Eating Challenges: Our Obsession With Changing Our Diet

Our obsession with food, what we eat and our weight is not a new phenomenon. From the chewing and spitting craze in the 1900s to the high fat (yes, you read that right) Ketogenic diet of today, people have obsessed and battled and strived to work out what is best to eat, when they want to lose weight and feel healthier.

But why are we so obsessed? We can’t just blame it on our current heavy media culture, because dieting stems from as far back as the 1800s. The first low-carb diet book was actually published in 1825. As time went on scientists got involved with theories and methods, people became obsessed with calorie counting and celebrities started to cash in on the craze.

In this day and age the media love to point fingers if a celebrity gains a few noticeable pounds or is seen eating fast food. However, most of these celebrities also exercise for hours a day. Every woman out there would have Millie Mackintosh’s slim legs or Kim Kardashian’s tiny waist if they went to the gym six days a week and could afford a personal trainer.

The weight loss industry in North America is worth well over $60.5 billion. This alone proves just how obsessed we have become with changing our diet and trying the next new routine or method that comes on the market.

Take a look at what is topping the diet charts at the moment, you’ve got Juicing which involves literally blending every fruit in sight into an easy to gulp down liquid for breakfast, lunch and dinner; the Clean and Lean, a plan where you simply eat plain meat, raw vegetables and lots of nuts and coconut oil; the Lemon Detox Diet where you fast for five-to-eight days in a row, drinking only natural tree syrup with lemon juice and the Paleo or Caveman Diet which involves only eating and drinking foods that would have been available in the Stone Ages, so lean meat and fish, fruit and vegetables but not dairy, processed or cereals.

Do any of these sound fun?

But people continue to buy into them and treat them as a ‘challenge’ for a week or so. It’s almost become a competition to see how long you last doing one of these drastic diets without taking into consideration the impact that such drastic changes in diet can have on your body. The 5:2 diet is a good example of a challenging change in eating habits, eating normally for five days a week and fasting with only 500 calories a day for women and 600 for men.

We need to simply re think our relationship with food and dieting. Most of these eating challenges, such as only drinking lemon water for five days, might make you drastically lose weight, but once you start eating normally again it will pile back on. Many of these ways of eating are not manageable nor are they healthy.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the fascination many of us experience when watching a food eating competition. You might have seen Man vs Food, hosted by Adam Richman. The show involved Richman travelling around the US, attempting ‘challenges’ put on by restaurants; these could involve attempting to consume everything from a two gallon ice cream sundae to consuming 17 pounds of meat, cheese, cornbread, salad and a pecan pie in under 30 minutes.

Food challenges and competitions fill us with disgust but also intrigue at the same time. There’s even a Major League for professional eating, with contests and big prizes for winners. Thousands of people gather to watch people consume 70 hotdogs in 10 minutes and videos featuring people competing against animals rack up the views online. Why are we so fascinated?

Psychologist Dr Lawrence Rubin investigated the matter in an article on Psychology Today, and cited an interesting point made in a journal on extreme eating which concluded that people are ‘drawn to these eating spectacles in order to purge themselves of the forbidden desire to consume taboo foods (in mass quantities)’.

The main thing to take away from this is to not treat eating like a challenge. Eat a little bit of everything in moderation, don’t deny yourself a big treat every now and then and try to exercise two or three times a week. Enjoy it: being healthy is simple if you just take away the quick fixes, fad diets and ridiculous techniques!