There are good reasons — both upstream and down — why Mayor Bloomberg should want to ban the sale of enormous sodas in New York City.
The distal, downstream reasons are dire health outcomes aided and abetted by soda consumption: obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease, cancer, and stroke in children as well as adults. This toxic tide is well documented, as is the important contribution the empty calories and copious sugar of soft drinks (and related sugar-sweetened beverages that often do a better job of hiding their nature under an evocative name like “sports” drink) make to it.
The proximal, upstream reasons are that people buy enormous sodas in enormous quantities because one, they tend to think more for less is a bargain; and two, they like it!
1) The notion that more — measured in calories — is better used to make sense. It made sense throughout the long sweep of human history during which calories were a rate-limiting commodity in the struggle to survive. It made sense even more recently when calories were still relatively scarce and hard to get, and physical activity unavoidable. It made so much sense, in fact, that we equated food/calories with security and success, and spoke of bringing home the bacon, being the breadwinner, and making dough.
2) Regarding the second, the fact that people like soda — I’ll start with the personal. I used to drink soda as a kid, being raised on a typical American diet until I was old enough to see the light and take matters into my own hands.
A large volume of research I have reviewed for several of the books I’ve written, 20 years of clinical practice, and personal experience convince me that taste buds are malleable little fellas: When they can’t be with a food they love, they pretty readily learn to love the food they’re with. And once they do, familiarity becomes a powerful reinforcing agent. We like what we know.
Most of the evidence I’ve encountered — both published and personal — suggests that habituation to new and improved versions of foods and recipes happens in as little as two weeks, or even less. A good example is a transition from whole milk to skim milk.
If you like whole milk and try skim, it tastes a bit like dishwater at first. If you stick with skim milk for a few days, it becomes hard to remember what the problem was. Hang in there for a week or two, and you will register the taste and texture of skim milk as just… milk. Retry whole milk at this point, and it will make you think of wallpaper paste.
The same basic principle applies to all foods. And there is enormous opportunity to trade up choices within food categories, and derive stunning health benefits — acclimation, but no real heavy lifting, required.
So here’s the thing: If it takes only about two weeks to adjust to new and better foods, then what stands between us and the dietary promised land where we can all as a matter of routine love foods that love us back, is a hill only two weeks high. For far too long, we have been making a mountain out of this molehill!
But to climb it requires the coordinated efforts of the supply side, and the demand side.
We can make health a prevailing cultural meme by replacing our unconscious adaptations with conscious choices. It’s true, we are adapted to like sweet. But we are also adapted to be terrestrial — yet can learn to swim, and to hold our breath under water. We are adapted to ambulate — but can learn to ride a bike. Both require skills we can, by choice, obtain.
We can choose what we chew — and swallow — as well! We can replace the thoughtlessness of genes with the thoughtfulness of memes. We can make health a meme. But only by choice!
The current impasse — junky foods feeding junk-loving palates — was engineered, and can be reverse-engineered. The hill is not all that high, and the prize on the other side is truly great.
We can get there from here, but only if we acknowledge the interdependence of supply and demand, and share a taste for change.
Read this entire article in the Huffington Post