Nutrition Opinion

A Nutritiously Packed Conversation

It’s a long one this time, but it’s a current conversation we are having about food packaging. We’ve started talking about food packaging in a way that it will solve deeper lying problems, when it in fact it may make them and other issues worse. Is there even a way to solve these problems, and does it revolve around the packaging?

Food – we love looking at it, taking pictures of it, talking about it, and even eating it. And now we’re talking about its packaging.

In short, the current discussion is to put the amount of time in exercise one will have to perform to burn off the calories contained in the product consumed. The studies which have been done show that putting this warning on food packaging will make people reconsider or stop eating the product. This is their answer to the obesity crisis.

While the studies may show a drop in consumption, again there are several issues with the deeper lying outcome. First and foremost, this action is no more than a bandaid style solution and will simply be another example of a short term fix. It doesn’t help the underlying issues we have today with food consumption, unhealthy foods, and the mind-set towards it. Some argue, however, that at least it will stop people eating unhealthy food products, and it doesn’t matter whether or not it addresses the source of the issue.

But it does matter, and here’s why – by not addressing the underlying issues and trying to fix the problems using this sort of quick bandaid style fix, it will cause the bigger underlying problems to become even bigger.

It negates the fact that we need to consume calories to survive and remain healthy. It completely bypasses the simple fact of the need for calories to function day to day. It doesn’t do anything to help the individual’s understanding of how important it is to actually eat. What it does is instead creates or even fortifies a false correlation between food and exercise. As in, if you eat more, you have to exercise more. Food consumption equals exercise. Based on this narrative, one meal would mean that I would have to spend hours doing exercise every day. If you don’t intensely exercise regularly, you can’t eat….  See where this is going?

Many people may not even know what calories are, how they work, or how our bodies consume them. This will only lessen this understanding. Throughout the day, our bodies are burning calories, energy and using them to actually simply function. If you were to drop you calorie consumption drastically at any one time without a gradual decrease, your body will not be able to function at its best. There is also the fact that as individuals, we use up calories differently and at different rates. Our day to day lives, activities, work also come into play as to the amount of calories our bodies will require.

At the same time you can question if it will even help anyone, based on human behaviours we see in other situations. Does it incentivise people who don’t exercise or care about exercise in general? Does it incentivise people who don’t think about healthy eating and living to cut back on the unhealthy foods?

The people it may incentivise are those who are already conscious about it, or those who know they shouldn’t, and therefor feel guilty about unhealthy eating. This brings us to the biggest problem of all – our relationship with food!

Aside from the fact that there could be a medical reason or the stress of one’s day to day life that could be the cause of weight gain, there are numerous eating disorders often linked to mental attachments, which range from heavily overeating to extreme undereating or barely eating.

Eating disorders exist in just as high numbers if not more than that of the national obesity crisis. What I see happening is this – Those who have disorders that come with undereating will look at the packaging and validate that negative relationship with food and probably eat even less, worsening their underlying challenge. Those who have eating disorders that come with overeating will still not be moved by the packaging because their challenge isn’t about how bad unhealthy food is. Again, if anything, it will create and ascertain a negative relationship with food which was never going to help and will most probably start a very negative cycle of more stress, cause more overeating, and even depression because of this unbreakable cycle.

To compound on this it will most probably also deepen the current body image issue we have in society today and all the disorders it comes with. Just looking at how it will translate to an individual shows how it can have a negative impact on a person who suffers from any of the above. And with the huge shift and spotlight we have built in trying to overcome and support people with disorders, and mental health awareness, is this not taking one or maybe ten huge steps backwards? Will it not undo all the social awareness, all the hard work, and positive strides we as a society have taken to overcome these conditions?

I am not the healthiest person by a long shot. I do exercise more than regularly, but don’t count my macros or micros. I write all this as someone who went from being a heavily overweight and overeating young teenager to eventually a place of undereating. I worked on my weight loss in a very positive manner (not because of body image), but eventually lost a bit of control of my mind-set and went too far with my eating. Thinking partially that I would put all my weight back on, I would really undereat, and even then talk about how I shouldn’t have eaten the small thing I did eat, even an apple, to anyone who would listen. This shift from one extreme to the other was all in the short time of around three to four years. The cause of this mind-set shift was a mixture of what I had achieved, but also from the wider society. It takes very little to get set into these frames.

Is there a solution? Maybe not, but it’s not this.

For me, it’s about education. Maybe we should put the resources into educating about nutrition and how it works instead of looking for quick damaging bandaid style fixes. At the same time, we could also focus on why we overeat, how we eat, and our relationship with food as a society.

Maybe it’s time to stop talking about the packaging and start talking about the food itself. If we were to focus on labelling then maybe we should start with the misleading or misinformation on packaging which is another conversation on its own. We should be looking at the ambiguous terms such as healthier and healthy and clarify their classifications.

At the end of the day, people will make their own minds up, and make their own choices. But either way exercise does not equal nutrition, and labelling food products as such would cause more problems than it would fix. We need to focus on the underlying issues.

Opinions in this piece are those of the author and creator only and don’t necessarily reflect those of LIFE ON FITNESS.

Founding partner at LIFE ON FITNESS. I'm a fitness enthusiast (not a fitness 'professional'). Being massively obese, I started my fitness journey at around the age of 14. It wasn't the cool thing to do yet, and didn't even know what my life was missing. It only got better as I researched, tried, studied, and tested evermore fitness elements and knowledge. I write my thoughts with the hopes of inspiring even one person to achieve their life goals as well as their fitness goals. But most importantly enjoy and get the best out of life.

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