Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Calorie Counting to Save Your Life:
A Look Inside a Great American Food Myth

--body + mind + spirit--

Standing at Starbuck's yesterday, ordering my overpriced grande iced coffee, I noticed the calorie count on all the fat filled goodies in the enclosed case. Tasty muffins with chunks of protruding blueberries and marble loafs with swirling sweetness of chocolate tempted me, even as they stood behind pretty little brown signs that spelled out the scale of the sin; "480 Calories, 350 Calories, 550 Calories"...yikes! As always I resisted. Thoughts of whopping amounts of sugar, fat, yeast tend to turn me off more than the turn on of the temporary delight. But that is just me (although I admit, I am more of a protein then sugar junkie). I wondered, how much are these new "nutrition labels" really going to accomplish ?

I live in New York, the city of excess - amongst which is yes, our waist lines. Recently customers of the big apple have been confronted with the scale of their excess, with calories labels on some of their sinful staples. Now a new rule has gone into effect as part of an anti obesity campaign that includes a citywide ban on artificial fats in restaurant food as well as calories information. The calorie posting rule took effect in May, but legal action delayed enforcement until now. Starting Saturday, chains big enough to fall under the rule will face penalties of up to $2,000 per store for not disclosing calorie information in a prominent spot on their menus ( preferably next to the price).

I like this crack down on obesity, at least in theory. It has a tone of "getting down to business" about getting us all healthy. The government like a fed up parent with their overweight kid is cracking down on us, and telling us "watch what you are eating for god sakes!" And so we are forced like naughty little kids recovering off our sugar rush, to look at the ugly reality of what we are eating. The problem is, for many of us, we just don't know the option.

The concept of counting calories focuses more on eating less (a scarcity mentality) - something that clearly failed for most people as the majority of dieters fail and actually gain weight. The "yo-yo effect" as it's called, with fluctuating weight gain and weight loss, is actually more detrimental to your health than the weight itself. The idea of turning food into the enemy as most diets do, creates a formula for failure as every meal becomes a battle of will then a time to nourish. You learn to distrust your body, and distrust your food. The result is a toxic design for living, one where you can never win. We can tell Americans that a Cinnabon pastry for lunch is 800+ calories, but it doesn't take away the craving for sugar - that might be returning after a less indulgent but equally sugar filled breakfast. The 1100+ calorie Big Mac might be bad, cheap food - but without knowing a quick healthy and inexpensive way to create a meal the consumer is still left, well, hungry for alternative solutions.

I like knowing what I eat, what's in my food, and how it feeds or doesn't feed my body. Calorie counting and calorie labeling is a good concept in the context of a larger educational and lifestyle plan. Americans need to know what they can eat and not only what they can't. They need labels to tell them not only how many calories are in their food, but also the nutritional value (or there lack of). We also need to start reconciling the larger relationship between ourselves and food. We need to take back eating as a healthy and joyous experience; one that nourishes the body and soul, and not something to be feared and villanized.

I also simply just don't get the point of a label that reads 500 calories without telling you what constitutes those calories. Again, this new solution seems to be a part of this quick fix mentality that is simply not sustainable. Counting calories doesn't create health, good food does. Weight loss isn't sustained through abstinence from eating, but through good nutrition and healthy lifestyle; one derived from looking at what your mind and body needs, in as much as what it doesn't. Labels won't get us skinny, in as much as diets don't.

Let's learn how to eat, how to nourish, how to be "full" in a good way. If we are going to count anything, let's not just count calories, let's count the quality of the nutrients in our food, the quality of our eating experience and overall, the quality of our life.


1 comment:

Juhana Harju said...
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