The phrase “kill and eat” has been around a long time. It recently dawned on me that the opposite phrase, “eat and kill”, too often occurs in our lives. We believe it a great evil to murder or to commit suicide, but what about subtly harming ourselves over time? If what and how much we eat can lead, if in excess, to the injury of our stomachs, arteries, and other organs, and eventually, ultimately to our premature death, have we not, through the meals we have eaten, in a way, led to our own demise?
Consider this analogy. Let a kid punch you in the shoulder three times a day 365 days a year, and that shoulder may start to have problems after a while. Do that for a lifetime and the shoulder just plum won’t work. Perhaps it sounds too harsh that excesses in our eating can be an act of violence. When we repetitively overeat and overtax our organs they are eventually injured, perhaps ever so subtly. In a lifetime it adds up, the classic death by a thousand cuts.
Let’s briefly look at one physiology concept to illustrate this. Insulin resistance is where the cells won’t receive any more insulin or glucose. When there is too much glucose in the cells of the body, dangerous oxygen compounds are generated called reactive oxygen species, which, in the absence of adequate antioxidants, damage the cells. This is called oxidative stress. When there are too many fatty acids in the cells, similarly dangerous oxygen compounds form, ultimately causing the same thing, damage to the cells. In a fascinating study on overeating (1), insulin resistance occurred rapidly as a result of excess calorie consumption in as little as 1 to 2 days. The authors found that this was due to oxidative stress.
This shows that the damage occurs rapidly after just days of overeating. Even just a few meals eaten in excess damages our bodies. It goes to show that every bite ultimately matters.
Perhaps we can take a lesson from Michael Pollan, Author of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, when he writes, “Leave something on your plate…better to go to waste than to waist”.
By eating a plant-based diet in moderate quantities you could live more than a decade longer with a lower risk of disease (2). Let us “eat and live”!
Bon Petit Appétit,
Greg Steinke, MD, MPH
1) Boden G, Homko C, Barrero CA, et al. Excessive caloric intake acutely causes oxidative stress, GLUT4 carbonylation, and insulin resistance in healthy men. Sci Transl Med. 2015;7:304re307.