Saturday, May 23, 2009

Unhealthy Preferences

I've hinted in earlier posts on this blog that I could stand to lose some weight. I'm working on it. Nothing radical. I'm not a believer in fad diets. I'm just focusing on increased exercise, smaller portions and healthier food choices.

One thing I've changed is the lunches that I take to work. I used to take two luncheon meat sandwiches, some type of fruit, a soft drink (not diet) and a granola bar or a few cookies or something like that. Now, I take a bottle of garden cocktail, fruit and a granola bar or cookies or whatever. Basically, I've replaced the bread and luncheon meats with vegetable juice and I've dropped the soft drink. I figure I'm getting my daily serving of fruits and vegetables and losing the unhealthy stuff.

I don't mind this particular adjustment. I actually enjoy the garden cocktail, but it seems to be an exception to the rule. Normally, I just don't like healthier foods. I prefer enriched white bread over whole wheat or rye bread. I prefer a honey cruller over a bran muffin. I dislike diet soft drinks because aspartame leaves a weird after-taste.

It would be so much easier to adopt a healthy diet if we naturally preferred healthy foods. For the most part, I don't think we do. I suspect it's a safe bet that most people, if presented with a choice between a cheeseburger and a salad, would be naturally inclined to choose the cheeseburger. Some people may end up choosing the salad, either for health reasons or because they're vegetarian or vegan or whatever but, if people were to choose solely on the basis of which food they found more appealing or tempting, I have to believe that the cheeseburger would win, buns down.

If I'm right, this suggests that human beings are naturally wired to prefer unhealthy foods or, at least, less healthy foods. The preference for meat over fruits and vegetables may have to do with the fact that we're natural carnivores or, at least, omnivores. Show a cheeseburger and a head of lettuce to a rabbit, and it will eat the lettuce. A dog, on the other hand, will eat the cheeseburger. Nature programs us with certain preferences.

Suppose we make it a choice between fried chicken and boiled, skinless chicken. Now it's no longer a choice between meat vs. plants. Both choices are now meat. They're even the same kind of meat. And yet, I bet most would choose the fried chicken over the boiled, even though the boiled is technically healthier.

It seems to me that mother nature has a mean streak. She designed us to be drawn to things that aren't good for us. Imagine how much healthier and happier we'd all be if we had a natural preference for the right foods. No more guilt over enjoying a snack. Go ahead! Eat all the rutabaga you like.

Of course, this would radically alter the way in which restaurants cater to their customers. At the McDonald's drive through, you might overhear something like:

Drive-thru Attendant: Welcome to McDonald's! How can I help you?

Customer: Uh, yeah, I'd like a McTofu Meal, please.

Drive-thru Attendant: Certainly, sir. Would you care to super-size that today?

Customer: Extra bean curd? Sure. I'll walk on the wild side. And can I get a soy shake instead of the prune juice?

Drive-thru Attendant: No problem. That'll be $8.50. Please drive through to the pickup window.

Unfortunately, we're not naturally inclined to want the things that are good for us, which leaves us only willpower and self-discipline; two things that I was never very good at.

It's too bad that the Ludovico Technique used in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is fictitious, otherwise we could reprogram ourselves. Imagine being strapped to a chair with your eyelids clamped open, being forced to watch McDonald's commercials while getting violently ill. That'd cure the desire for junk food, alright.


Candy said...

Have you considered the salt content of your favourite "unhealthy" foods? Have you checked the sodium content of your new favourite veggie drink? I think for the most part a lot of these foods that we shouldn't have but crave are loaded with sodium. Plain old veggies and fruit don't have added sodium.

Halmanator said...

Sure, but my question still stands; why are we drawn to foods loaded with sodium, when it's not good for us? I suppose it's a good thing we don't crave arsenic!