Passionate about food, eating, exercise and health, I have been a casual observer of the obesity epidemic. From watching the HBO series The ...

On Eating, Pleasure and Other Musings

Passionate about food, eating, exercise and health, I have been a casual observer of the obesity epidemic. From watching the HBO series The Weight of the Nation to devouring article after article discussing new research, I am learning, experimenting and watching.

Recently, I read this really great article called Fat City, basically a collection of thoughts on eating, dieting, obesity and health. The author, Karen Hitchcock, works as a physician in an obesity clinic. She talks quite frankly—touching on the feeling of moral superiority from being thin to the shame of overeating. Most striking to me, though, was a brief section on a man who claimed to be addicted to eating.

That's not possible, says Hitchcock. In fact, the man was poor and had no other sources of pleasure in his life. Food was the only pleasure he could afford, and so he indulged himself.

And isn't that what many of us do? We eat to infuse pleasure in the boring work day, or to curb the discomfort of exhaustion. It's no wonder sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain. The more I considered it, the more I saw this same pattern in my own life. In fact, as the first few days of the Live Below the Line challenge took much of the pleasure from eating, I found myself struggling to consume enough rather than overconsuming.

The Weight of the Nation seemed ever-ready to pin the obesity epidemic on junk food. And while I don't doubt its role, their arguments didn't seem to hold up in my mind. The documentary seemed to imply that the low prices of junk food were what drew Americans to over consume.

But that didn't make sense. First, junk food is more expensive than more nutritious options like rice, beans and other grains. Second, if finances were an issue, overconsumption would appear to be the last issue: how could one afford to over consume without financial resources to do so?

Instead, I'd argue that the real issue is the relationship between pleasure provided, calories and cost. Cheap, old carrots taste awful and provide absolutely no pleasure. Cheap french fries are delicious and pleasurable—their salt and fat comforting. Plain, cheap oatmeal versus plain, cheap pizza? It's hardly worth comparing.

Rather than eliminating fast food—a reliable source of calories—we ought to focus on infusing pleasure into more healthful fare. Fresh, market carrots are sweet, full of flavor and a rich experience. Heirloom tomatoes and tree-ripened peaches fill the aware eater with tingles and gasps. Garlicky, salty eggplant drenched in rich olive oil can give the unsuspecting tastebuds a moment's pause in delight. By focusing our efforts on the positive—rediscovering the joy of eating real, fresh foods—we stand to gain a lot.

Another viable solution is providing an alternative source of pleasure. Computers, television and the internet provide a wealth of pleasurable entertainment, but all of it is sedentary. Why not kill two birds with one stone and replace eating with activity?

Places to play, walk and bike could be the simple solution we are looking for. Is it really any wonder that Colorado is one of the nation's thinnest states? If a hamburger and a day hike provide the same amount of pleasure, and we can convince more people to fulfill their daily pleasure quota with the latter, we could make some real progress.

And this is why it's not enough to simply tell people to exercise for 30 minutes a day. Exercising, for most, is inherently un-pleasurable. Instead, we need to provide the resources to draw pleasure from activity—from bike-friendly shopping centers to walking paths showcasing natural beauty, from community gardens to recreation bowling leagues. Rather than encourage formal exercise, let's make informal exercise a part of our lives.

And who knows, along the way, we might make our cities and our country, a better place to live.

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