I once read that a significant contributor to the modern day North American obesity epidemic is genetic memory from the years of starvation during the American Civil War. Essentially then, we have been on the rebound for a couple of hundred years, pouncing on the bountiful availability of food. And by all physical appearances, we are well along the path of annihilation of that genetic memory, hell-bent on the creation of genetic bliss.
But what if our genes also have a short term memory? What if this dietary experimentation of Suzanne’s has the same rebound potential?
I have been out of Dawson for more than a week now, taking in the Arctic Winter Games. I’m off the diet, grazing as I go on whatever seems edible. I’m amazed by the ease of eating without consciousness, of eating whatever is accessible, of eating without deliberation. And there is the re-found convenience of packaging: I am able to carry food with me now, whether that is a package of muffins, or a bag of chips, or a can of root beer, or a handful of chocolate bars. Because of packaging, I find myself always with food, no longer having to cope with a begging tummy that somehow feels forgotten and abandoned in the melee of life. My tummy and my genes are happy.
I was sitting with my son the other day, watching the gold medal table tennis match, when I noticed a wrapped sandwich in his hand. I said rather unconvincingly that it was nice of him to bring his starving father some food from the athlete’s cafeteria. He responded that he is experiencing the compulsion of grabbing food whenever he sees it, regardless of the need, and regardless of hunger. I said that I also, was succumbing to a “see-food” diet. Seems that we are both on the rebound. And I somehow doubt that this new shared phenomenon of food hoarding has much to do with the American Civil War!
And all would be fine if my food selection was reasonably healthy. But what I’m noticing is that my temptations are unabashedly succumbing to the lure of empty calories. For three days in a row, I found myself choosing from the “sale” bin of chocolate bars at the Northern Store. Similarly, I was magnetically attracted to the pastry section, where I could buy muffins by the six-pack. I found myself mesmerized in the chip and Dorito section, internally debating the flavors and prices, deluded by the prospect that there might be any true “value” in the purchase. And after an eight month abstinence, and perhaps as a way of assuaging my growing guilt about poor food choices, I could not seem to get enough bananas.
I’ve noticed that my waistline is expanding, despite increasing my exercise. And I’ve noticed that I experience no real hunger with these foods of high glycemic index. Contrastingly, in the Fall, when my diet contained no sugar and no grains, I felt constantly chilled and hungry, and the fat melted off my bones.
So, my take-home message? Enjoy feeling hungry. Not necessarily constantly, but for some portion of every day I will tolerate the awareness of an emptiness within. And if nothing else, it will bring a closer connection to my famine-suffered ancestors of old.