I found this video on the MSN health channel. It’s obviously sponsored by Nabisco, and is really nothing more than an infomercial meant to promote their 100-calorie snack packs. I hope people recognize this for what it is and take it with a grain of salt.
Nonetheless, viewers are treated to the usual bologna about diets (in a convenient snack size, naturally), so I wanted to comment on it.
Now, notice the overall message: weight control is all about limiting your portion sizes. Eat what you eat now, but a little less of it, and you’ll lose weight.
This is a convenient message for Nabisco, because it would mean you could still eat Oreos and lose weight, as long as you just eat a few of them. And Nabisco will help you, bless ‘em, by putting 100 calories’ worth of cookies into a to-go package for you.
This will save you the trouble of reading the label on a box of Oreos, noticing that each cookie provides 53 calories, and dropping two of them into a baggie before you leave for the gym. If you’re willing to pay a higher per-cookie price to avoid this kind of simple math, I suspect being overweight isn’t your biggest problem in life.
And of course, there’s a teensy little problem with this whole theory: nutritionists, dieticians, doctors and other priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life have been telling people for decades to lose weight by restricting calories. This sage advice has been demonstrated to have a long-term success rate of about 1 percent, otherwise known as a failure rate of 99 percent. If I want advice that’s useless 99 percent of the time, I’ll take golf lessons.
There’s a good reason this advice rarely works: it isn’t based on real science. As Gary Taubes recounts in Good Calories, Bad Calories, if you restrict calories without lowering your insulin level, the insulin will tell your body to continue burning sugar while storing fat. You’ll take in less fuel, but the fuel in your fat cells – which is what you want to burn on a diet – will be released slowly or not at all.
So after perhaps losing a bit of weight, you’ll simply start running out of fuel for your cells. You’ll get hungry. If you ignore the hunger, your body will slow down your metabolism to compensate – exactly what a fat person doesn’t need. And the reality is that most people can’t ignore hunger week after week. It goes against our deepest survival instincts. So once you start eating more again, the slower metabolism means you’ll gain weight even faster.
So what you could keep your insulin elevated even as you cut calories? Hmm, let’s think about this … well, 100 calories’ worth of Oreos could probably do it.
The section of the video that prompted me to yell at the screen, however, was when the dietician explained that the proper size for a serving of meat is three ounces. If I consume three ounces of meat at a meal, it means one of three things:
- I need to go shopping.
- It’s an appetizer.
- I’m at a restaurant that I won’t be patronizing again.
Whenever I hear one of these blanket pronouncements, whether it’s on a health topic or not, I like to ask myself a question: says who, and how do they know? Which gold-standard research study concluded that the proper size for a serving of meat is three ounces … as opposed to 2.5 ounces, or 11 ounces?
The answer always seems to involve some kind of tautological explanation: Three ounces is the proper size because it’s what experts recommend. Okay, so why do they recommend that size? Because it’s the correct amount. Yeah, but why is that the correct amount? Because experts say so.
This is the same kind of iron-clad logic we saw in that stupid Reader’s Digest article that slammed low-carb diets. You can’t eat that all that fat because experts say it’s a bad idea. And you shouldn’t restrict your carbohydrates because experts say you need them. How do the experts know this? Because they went to school and were trained by experts.
And if I’m supposed to limit my meat to three ounces per meal – which wouldn’t provide nearly enough calories to get me through the day – where am I supposed to get the rest of my calories? From starch?
Uh, yes, apparently. According to the video, I should consume either pasta or a potato, but limit my portions. Portion control is definitely a good idea when it comes to starch, so I follow a modified version of what the nutritionist suggests: I cook up some pasta, then disconnect the mouse from my computer and take it to kitchen to use as reference for selecting a potato. I bake the potato and squeeze the pasta into a tennis ball shape. Then I throw them in the garbage where they belong. Oh yes, then I put more meat on my plate.
Finally, we learn from the video that those 100-calorie snack packs are a great idea. Yup, when you’re on a diet, nothing keeps you on the straight and narrow like a convenient bag of sugar. After your blood sugar spikes and then drops, you’ll feel famished. All you’ll think about is your next meal.
Too bad it’s portion-controlled, or you might really look forward to it.