Food For Thought

Some Thoughts On Eating Habits 

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

The word “eating” can create significant anxiety in the minds of many people. We all realize that eating is something we have to do to survive. The body requires food so our human engine will continue to run. But eating does more than just provide the fuel for human existence. It also affects our health and how we look aesthetically. These two factors — health and aesthetics — seem to control most of our ideas about eating. Eating for enjoyment might rank a distant third.

Health and Eating

In my early years I ate what was available. My parents instinctively knew that I should eat certain foods. They weren’t consumed by the food containers’ content listings. The jars that Mom canned didn’t have labels listing their ingredients and nutritional value. We knew what was in the jar besides food — a lot of time and love.

Fast-food places weren’t around in those days and trips to restaurants were nonexistent. I think my first visit to a formal restaurant was at the age of 15 when Dad and I were on a hunting trip. Coal miners just didn’t have the income to dine out. Today’s children think dining out is a natural thing. Certainly, fast food is as much a part of today’s home environment as grandma’s apple pie. The famous commercial about “Chevrolet and apple pie” being American icons might now need revision to “Chevrolet and a Big Mac.” In fact, “Toyota and a Big Mac” may now be more appropriate.

Times change and we have to learn to adapt. We live in the information age and information about the nutritional value of the food we eat is a given. Our home table now contains a lot of low-fat foods. At least that’s what the labels state. The high-fat stuff tastes better, but I’m told I’ll live longer if I eat the low-fat stuff.

New words like cholesterol have shown up on food labels. All the information I’ve read on cholesterol indicates that you should have a value under 200. Well, mine was 217 at the last reading. Television oatmeal commercials tell me that if I consume their product for the next year I may reduce my cholesterol number by 10 to 20 points and get near or under the magic 200 number. I keep wondering if that will really do anything for my life expectancy?

On the Internet, I found a life-expectancy calculation chart. It asked the user to enter a number of variables such as age, smoking status, weight, blood pressure, family history and cholesterol count. I entered the data and was informed that with a cholesterol value of 217 at age 65, I have a one in 15 chance of having a heart attack in the next decade. I then changed my cholesterol value to 257, an old reading I had several years ago. My chance of having a heart attack with the higher reading now increased to one in 14. Changing my family history and blood pressure had a much greater effect on my having a heart attack than adjusting my cholesterol. I’m not so sure I want to give up eating grandma’s apple pie for that increased life expectancy. This illustration shows a number by itself doesn’t tell us much. We have to look at the total picture and that’s what should be emphasized with our children.

The “all-you-can-eat” buffets create as much of an eating problem as the fast-food chains. My kids refer to them as “pig troughs.” I’m amazed at the over-abundance of food in this country.

I went to two different troughs this week, and for less than nine dollars (senior rate) I was given the opportunity to eat all I wanted from a large variety of entrees, salads, and desserts. I almost felt guilty if I didn’t over-indulge. None of the food at the buffet had been labeled for its nutritional value or its cholesterol content.

My observation of the eating habits of many kids and adults at these buffets certainly didn’t reflect what is taught in health classes. All the contemporary talk about nutrition and health seemed to have little effect on the amount or kind of food people were consuming. I also observed a direct correlation between the size of the individual and the amount of food consumed. I decided to forgo the apple pie since I didn’t want to be accused of being a hypocrite when writing this article.

Eating Too Little

Young adults, especially females, face an extraordinary amount of pressure to look a certain way in our culture. My own granddaughter, who is 10, doesn’t eat her lunch because she is afraid of the additional weight gain it might produce. She is constantly counting calories. She is one of the many who are overly influenced by the “skinny-is-better” society. Television, magazines, and other media promote the slim look. The average female or male is not promoted as the norm. Males also face pressure, but their pressure to look slim is balanced by the muscle factor. Men can bulk up and be considered “looking good.”

A significant amount of money is spent on plans and drugs designed to help people control their weight, and the younger-female population is a major target of the diet plans. A quick search of Internet “diet plans” produced 100,667 possible responses. “Diet plan costs” produced 31,801 topics. In my opinion, much of this is ill-advised. The first randomly selected site started with the headline, “Slim and Ready to Party.” The rewards headlined on this site and most others weren’t health related. The sites continue the myth that if you’re slim you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex. Those of us who are older know it contributes little to having a long, happy marriage.

Our society needs to develop a more realistic, common-sense approach to the problems associated with eating. I don’t think schools teaching another health class would help. It’s the moms, dads and grandparents who need to change our habits. It would be nice if we placed more value on the internal being rather than external appearance.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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