This article is an excerpt from an interview with CNS and Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, LD, FACSM, Professor Emeritus of Nutrition, and of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University.
I get knocks on my door at my office all the time at 10 o’clock in the morning, “Hey, Dan. Let’s go for a cup of coffee.” So I go for a cup of coffee. I’ll always have something with it. I’ll have an energy bar. I’ll have a piece of fruit. I’ll have something with it. They have coffee, and the caffeine in the coffee is a simple nervous system stimulant, so it fakes the brain into thinking that it’s okay now. It masks the fact that they were getting that feeling because they had low blood sugar. It masks it because now the brain has been stimulated by the caffeine. They haven’t done anything to correct the underlying reason for why they felt that way to begin with. They’ve only provided the caffeine but with no energy.
They’re afraid. They’re afraid to eat anything because people are afraid of calories. One of the things I’d love to do is say, “gosh, don’t be afraid. Be logical.” How can you eat these things so that your body will be happy and use it in a way that you really need it? That’s, I think, the key to all of this. I’m working on how to make it obvious for people and to create environments that will make it easier for people to get what they need.
For one example of an environment, I was on the International Governing Body for Gymnastics after the ’96 Olympics. I was traveling all around the world, going everywhere. The next Olympics was the Sydney Olympics, so I had to go down to Sydney to help learn what the sports medicine facilities would be like and help set them up and so on. It was nice. I met a lot of sports medicine colleagues down there and Sydney itself was beautiful. We had this large opening session and the head of the International Olympic Committee at the time, was there.
He was talking, and right in the middle of his talk, at 10 o’clock in the morning, right in the middle of this talk, a school bell went off, a very loud, irritating school bell. I thought, “Well, how embarrassing for the Australians.” Here we’ve got the head of the International Olympic Committee, and right in the middle of his talk this irritating interruption happens. Sure enough, the head of the Australian Delegation jumped out of his seat and he ran to the microphone, and we were all certain that he was going to apologize for that interruption. No. He said, “Now it’s time for our morning break.”
We all went out and we had cookies and fruit and crumpets. We had some tea and coffee, and it was nice. Then we had lunch. Then the middle of the afternoon a school bell goes off. We were like Pavlov’s dogs. We knew it’s time for our afternoon snack. It was a four day meeting. It was the nicest meeting I’ve ever been to. Everybody was happy. Nobody was hungry. Their blood sugar was normal. Everybody was talking.
They created an environment where doing the right thing was automatic. That’s what I see me doing, trying to organize structures so that the environment automatically does the right thing. Right now our environment automatically does the wrong thing. We went from an Agrarian society where people are eating all the time. I grew up in northern New York in dairy country. I used to spend the night with my friends. We’d get up at dawn and we’d go milk the cows. We’d eat something before we did that and we’d come back after milking the cows and we’d eat something again. We’d go out and clean the barn. We’d eat something again. By the time we got to noon we probably ate four times. Right?
But now they say you’re going to have breakfast before you go to work. They’ll give you a little break for lunch, and if you want to have dinner when you get home that’s up to you. We’ve gone from this frequent eating paradigm to what they call ‘three square meals’ for a very good reason, because that’s what you’ll look like if you eat that way.