Do you remember when it was frowned upon eat between meals?

by | July 27, 2012 | food adverts, nutrition, obesity, sugar

Every nutrition seminar I go to tells me how much more sugar we, as a population, are eating now compared to the past fifty or so years.  The figures are quite staggering.  And following on from this information, the therapists attending the seminars are told how damaging sugar is, and how fat is not the problem that everyone thinks it is, it’s sugar that is responsible for the obesity epidemic.  In fact this information is starting to filter through to the mainstream media;

I was watching a programme on BBC2 which was reporting that sugar is more to blame for heart disease and obesity than fat (The Men Who Made Us Fat,BBC2).

This rise in sugar intake is undoubtedly due to the increased availability of processed foods that are around now.  But there’s something else going on, that I find quite disturbing…

As recently as the 1970s, snacking between meals was frowned upon, and not common practice at all.  And most people stuck to three meals a day, without eating in between.  Do you remember hearing that you would ‘ruin your appetite’ if you ate between meals?  I do.  The range of snack and convenience foods were not available to the same extent as they are now.  If you wanted a snack, you had to make it yourself (even if this was just bread and butter).

So the food manufacturers and the advertising companies decided to do something about this.  A whole new food category was developed to satisfy our hunger between meals (despite the fact that the human race had survived perfectly well before without these foods up to now).  And these foods were invariably chocolately, sugary, sweets and biscuits.

There are numerous junk food adverts that associate themselves with a having a snack between meals, for example the ‘Diet Coke break’ at 11.30am, or ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’, or what about Milky Way – ‘the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’?  And so it became socially acceptable to have a chocolate bar mid-morning, or mid-afternoon because you were consuming the perfect food for that time of day.  You were giving yourself a break, a treat.  And we all know how extremely powerful TV advertising is; even if we don’t want to be affected by it, often we are.  How many of us can find ourselves humming the theme tune to a car insurance advert?  But the fact was that we didn’t need these kinds of foods.  We were responding to the advertising campaigns of food manufacturers who were simply looking to increase sales of their products.

And it’s getting worse and worse today.  A particular bug bear of mine is the breakfast cereal market; the breakfast items that are advertised for children are practically chocolate biscuits!  Totally processed, brightly packaged, junk food.  What happened to a bowl of cornflakes with a slice of toast and butter? But I’ve written about that before…
The big problem with sugar laden foods is that they can have a very powerful hold over some people; you can find yourself craving them, wanting to eat them when you’re not really hungry, or eating them to the point of feeling sick.  This rarely happens with wholesome, natural foods.

The other problem with snacking on these foods is that, come mealtimes, your genuine hunger is reduced, and being genuinely hungry for main meals means that eating is much more satisfying.  So you’ve eaten a sugary snack that your body didn’t really want, and also taken away the satisfaction from eating your meal too!  Double whammy.

The solution in part is to very carefully listen to your body to decipher your true hunger signals, whilst filtering out the noise of food marketing.  This takes time and practise, but being aware of the problem is the first step.  Pay attention to how hungry you really are, and if you have a sugary snack, focus in on how you feel afterwards.

Although there is a big movement towards natural, unprocessed foods, I would imagine that the big food manufacturers will always have influence over what we eat in some way, and it might well get worse.

So, do as I do – develop a highly cynical attitude to any advertisements you see for food or drink!