bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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When is a strawberry not a strawberry?: The marketing of food to children

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

One of my twitter friends recently posted the photo shown above and asked his followers to discuss the marketing of healthy foods; i.e. fruits and vegetables to children. My immediate reaction was to say that this was at least a better practice than the ubiquitous marketing of “junk” food to children. At least these popular characters are promoting something that parents and healthcare professionals are always trying to get kids to eat more of. Maybe if mum can’t get her child to eat a carrot Bugs Bunny can (I don’t know if kids even know who Bugs Bunny is these days but you know what I mean). Then I thought about it a little bit more.

Do strawberries really need TV characters to get kids to eat them? Strawberries are fairly popular amongst all ages, no? What about the leafy greens, the root vegetables, the mushrooms? Who benefits from this type of marketing? Not the children who aren’t gaining exposure to new foods. Not the parents who now have to deal with their children demanding expensive out-of-season fruit. Not the farmer who makes very little of the actual retail price of her/his product. Some marketing company I suppose.

What about all the other strawberries? Even if you argue that this type of marketing is getting kids to consume more fruit the fact is, it’s only getting children to consume more of one specific brand of one specific variety of fruit. What impact might this have on local farmers who don’t have kid-friendly characters on their packaging? This type of marketing does nothing to support local in-season fruit and vegetable consumption.

Besides the strawberries and the farmers does this type of marketing harm children? Possibly. As many argued after the Eat Right! debacle of putting the Academy of Dietetics logo on processed cheese slices, dietitians shouldn’t be lending their name to any food. Healthy eating isn’t about any one particular food, it’s about the broader diet. Putting a dietetic organization’s logo on a food product is not only a vote for that single food, it’s a vote against all of the other foods that don’t feature the logo. In a similar vein, marketing of specific foods to children promotes those foods and those foods alone. It makes food more about sales and marketing than it does about health and enjoyment. We don’t need to bombard children with more messages to consume (both in a figurative and in a literal sense) than we already do. Let’s make food more about food and less about profit.


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The truth about weight loss

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I so often hear people complaining about how they’ve fallen off track with healthy eating, exercise, and need to lose weight. It’s so hard to sit silently by, but in my experience, most people don’t want to hear the truth. Fortunately, I have this lovely blog where I can write the truth and if you want to read it that makes me very happy, but I’m not interjecting my educated opinion into your pity party.

You say, “I need to get my ass back to the gym”. I hear, “If I just workout harder/longer/more often I’ll lose a bunch of weight and wow everyone at the beach this summer.” The truth: the vast majority of weight loss occurs in the kitchen. Most of us eat more calories than we burn in compensation for workouts, negating efforts exercise might impart on body weight. I don’t want to discourage anyone from exercising. If you know me, you know that I love to workout and that running is my drug of choice. There are plenty of good reasons to workout for physical and mental health. However, it’s unlikely that you’re going to lose much weight in the gym.

You say, “I need to start eating clean again”. I hear, “Im going to start an unpleasant diet that I won’t be able to stick to for the rest of my life”. The truth: Weight management is more about the maintenance than the loss. If you’re following a diet that you loathe and are forbidding yourself from having foods that you love, you’re not going to be able to stick with it for the rest of your life. If you can’t find a healthy diet that you can enjoy for life then you’re not going to maintain weight loss for life. Healthy eating can be delicious. Clean eating is bullshit. I don’t know anyone who enjoys eating boiled boneless skinless chicken breasts and steamed broccoli for every meal. You need to have variety. You need to cook the vast majority of meals yourself. And you need to find a way to include treats that doesn’t mean you’ve derailed your entire diet. As I’ve said before, if you want to see sustainable weight loss you need to make sustainable changes. There is no one-size-fits-all method of weight loss. You need to figure out the method that works best for you and ignore the nay sayers.

You say, “I failed”. I hear, “I am weak. If I was just more disciplined I could be thinner”. The truth: It’s not your fault. Our society is set-up in such a manner that it’s far far more difficult to be thin than it is to be over weight. We value putting in long hours at work, rather than spending time cooking with your family. It’s a point of pride to scarf something down at your desk rather than taking a lunch break. There is a proliferation of nutritionally questionable grab-and-go foods available, while most healthy choices necessitate time and planning. It’s not all down to you and you don’t have to go it alone. Most people benefit from having support and accountability when they’re trying to lose weight. You might want to go to a registered dietitian, join a weight management group like Weight Watchers or TOPS, or team up with a friend or your significant other.

You say, “I need to lose X number of pounds”. I hear, “I’ll do whatever I have to, to attain an arbitrary number on a scale”. The truth: The numbers on the scale don’t matter. It’s about how you feel inside your own skin. Not everyone can have the physique of a supermodel. We come in all different shapes and sizes and even those at the same weight may have very different body shapes. You may be able to torture yourself down to the same weight you were at twenty but if you’re miserable, then what’s the point? Stop judging yourself against others. Stop focussing on the scale. Health and weight are not the same thing.


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Don’t do the crime if you can’t stand the cold food in the kitchen

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In the news last week was an exposé of prison food in British Colombia. Allegedly, prisoners have become ill after eating food distributed to prisons from a central kitchen. Sometimes prisons have run out of food before all of the prisoners have been served, leaving inmates to go hungry. Based on the comments, it seems that most people believe that prisoners should suck it up. After all, they’re criminals and are lucky that they’re getting food from our tax dollars. How dare they ask for food that’s safe or even nutritious. Just a taste of some of the comments:

Just looked at their menus they eat better than I do! Ohh and I work and pay taxes! These bums have a lot of nerve complaining. Try working for a living, try feeding your children and being a good parent. They blame society inequality and drugs for all their problems… The reality is there’s only one person to blame the one in the mirror! Do inmates children on the outside have enough to eat? Are they warm at night? Theses looser bring children into the world and forgo their responsibility…

Don’t like the food? Don’t put yourself in a position where you may go there.

Cry me a river. A murderer complaining that his prison food is not to his liking.

I know, I know “never read the comments”… I did it for you!

I think that many people are missing the point. Everyone deserves access to safe and nutritious food. If our prisons are intended to rehabilitate people who have committed crimes (which they ostensibly are) then nutritious food is an important component of that process. A number of studies have shown that nutrition affects cognition and behaviour (1, 2, 3). I’m sure that most of us have anecdotal experiences of the effects of poor (or good) nutrition on mood and behaviour. I know that I felt pretty crappy after the weekend I survived on primarily poutine, coffee, and beer. And that was one weekend! Imagine the effect that long-term malnutrition can have on mood and behaviour. I’m not saying that prisoners should be eating gourmet meals every day. However, if we want to rehabilitate inmates and have more of them re-enter society as contributing members then we need to provide them with the tools they need to do so. Good nutrition, and the ability to prepare nutritious meals upon release, is one of these tools.


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Food as medicine

How many of you have seen memes like these?:

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imgres-1The sentiment is nice and all. Obviously a healthy diet is a huge factor in preventing and treating many illnesses. But to be honest, I loathe these sorts of memes. To me, they suggest that it’s your fault if you get cancer because you ate a bag of potato chips. It’s not. There are many factors that contribute the development of diseases. They suggest that that treats don’t have a place in a balanced diet. They do. Healthy food can be delicious but what’s a life without the occasional ice cream cone? They also imply that somehow you can cure any disease with food. I’m sorry, but eating more broccoli is not going to cure lupus, you can’t cure AIDS with apples. While food plays a role in health, medicine does as well. We shouldn’t consider replacing essential medications with food. Medicine is medicine. Food is food.