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    Monday, July 08, 2002

    Seinfeld Moment: It's amazing how often something comes up that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. Do you remember that episode where Elaine eats a lot of low-fat ice cream and gets upset because she gains weight? In typical Elaine fashion, she blames the ice cream parlor for falsely claiming the ice cream is low fat, instead of admitting that she's just been eating too much of it. Well, that attitude is the focus of this New York Times Sunday Magazine article on the low-fat myth.

    I'm not convinced, as the author seems to be, that high-fat diets like the Atkins diet are the miracle answer to all our weight woes. Nor am I convinced that low-fat diets are entirely responsible for them. There does seem to be, however, a prevailing attitude that eating low fat diets will help you lose weight. This attitude needs to be jettisoned. The thing that is most important in gaining, losing, or maintaining weight is the number of calories you eat. Period. It doesn’t matter if you eat 4000 calories of fat a day or 4000 calories of carbohydrates. Calories are calories and if you take in more of them than you burn off in the course of a day, you gain weight.

    When I began reading the article, I scoffed at the idea that we as a society have gotten fatter because the federal government had recommended we eat less fat and more carbohyrates, but then I realised that those recommendations were taken up by the food industry as a means of promoting their products, and this certainly could have an effect on what we eat. The grocery store shelves in this country are laden with foods that scream out “no-fat” or “low-fat” on their labels. And they are invariably foods high in calories, like muffins and cookies and cakes. The author even quotes a person involved in the senate hearings on diet that started the whole low-fat craze:

    Stone told me he had an inkling about how the food industry would respond to the new dietary goals back when the hearings were first held. An economist pulled him aside, he said, and gave him a lesson on market disincentives to healthy eating: ''He said if you create a new market with a brand-new manufactured food, give it a brand-new fancy name, put a big advertising budget behind it, you can have a market all to yourself and force your competitors to catch up. You can't do that with fruits and vegetables. It's harder to differentiate an apple from an apple.''

    This probably has more to do with our increase in daily calorie intake over the past thirty years than any inate sense of hunger caused by the low-fat diet, as the author postulates. Another factor in our societal weight gain, is that we are getting older. As you get older, it gets harder to lose weight. That’s partly because of illnesses that limit the ability to exercise and partly because our metabolisms do slow down, especially in women after menopause. No doubt we will continue to see the national averages for weight increase as the baby boomers continue to age.

    The increase in childhood obesity is also largely due to eating and exercise habits rather than a tendency toward low fat diets. I'm always amazed at the number of parents who feel it's necessary to take bags of Cheerios or cookies or crackers to a simple outing at the zoo. I see the same thing at church. The service is only an hour long, but all the kids around us have food with them to keep them quiet. (I notice this because my kids have always jealously pointed it out to me.) The elementary schools foster continual eating habits, too. Each of my children have a snack period in the middle of the afternoon at school, as if they can't be expected to go three hours without food. Couple that with the tendency to stay inside playing video games and watching television instead of playing outside, and you've got the perfect setup for childhood obesity.

    So, although the Times article was a pretty good read, don't go out and load up on fatty foods. If you eat too many of them, you'll still gain weight.

    The Atkins diet does help people lose weight, but it’s still more likely to be because they eat less on it. They aren’t anymore likely to keep the weight off than anyone on any other fad diet. The best approach to permanent weight loss is to learn to eat only the number of calories you need for your body everyday for the rest of your life.

    posted by Sydney on 7/08/2002 01:21:00 PM 0 comments


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