Food on the brain

Building body and mind

I work as a personal trainer in an industry that is focussed on exercise, supplements and food. Sometimes it seems as if everything in the fitness world is about the body, what we do with it and what we eat. But what about the relationship of the food we eat to how we think?

On the whole, we know what we should eat to live a long and healthy life, even if we also can be easily distracted from following such key principles.

Distracted into doing what, exactly?

Put simply, we tend to eat too much in the developed world and, as a result, obesity is now an issue for the wealthy and the not so wealthy alike. In the contemporary commercial climate, we are encouraged to eat and drink as much as we can afford to and are then pressured into thinking that we may be becoming overweight.

Hurry up and wait, etc.

Where I work, in Covent Garden, a new fast-food burger restaurant has just opened. Wahlburgers, a joint venture between chef Paul Wahlberg and his brothers, the actors Donnie Wahlberg and Mark Wahlberg, is a casual eating joint which has benefited from a high degree of (slightly predictable) media attention.

But, putting aside Wahlbergs' celebrity endorsement, do we need a new burger chain?

I would say we don't.

In our free-market entrepreneurial culture, new products and services are part of what makes this age so exciting and colourful. In this context, innovation and the variety it injects into our lives is to be welcomed. It is also what makes our economy tick, creates the jobs people need and gives us the means to make the choices that give our lives meaning.

But when the market meets our requirement for sustenance it can result in a situation where people look to food to fill a blank in their lives, just as shopping, television or the internet appears to do so. In this context, food - a vital and necessary ingredient in our ability to live healthily - can easily be reduced to the same level of meaning as a cheap T-shirt.

Based on my time in the fitness sector, I think that the best way to encourage people to engage meaningfully with their diet is to encourage them to take a different angle on their relationship with food.

To give an example, I recently watched an interesting documentary on ARTE, the French-German television channel, which considered the effects of food on the brain.

The central proposition of this programme was that, although it is commonly accepted that junk food or bad eating habits can lead to obesity and the risk of disease, the relationship between food and our brain is less well-known.

Our brain contains the biochemical structures that give us what we understand to be our identity (essentially a creation by our brain to enable us to engage meaningfully with the world around us). As such, the molecular composition of the food we eat is important because it affects these biochemical structures, which in turn has an impact on our identity and personality.

Or, to put it another way, what we eat not only affects our waistline, it also shapes us as individuals, not just by making us feel happy or sad, but as cognitive beings making informed decisions. Food can make us stronger, or it can destroy us, physically and in our hearts and minds.

The food we eat can be a source of comfort and pleasure. It can sustain us and build us, but it can also destroy us, quickly or slowly, in ways that may not be noticeable or measurable and without us being aware of what is happening.

Being alert to that possibility and the risk posed by a poor diet is the first step in changing our relationship to food so that we stay in control of our diet, health and future.

And once we have taken that step, we can take the other steps required to empower our decision-making and shape who we are as individuals.


#julien #JulienBertherat #food

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