I’ve written previously about my attempt at dieting earlier this year. It was successful, and thus far I’ve maintained the 20 lb. loss. The reason I thought about it today was because of a couple of blog posts that made me think about how worrying about my weight and dieting were both luxuries; privileges, even, because (a) I have so much access to so much food that I’m likely to gain weight and (b) that so many of my needs are so well met that I have the time and resources to spend dieting.
Well, I wouldn’t actually call it a diet, more like a change in how and how much I eat because the first thing I had to do was learn the difference between a serving and a portion. It was a post a Preemptive Karma, about the government trying to get restaurants to cut portion sizes in order to fight obesity.
The report, requested and funded by the Food and Drug Administration, lays out ways to help people manage their intake of calories from the growing number of meals prepared away from home, including at the nation’s nearly 900,000 restaurants and other establishments that serve food.
… The 136-page report prepared by The Keystone Center, an education and public group based in Keystone, Colo., said Americans now consume fully one-third of their daily intake of calories outside the home. And as of 2000, the average American took in 300 more calories a day than was the case 15 years earlier, according to Agriculture Department statistics cited in the report.
… The report encourages restaurants to shift the emphasis of their marketing to lower-calorie choices, and include more such options on menus. In addition, restaurants could jigger portion sizes and the variety of foods available in mixed dishes to cut calories.
Bundling meals with more fruits and vegetables also could help. And letting consumers know how many calories are contained in a meal also could guide the choices they make, according to the report.
But I’m of two minds on what this all means. Becky offers this at Preemptive Karma.
When there is actually a market for KFC’s bowl of mashed potatoes, topped with corn, breaded and fried chicken bits, gravy and cheese, you know something is wrong with America’s tastes in food. As someone who has spent a fair percentage of her life on a diet attempting to retain the svelt figure my husband married, I doubt portion size is as much the problem as the kind of food we are eating. Too much fried foods and high-carb, high-fat foods and too little whole grains, steamed vegetables, and salads – sans croutons, cheese, and ranch dressing.
I think she has a point, but I don’t think it’s an either/or problem. For me, part of it did come down to calorie counts, and like one man in the article linked above said "when you have more information, you make better choices." In my case, I went through a few months of almost obsessive calorie counting, but it helped me learn to estimate how much I was taking in (for a guy my height, age and activity level, it takes between 1600 and 1700 calories a day to maintain my current weight) and choose accordingly.
Eating out was anxiety-inducing for a while, because I didn’t always know what I was getting calorie wise and started to make different choices based on what I did know about which foods had how many calories. To Becky’s point, I ended up steering clear of high calorie foods like those she mentioned because of (a) the number of calories per serving and (b) the reality that a healthy or reasonable serving of those foods wouldn’t fill me up and would leave me hungry again later. So I ended up choosing lower calorie foods that were more filing.
So, I think Becky’s right and the FDA report is on to something too. But no matter how that sorts out. It’s still wrapped up in the privilege of living in a country where there’s a lot of food options and being in an economic class that affords me the privilege of accessing a wider variety of options and eating out often enough to agonize over various restaurants’ caloric offerings.
There is certainly an issue of affordability. The way that the rules are set up in America, to eat healthfully costs more than to eat poorly. If you have a dollar to spend at the grocery store, you’ll get a lot more energy on the processed-food aisle than in the whole-foods aisle. We’ve set up a system where it’s rational to eat badly. Eating in this manner is not a function of nature, and it’s not a function of the free market.
That is — make no mistake — a function of our agricultural policy, which subsidizes those unhealthy calories, subsidizes high-fructose corn syrup, and does not subsidize the growing of carrots or broccoli. I think if we want to make healthy food accessible, we have to change the rules of the game. And that means we have to look at the farm bill, because that’s where those rules are enshrined.
There’s the issue of access too. In D.C., where I work and used to live, there are neighborhoods where there isn’t a grocery store around for a mile in any direction, but there are any number of convenience stores and fast food establishments right around just about any corner. So, if you don’t have a car you’ll have to do your grocery shopping on the bus. If you have kids, well not only did your grocery bill just go up, but so did you blood pressure during the bus rides too and from said grocery store. We have one kid, take the family car to the the grocery store, and there are two parents, but the trip can still be nerve-wracking if the kid’s tired, cranky, etc.
I think we have two very different obesity epidemics going on in this country, at different ends of the economic scale and for different reasons, which means they require very different approaches personally, socially, and economically.