Live long and prosper – by eating responsibly

Kentucky cardiologist Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley is worried about what she calls our ‘obesity epidemic’, and she points to the unlikely inspiration of Star Trek to address this epidemic:  the very Vulcan-like philosophy that “logic must prevail”.

Dr. Walton-Shirley thinks that North Americans have a bizarre obsession with food instead of a healthy appreciation of it.

“Our obsession with overloaded plates of value-meal goodies has led to an epidemic of diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, stroke, heart disease and death – while the medical community as a whole has largely stood by and done nothing.”

She blames her own profession for not incorporating the talk about nutrition into every office or hospital visit.

“When it comes to the end result of poor nutritional habits, we prefer to put out the fire instead of practising fire prevention. We unabashedly admit that we’d rather cath it, stress it, or medicate it than provide instruction on how our patients should properly fuel their bodies.”

Dr. Walton-Shirley insists that when it comes to food, we do everything wrong:  it’s how much we eat, what we eat, how we prepare what we eat, and even how quickly we eat that’s all wrong. She claims:

“Skinny adults in our society have become extinct among the hordes of obese. Drive-thru fast food restaurants are conveyor belts for gluttons who super-size breakfast, lunch and supper, and then appear to be truly clueless as to how they became so obese and how to correct this. 

“To our horror, chubby children have become the sickly angina-riddled frequent fliers on our cath tables today.”

In fact, she believes that our collective conscience has been so seared by deep friers and bakery ovens that the very definition of obesity has shifted upward a full 50 pounds from where it was three decades ago.

She’s convinced however that, working together, both physician and patient can take responsibility to “live long and prosper” by reversing the obesity epidemic.

Dr. Brian Wansink, a behavioral scientist at Cornell University, describes what we do with our overloaded plates as mindless eating. He explains:

“We’re a nation of mindless eaters. We do so many things during the day that when it comes to food. we can just nibble and nibble and nibble, and eat and eat and eat.”

He also warns that TV viewing causes people to eat 40% more than they would if they are not distracted.

Dr. Alan Kristal of the University of Washington would agree. He and his colleagues have developed a mindfulness eating questionnaire, a 28-item survey that measures a variety of factors:

  • disinhibition – eating even when full
  • awareness – being aware of how food looks, tastes and smells
  • external cues – eating in response to environmental cues, such as advertising
  • emotional response – eating in response to sadness or stress
  • distraction – focusing on other things while eating

Dr. Kristal has found that those who do yoga regularly are in fact much better at eating mindfully, a practice which has been associated with healthy weight loss.

Dr. Walton-Shirley adds that the liquor industry’s ‘Drink Responsibly’ warnings should be adapted as ‘Eat Responsibly’ in order to improve our heart health.

Read the full article by Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, or more about mindfulness eating research.

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2 thoughts on “Live long and prosper – by eating responsibly

  1. “…We unabashedly admit that we’d rather cath it, stress it, or medicate it than provide instruction on how our patients should properly fuel their bodies…”

    This statement makes it seem that physicians are somehow afraid to tell the truth to their patients rather than laying down the law about the need to change their lifestyles and/or eating habits. Doesn’t this just seem WRONG to you?


  2. Dr. Shirley is correct – but it seems to me that few adults are truly interested in being accountable for their choices. Most people are happy to abdicate responsibility for heart health (and other areas of our own health) and let our doctors patch us up after the fact.


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