an average of ten teaspoons of sugar in every can. But will enforcing health changes like this one, be effective in the long term?
Unlikely, says Brian Wansink and John S. Dyson in yesterday’s The Atlantic. The two professors from Cornell University, who have written a book on the behaviour behind mindless eating, say that when people are forced into eating less, or given fewer food choices, their natural instinct is to rebel and actually eat more of the forbidden food.
They say Bloomberg’s proposal will backfire because if someone is forced into ordering a small soft drink, they’ll end up ordering a second, or even a third, despite themselves, just to assert control.
That’s because the key to making healthier choices all comes down to self control. Michelle Bridges, the personal trainer from the Biggest Loser series says that in her experience, the only thing stopping people from losing weight and eating better is self-determination. In other words, we’ll only be successful in making changes to our diet and sticking to them, if we are the ones who decide to be healthier everyday.
It’s the same kind of thinking that we often hear from people who’ve managed to quit smoking after a lifetime of attempts at kicking the habit. How many times have you heard someone say that the only thing that really helped them in the end was to decide for themselves that they wanted to quit?
The same rules apply to healthy eating. Food and drink bans like Mayor Bloomberg is proposing will come and go, but nothing will really change unless we decide to get our minds in gear and just make better food and healthier living choices for ourselves.
Follow me on Twitter: @lucyjk
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