False food myths: marketing deceptions

The false myths of nutrition

(Many people think they are thinking, but in realitỳ they are just rearranging their prejudices)
William James

Eating should be a natural act, like moving or breathing. Yet never before do we rely on manuals, dieticians, nutritionists, Internet sites, to learn how to do something that our ancestors did spontaneously for millions of years.

However, despite theenormous attention devoted to nutrition, the food sector remains enormously confused and contradictory. Virtually every day a new "miraculous" diet appears, which promises beauty, health and weight, quickly and effortlessly, while scientific research proceeds slowly and laboriously, generating more doubts than certainties.

In this confusion, false myths are born and are maintained, skilfully ridden by the food industry, which, like all industries, cares more about its profit than our health.

The quintessential false myth is "to lose weight I have to eat less and move more", based on the famous "calorie counting" hypothesis, which considers the body as a two-pan scale. On one we find the calories that come in with food and on the other those that go out with physical activity.

The balance of weight (and presumably of health) will be obtained only by equating exactly these two quantities, an infinitely complex and frankly impossible undertaking.

In fact, the fate of the calories, or rather of the nutrients, we take in is decided by the body based on the multiple needs of the moment:
renew and repair tissues, synthesize hormones and antibodies, maintain temperature, grow, fight infection, digest, think, and many other functions, all internally and absolutely regulated out of our control.

Our organism, evolved to resist in adverse circumstances, regulates appetite, consumption and weight by adopting a logic of survival. In conditions of deficiency, such as during a low-calorie diet, it will react by slowing down consumption and activating emergency mechanisms: hunger increases, energy decreases, one becomes irritable, sacrifices lean mass, and so on.

And how a thirsty cactus in the desert, the body prepares to absorb and accumulate all the calories that enter, leading to the prompt weight recovery (with interests) as soon as the diet is stopped; moreover, with each low-calorie diet, the body “learns” how to cope with the subsequent restriction, conserving weight and fat in an increasingly effective and efficient way.

This is how repeated low-calorie diets become an important cause of overweight: the attempted bankruptcy solution that complicates the problem and maintains it over time.

A direct consequence of the false myth of calories is the diabolical false myth that "to lose weight you only need a little willpower", the one necessary to be satisfied day after day with an unseasoned salad or a jar of low-fat yogurt. Since, however, in the face of an energy deficiency, the body reacts promptly by increasing hunger and reducing consumption, despite the sacrifices, the much desired weight loss progressively slows down until it stops altogether.

If we continue this "arm wrestling" with our metabolism, sooner or later the "willpower" will be destined to succumb and, tired, discouraged and hungry, we will take back all the weight with interests. Even more deleterious, however, is the psychological effect of this false myth.

Completely neglecting the enormous psycho-emotional value that food has in our well-being society, the restrictive diet comes into conflict with a fundamental emotion linked to food, pleasure: the pleasure of good food, of being together, of conviviality.

However, as Saint Augustine said "no one can live without pleasure"And the prolonged sacrifice imposed by the diet will sooner or later result in a loss of control, inevitably accompanied by enormous feelings of guilt. excessively strict nutrition claims.

The obsessive control of food and the paradox of the attempt to control that makes you lose control, if repeated over time, profoundly alter our relationship with food and can lead in some cases into an eating disorder, such as bulimia and binge eating.

Since, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde "the only way to overcome a temptation is to give in to it", instead of establishing an insane tug-of-war between willpower and sensations and emotions, it is necessary to include small transgressions, small programmed control losses that protect against large control losses.

As expressed by Giorgio Nardone, in the face of a pleasure "if you allow it you can give it up, if you don't allow it it will be indispensable". Maintaining a balanced diet, understood in the original sense of the term, that is "lifestyle", can therefore never depend on a voluntary effort, but on a deep knowledge and respect for our physiology and psychology, because, in the words of Epicurus, "nature should not be forced, but persuaded".

Dr. Roberta Milanese and Dr. Simona Milanese
(Psychotherapists, teachers and official researchers of the Strategic Therapy Center)


Milanese R., Milanese S. (2019), Nutrition: false myths and marketing deceptions, Alpes, Italy
Nardone G. (2007), The paradoxical diet, Ponte alle Grazie, Milan.

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