Get the portion size right

Rat eatingSo, how do we get fat? I always thought that it was fairly straightforward: you like your food too much, put an excessive amount on your plate and therefore shovel down more fuel than you’re actually going to use. As a result it then gets stored on your stomach and fewer members of the opposite sex fancy you.

But no, it appears that it’s not about a lack of meal planning or actually thinking about what’s on the table in front of you. Studies suggest that it’s because we’re cerebrally speed challenged. Or, to put it in words of one syllable, we’re slow.

Various studies with real people have confirmed this. Furthermore, tests with rats, which I’m assured are very similar creatures to humans, have found that they have nerve endings that are slower to send a signal when their stomachs are full, thus leading them to overeat at every meal.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my feeding habits are a little different from that of rats in that I don’t have my food scattered around my living environment in the way they do, allowing them to eat at will. My habits comprise a little bit of planning based on experience and, because I actually think ahead and make my own meals, I usually serve up just about the right amount. But these scientists at Yale University were quoted as saying that: “It appears that this base wiring of the brain is a determinant of one’s vulnerability to develop obesity”. Yeah, like, they don’t know when to stop.

Shouldn’t we be credited with a little more intelligence than rats? Aren’t we supposed to learn from our experiences in a way that makes us superior to common rodents? And how many rats have you seen in the kitchen with a measuring spoon and a set of scales?

I give my pigs only so much food a day so that they don’t snaffle it all down in one go and end up getting fat too fast. If I allowed them to eat as much as they wanted, they’d certainly become porkers before I wanted them to and that’s just the method used in intensive pig farming. After all, the quicker they get to slaughter weight the faster the return on capital invested. Never mind the pig’s quality of life or the resulting meat.

But there’s a few subtle differences here. First, we’re not, as far as I’m aware, trying to fatten ourselves up to be eaten. And second, while pigs may be some of the more intelligent farmyard animals, they haven’t yet managed to teach themselves to cook.

But we have. Or some of us have. And those that have taught themselves to prepare and cook their own meals tend to serve a predetermined amount – a bit like I do with my pigs – rather than just emptying the larder cupboard and putting all the available food on the table and eating until our slow brain tells us we’ve had enough – just 20 minutes too late.

This is the trouble with comparing ourselves with other animals. We may have similar slow nerve endings but rats don’t go to school or read the recipes in glossy magazines.

Well that’s food dealt with but at least I now know that when I go for the occasional drink in the pub, it’s not my fault when I fall off my bar stool. It’s because I’m slow.

Previously published in The Northern Echo

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