Diet Lemmings

Hank Cardello brings up many interesting points in his book Stuffed: an Insider’s Look at Who’s Really Making America Fat, but one of the things that particularly caught my attention is the idea that we are a “nation of diet lemmings.” As Hank says,

We engulf every trend, no matter how ridiculous it sounds or potentially harmful it may be. Why? You’ve tried everything and failed, you continue to search for the Holy Grail. Every year, the dizzying number of diet books competes with the cookbooks in the bookstore chains. When Atkins was all the rage, you couldn’t walk down a supermarket aisle without the phrase “No Carbs” boldly displayed on dozens of labels. Low-fat or no-fat stickers (on items that never had any carbs or fat to begin with) became ubiquitous. And there were those labels that promised one-third fewer calories, though they left the consumer to ponder what one-third fewer actually meant. Certainly, much of it was hype or close to downright bogus. But the food industry could at least say it was trying. When pressed, the typical response is, “We’re offering the consumer choices.” Or, the health issue is squarely a matter of “personal responsibility.”

Yes, your life is your own, and you have the right (and the responsibility) to make your own health choices. But, obviously, we need help. Did you know that 60% of adult Americans are considered overweight or obese? That’s 2 out of 3 people! For years, doctors have been telling us to exercise and eat less…but has that advice helped? Doesn’t seem like it… Now it’s time for the food industry to stand up and help as well!

Unfortunately, that may be accompanied by some sort of government regulation. No one wants to be told what to eat, but the government can help in many ways without infringing on our rights.

Tighter regulations on food & nutrition labels are a start! Food manufacturers are now required to report the number of trans and saturated fats per serving. When this mandate originally came into effect, many manufacturers recalculated their definition of a serving so that the new serving size contained less than 1 gram. They’re allowed to round down so they can report this as 0! So, you innocently pick up a box of your favorite snack that boasts NO SATURATED OR TRANS FATS, and you munch…thinking it’s a healthy enough snack that you can eat a decent amount…but take a closer look at that nutrition label next time and see how big the serving size, which is hiding those fats, really is.

Another place the government can help is requiring smaller portion sizes to be served at restaurants. Many entrees at restaurants – even salads sometimes – contain a massive amount of fat and calories. Because restaurants are often associated with social dining or the experience of eating out, we tend to be less concious of what we put in our mouths. Yes, those chips & salsa, the soup/salad, AND the entree count toward your daily caloric intake! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dinner out, but it’s hard not to overeat! Restaurants can help by offering half portions (and some do!) of our favorite entrees so that the temptation to overeat isn’t even there.

And third thing I’d love to see is nutritional information right in the menu! Don’t just tell me what your restaurant considers “healthy” or “low-carb,” show me the numbers! Most of us need about 2000 calories per day to stay healthy and alert. If I knew that the entree I ordered was 1500 calories, I might be more inclined to eat half and take the leftovers home. This idea was discussed at the 2009 Obesity Society meeting, and the jury is still out on whether or not this information really helps people consume fewer calories. But I still think it’s a step in the right direction. If you’re interested in the studies currently being done on this topic, do a search for Thomas A. Farley, who’s a leading researcher in the field.

Quite a few of the comments on the Stuffed Giveaway post are strongly opposed to governmental regulations in the food industry. I’ll be the first to join the picket line if Big Brother tries to tell us what to eat, but the government can help us too! It’s controversial, but…it’s food for thought. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of Hank’s book Stuffed: an Insider’s Look at Who’s Really Making America Fat.