‘We’re eating ourselves to death’
HOW do I lose weight? Is paleo a good idea? Should I give up dairy?
Australian dietitian Joe Leech was growing heartily frustrated of answering questions about getting thinner day in, day out.
"That's all people are interested in - weight loss - whether it's the ketogenic diet, fasting, people are asking about it constantly," he told news.com.au.
Mr Leech was spending his days trying to answer questions about food fads and debunk misinformation. But he realised that our obsession wasn't helping us.
"Australians are eating themselves to death," he said. "And it doesn't get better, people aren't losing weight overall, obesity is getting worse."
That led him to another conclusion: all the problems he was hearing came back to the same thing: chronic over-consumption. At the same time, Mr Leech was learning about malnutrition in Uganda, and was struck by the contrast.
He has now come up with a unique plan to help both sides of the coin when it comes to struggles with food.
"People were coming to me with disease and syndromes that were often the case of excessive calorie intake," Mr Leech said. "Weight loss, diabetes, food intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, hypertension - a lot of IBS comes down to, you have an intolerance, but you're eating too much of that food.
"Elsewhere in the world, there are also people with problems with food, but it's the opposite.
"It seemed striking to me that we have all these problems but I can't help those people - or thought I couldn't.
"It's not that I want to point the finger and call us gluttonous but we live in an environment where that's emerged.
"If we can show an approach that works to end hunger, we can metaphorically move the calories there."
The Sweden-based dietitian discovered the Hunger Project, an initiative he believes is the first step towards a solution that could improve the lives of people in both the Western and developing world.
The charity raises money to build "epicentres" in villages where people are starving. Instead of providing food handouts, the centres contain a school, microfinance bank, health centre and demonstration farm.
Locals are provided with clean water and "cash crops" such as coffee, so they can grow food to sell, not just for their families.
Mr Leech went to visit one of the villages and made a short documentary about the work. Each centre costs around $1 million. His first goal is to raise $10,000 by contributing all the ad revenue from views of the online video to the project.
He continues to answer questions about fad diets on his website and in conversations with clients over the internet - but 5 per cent of his site's annual profits now also go to the project.
"Millions of children are starving to death while we stuff ourselves," his manifesto states. "This is the real-life hunger games."
Mr Leech believes that if we start contributing to help starving people overseas, it will help to put our own consumption in perspective.
"If you stop and look at content, even that for a lot of people is going to be enough to make people think, 'I have to re-evaluate what I eat and how I eat.' It's humbling," he said.
"There's a lot of people I know who would be interested in this kind of thing but haven't come across it in this way. Just watching this will change the way you think and look at food - where it comes from, how much variety we have, how cheap it is, how wasteful we are.
"I worked at Coles for seven years and every week we wasted 100 kilos of fruit and vegetables deemed not up to standard. We wasted fruit, bread, meat a lot of things that were fine but we threw them away because they didn't look nice. I think that's driven by the consumer: a lot of people don't want to buy a banana that's brown, an apple with a mark."
The dietitian is realistic, he acknowledges that we have "chaotic lives" in the Western World and tend to be focused on ourselves.
"From growing up in this society, I see how weight becomes an issue," Mr Leech said. "They're two very different things coming from the same issue: food. We just have all the food these people don't."