Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?

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Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.


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Have Millennials bucked the obesity trend?

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Something about this article rubbed me the wrong way. And it wasn’t just the ever-shifting arbitrary generation names. But, I have to say, it drives me nuts. I remember when I was just entering my teens, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X came out. Generation X was definitely older than me. Years later, my youngest brother fell into Generation Y, and I was left in some weird void between X and Y. Now, somehow, my brothers are both Millennials, I’m a Gen Xer, and Generation Y has vanished. I just don’t understand how the names and categorization of generations can keep changing. Anyway… End rant one.  Onto the more topical rant for a nutrition blogger.

The article states that a new report shows that Millennials are the only generation (relative to Generation Xers and Baby Boomers) to have bucked the obesity trend. Yes, despite Millennials reporting higher alcohol and cigarette consumption, and lower fruit and vegetable consumption in comparison to the other two currently existing generations.

Apparently Millennials have an obesity rate of 20%, compared to 32% and 33% amongst Gen Xers and Boomers, respectively. Which would seem to be good news on the surface. Is it really though? I’m not sure it has much meaning at all. Most people gain weight as they age so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the rates amongst Millennials (provided they don’t keep shifting the damn generations around) increase in a few years.

The article also raises the important point that weight is not necessarily an indicator of health. So what if Millennials aren’t overweight. If they’re leading unhealthy lifestyles I’d say that’s more of a concern than their weight. I’d also hazard a guess that Gen Xers would have lead similarly unhealthy lifestyles, and had lower (than they currently do) rates of obesity when they were the age that Millennials are now.

Then, when I see the way they determined how healthily everyone eats, I wondered about the entire survey. This is what was asked: if they “ate healthy all day yesterday”. That’s so subjective as to be completely meaningless. For one person eating healthy all day might mean eating a plant-based diet. If they also ate some ice cream or chocolate or chips did that mean they didn’t eat “healthy all day”? What about the avid Bulletproof coffee, protein shake drinking person? The juice faster? Or the person who thinks that the salads at McDonald’s are healthy? I just don’t see responses to this question as being meaningful.

So, let’s not get too excited about Millennials beating the obesity crisis or whatever. Let’s focus more on figuring out how to get more people to the place where they’re leading healthier lifestyles and survey makers away from subjective judgemental questions about how healthy people ate on the previous day.


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Mars has a new health (read: marketing) initiative

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Not having internets yet (we moved last weekend) has put a cramp in the blogging. Sorry for leaving you all post-less on Wednesday. I’m currently posted up at my fave local cafe with a pina colada tart and a vat of coffee, using the wifi, the sacrifices I make for you guys ;)

Have you heard that Mars Food has launched a “global wellness initiative”? This Health and Wellbeing Ambition will ostensibly develop and promote healthier food choices. Skeptical? Yeah, me too. I’d love to think that this would be effective but I’m inclined to think that it’s more lip-service and marketing than a genuine concern for the health and well being of people.

The key changes that they’ll be making include:

  • providing consumer guidance on the package
  • changing the Mars Food website to include a list of “occasional” products (those to be enjoyed once per week) and a list of “everyday” products
  • reducing added sugar (in a limited number of sauces and light meals by 2018) and sodium (an average of 20 percent by 2021) and adding vegetables and whole grains
  • expanding multi-grain options so that half of all rice products include whole grains and/or legumes; and will also ensure that all tomato-based jar products include a minimum of one serving of vegetables

Honestly, I don’t see any of these “changes” being dramatic or making a significant different in the health of consumers. I’m curious what the consumer guidance on the packaging will look like. However, I can’t imagine anyone going to the Mars website to check to see how often they should be consuming chocolate bars. It’s not the Ben’s rice that’s having a negative impact on peoples health (well, I guess that depends on the individual, but generally speaking…). It’s the incredibly inexpensive chocolate bars (yes, that’s only one piece of a complicated puzzle) that are available everywhere in prominent displays.

Just as a bit of an aside, tomato sauces will include a minimum of one serving of vegetables?! What sauces are these that they don’t already? Unless they’re increasing the serving size, there’s no way that this can be achieved by simply adding more vegetables. It’s the sort of statement that sounds good until you actually think about it. At which point you realise that all of the statements made by Mars are that sort of statement. Designed to make the company look good without making any real significant effort or meaningful change.


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Should doctors be treating obesity?

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Image “Bigger than your head” by Mandy Jansen on Flicker. Used under a creative commons licence

I was thinking about Western medicine the other day and how all too often it seems that the approach is to treat the symptoms rather than to determine the cause and to try to remedy that. That got me to thinking about our approach to obesity and how, in a sense, having doctors (or any medical professionals) treat it means that we’re treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Yes, there are many causes of obesity. But when we boil them all down it really comes to our environment and collective lifestyle as a society. The way our lives are set-up it’s a battle to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Our jobs, our food system, our neighbourhoods, our social activities, our sleep habits, etc. are all contributing to the ever climbing obesity rates.

Sure, many medical professionals are fighting the good fight. Some are trying their best to help their patients learn to reengineer their lifestyles to lose weight. Some are pushing for changes to our built environment. But these battles are large and weren’t intended to be fought by MDs, RDs, and RNs. None of us learned how to design communities, to build grocery stores, or to structure offices while we were in school.

The real battle needs to be fought by government officials, engineers, designers, and planners. These are the people who can get to the root of the problem. Maybe as healthcare professionals we can help direct them to the sources of the issue. We can also continue our efforts to treat the symptoms as they surely deserve some tending to. However, until we can create some sort of coordinated widespread interdisciplinary approach to curbing obesity we’re just going to be continuing to give out bandaids to those in our care.


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Boycott Fit To Fat To Fit

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When I heard about the new TV show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit I thought “that sounds a lot like that moronic trainer I wrote about years ago.” A little digging through my archives, and it looks like I was right.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this new show, the premise is a group of personal trainers intentionally gain a bunch of weight (ostensibly so that they “know” what it’s like to be fat) and then they lose the weight again, along with their chosen client.

What I wrote about the original Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit trainer remains true over five years later, and applies to the trainers in the series. Unfortunately, by the sheer existence of a TV series it would seem that his stunt paid off, and then some.

There are so many things wrong with a series like this. Starting with the fact that these trainers are potentially putting their health at risk by gorging themselves to gain weight. And then by losing the weight, presumably through gruelling workouts and restrictive diets. And for what? Money? Fame? Even if they truly believe that “putting themselves in their clients shoes” is helping them to know what it’s like to be overweight, that’s not what this is really about and it’s not providing them with the true experience. They may gain a greater appreciation for how people fat-shame those who are overweight but they haven’t taken the same journey as their clients.

Most people aren’t overweight because they intentionally ate super-sized McDonald’s meals every day. They become overweight for myriad reasons and it happens over extended periods of time, not usually the six months allotted for the TV show. Our environment, our income, our upbringing, our genetics, our friends, our mental health, our gut microbes, our jobs, and on and on, are all factors in determining what we weigh. The trainers involved in the series aren’t experiencing weight gain in the same way that most people do. It’s simplifying a complex issue into calories in, calories out.

In addition to the detriment potentially caused to the trainers themselves there’s the harm potentially caused to their clients (and to the public watching at home). The clients are being taught that they are to blame for their weight gain. They’re also being taught that exercise is the way to lose weight. Have we learned nothing from the Biggest Loser? I guess we have. We’ve learned how to get some great TV ratings. We know that the Biggest Loser can wreak metabolic havoc, not to mention emotional havoc, on the contestants. This is the same thing. Let’s push people to their breaking points so they lose weight we get more viewers. Who cares what happens to them afterwards.

And the harm to people at home? The message the show sends it that it’s your fault that you’re fat and you can lose the weight if you just work hard enough. Even if everyone wanted to destroy their metabolisms at home, most people don’t have the time or money to undertake a punishing daily workout regimen with personal trainers. Nor is there the pressure to make the cut for a TV program looming over our heads. Who has the “luxury” of making weight loss their full-time job? Not to mention the fact that the majority of weight loss is a result of what we eat, not exercise.

Finally, programs like this are teaching us that there is only one way to be beautiful, healthy, loved, and worthy and that’s by being skinny. We all naturally have different body types and what healthy looks like on me may be very different from what healthy looks like on you. Suggesting that everyone needs to have the same abdominal definition to be fit and healthy is the same as suggesting that some of us need to grow a few more inches in height (or become shorter). It’s a ridiculous and impossible ideal.

Please don’t watch this show. By watching, you are only helping to support dangerous attitudes to weight and perpetuating false ideals and helping A&E make money from the suffering of others.

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