The American Version of Roman "Feather-Tickling"

The American Version of Roman "Feather-Tickling"

When I was in elementary school, we were taught that wealthy ancient Romans would tickle their throats with a feather to induce vomiting after dinner. Though this ritual likely dampened any postprandial romance (unless mouthwash was provided with the meal), it allowed them to engage in their greatest joy — eating more food. Whether this custom is mythical or not, it is reminiscent of similar, modern practices by many Americans today.

Sometimes I ask insulin-dependent diabetics a simple but revealing question. If you could give up all food except for a few basic green vegetables for a month and thereby cure your diabetes, would you do it? Unfortunately, the answer is always a resounding “no”. They explained to me that they were not willing to deny themselves any food. Instead of monitoring their diet, they prefer to inject extra insulin when needed.

I was with a friend late one night and we stopped for a bite to eat after a movie. Suffering from heartburn and acid reflux, he wondered aloud if it was too late to start taking a prescription pill for his condition. He considered his choices for a moment, then confidently popped the pill into his mouth. Then he ordered cheese fries, a bacon cheeseburger, and some onion rings—despite the late hour. Surprised by his decision, I asked him why he didn’t just avoid those foods and order something lighter and easier to digest. He looked at me in disbelief and then explained that that was the purpose of the pills. I suggested he skip another tub of greasy, buttered popcorn the next movie night. It might save him a pill.

Fried foods, trans fats, sugary desserts and salty snacks – why avoid them when a simple pill can counteract their harmful effects? People I know would prefer to take medication for their high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. We can actually alleviate most of these health conditions—and even physical pain, insomnia, and arthritis—by changing the way we eat. However, few people will deny themselves the foods they enjoy.

When it comes to weight loss, almost everyone tries over-the-counter diet pills before forgoing that extra helping of greasy fries or a sweet, tempting dessert. When these pills fail, many turn to prescription weight loss drugs. Additionally, as I noted in my article The Truth About Weight Loss, many people prefer to endure grueling exercise routines they fear and hate rather than deny themselves the foods that whisper their sweet names when they die walk past the refrigerator. By the way, my fridge has a seductive, feminine, British accent. Haven’t figured out her name yet though. Choosing to exercise and ignore diet is usually a losing proposition, as it’s difficult to lose weight on a treadmill with a milkshake in one hand and a chicken wrap in the other.

For people who are severely overweight, some prefer to have surgeries such as gastric banding, liposuction, gastric bypass or stomach reduction rather than changing their diet. Whatever the illness, Americans prefer to pop pills, squeeze away their wobbly stomachs, or have surgery, even though all surgery carries some risk and almost every drug has side effects.

Centuries ago, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” So we’ve long known the connection between a healthy diet and good health. But it has either been forgotten or willfully ignored in modern society.

Historians still debate whether the Roman nobility actually used feathers to induce vomiting. After all, vomiting is hardly a pleasant experience. And I imagine the appetite would be somewhat suppressed afterwards – especially if your seat is the closest thing to vomiting.

Today, too many Americans are willing to endure almost any amount of suffering to lose their excess weight—other than sacrificing the foods they love. It might not be as disturbing as tickling your throat with a feather, but the result is eerily similar.

Thanks to Jim Schicatano


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