Calorie-Count Menu Laws – A Load Of Bologna

In my last post, I mentioned that several states have recently enacted laws that will require restaurants to list the calorie counts of everything they sell – right on the menu, or on the menu board in the case of fast-food joints.  These laws are, of course, being promoted as a tool to help battle the obesity epidemic.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

Confronting people with calorie counts isn’t going to make them lose weight, and I’ll explain why shortly.  But first, I want to talk about the politics behind these idiotic laws.  I usually save my political opinions for my other blog – I’m perfectly aware that people who share my beliefs about nutrition may be annoyed by my libertarian political beliefs – but I can’t help it in this case.  We are, after all, talking about politicians trying to legislate behavior.

So if political discussions aren’t your cup of tea, skip down to the END OF POLITICAL RANT and pick up the nutrition discussion from there.

START OF POLITICAL RANT (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)

As a libertarian, I believe government’s primary function – one of its few legitimate functions – is to prevent people from harming each other, whether by force or by fraud.  (This was also the clearly-stated belief of The Founders, by the way.)  But in the past century, this beautiful, freedom-promoting concept has become so mangled, people now believe government’s job is to force other people to give them what they want.

If a restaurant doesn’t share nutrition information with you, you are not being harmed – you’re just not getting what you want.  If you believe you can’t make healthy choices without that information, you are free to take your business elsewhere.  The restaurants know this, so it’s in their interest to keep you happy. That’s why nutrition information is easily available online and in pamphlets – because enough customers demanded it, not because politicians did.

But most customers are not clamoring to have the calorie counts shoved in their faces when they visit McDonald’s … and that’s exactly the problem:  the nutrition nannies have realized that – gosh darn it! – many people don’t care about calorie counts and don’t bother to look at them, no matter how little effort it takes.  So now the politicians want to force you to view the calorie counts, whether you like it or not. 

In other words, while this battle is usually presented in the media as a case of the caring politicians cracking down on the evil, calorie-hiding restaurants, these laws are not actually aimed at the restaurants – they’re aimed at you.  They’re nothing more than an attempt to control your behavior.  The restaurants are simply the tool of control. 

Meanwhile, these laws force sit-down restaurants with large menus to conduct a lot of expensive lab tests on their food to determine all the calorie counts, which will drive up prices.  The end result:  you’ll pay more for your restaurant meals …  and fat people will still be just as fat, long after these laws take effect.  But gee whiz, the politicians will get to feel good about themselves, and that’s all that really matters.

END OF POLITICAL RANT

These menu laws aren’t going to make us any thinner, because they’re based on a theory that simply isn’t true:  if you just cut back on calories, you’ll automatically lose weight.  With this theory embedded in their busy-body brains, here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers.
  • The obesity epidemic is solved.  Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet.  Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent. 
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude.  Hallelujah, hallelujah!  All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less.  Please note hes obviously obese.  Why doesnt he simply eat less?
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less. Please note he’s obviously obese. Why doesn’t he simply eat less?

The trouble with this happy scenario, of course, is that calorie-restricted diets have been a colossal failure.  They lead to long-term weight loss about 1 percent of the time, and many people actually end up fatter after trying them.  Here’s why:

Fat people don’t eat “too much” because they’re unaware of how many calories they’re consuming, nor because they’re gluttons.  They eat “too much” because if they don’t, their bodies run out of fuel and begin to starve at the cellular level.  In fact, from an energy-balance standpoint, they’re not eating too much at all – they’re eating exactly the right amount.

Most fat people are insulin-resistant, so their bodies have to produce a higher level of insulin to keep their blood sugar down.  Unfortunately, the elevated insulin also commands their bodies to store calories as fat, which means those calories are not available as fuel for the muscles and organs. 

As a result, fat people have to eat more to avoid running out of fuel.  If they simply eat less, their cells begin to starve.  The urge to eat eventually becomes overwhelming – that’s Mother Nature doing her job, protecting the organism.  If fat people ignore this powerful, primal urge, their bodies respond by slowing down their metabolisms, which means when they finally give in and eat more, their bodies will store even more fat than before.

Still with me?  Good.  Now let’s return to that calorie-count menu board and predict what will actually happen when we harass a fat person into eating less:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer eats the lower-calorie meal.
  • Fat Customer’s chronically elevated insulin causes his body to store a disproportionate share of the Filet-O-Fish calories as fat.
  • Fat Customer’s cells run low on fuel and send a telegram to his brain that reads:  “Dear Ass#%&*:  WHAT THE @#$% ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL US?!!  WE’RE @#$%ING STARVING DOWN HERE!!  EAT SOMETHING, YOU DUMB @#$%!!”
  • Fat Customer stops at 7-11 on the way home for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a pint of Chunky Monkey, which he consumes in front of the TV within minutes after walking through the front door.
  • Feeling disgusted with himself and depressed, Fat Customer watches a re-run of Oprah and learns from Dr. Oz that he’s overeating because he has unresolved issues from childhood.
  • Fat Customer swears he will eat less tomorrow.  He does, and his cells soon run low on fuel.  They send another telegram to the brain, but Fat Customer grits his teeth and ignores the message. 
  • Fat Customer’s body protects itself from starvation by lowering his body temperature and slowing his metabolism.
  • Still hungry and still fat, Fat Customer yells at the kids and kicks the dog.

Here’s an even more likely scenario:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%.  I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

So how can the restaurants help us lose weight?  They can’t, and it’s not their job anyway.  It’s ours.

Last week, my wife and I had dinner with Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades at a lovely restaurant high in the hills near our home.  We had crab-stuffed mushrooms for appetizers, salads, steaks or fish for our main courses, with steamed, buttered asparagus on the side.  (There may have been one or two adult beverages in there, too.)

We said no thanks when the dessert tray came around.  But I’m guessing if we’d loaded up on insulin-spiking bread or potatoes, those desserts would’ve looked pretty darned tempting.

It was a big, delicious meal.  So how many calories did I consume?  I have no idea; I didn’t ask, and the restaurant didn’t tell me.  I also don’t care.  Despite the high calorie count, this was not a fattening meal, because I didn’t consume any sugar or starch.  I kept my insulin down and therefore didn’t send my body into fat-storing mode.

That was my choice.  If everyone made the same choice, there would be far fewer obese people and far fewer health problems.  But you can’t legislate people into making those choices – and the politicians should stop wasting their time and our money by trying.

p.s. – You can look up nutrition information for hundreds of restaurants on this web site, which somebody took the time to create without any interference by politicians.

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The Labelizers – Bonus Clip

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A restaurant sells the burger you see pictured here at a minor-league baseball stadium in Michigan. Naturally, this has a wing of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life very upset. I mean, look at that thing! It’ll kill you!

Oh, yeeeaaaahh!!

Oh, yeeeaaaahh!!

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants the restaurant to label the burger a “dietary disaster” that will cause heart disease and cancer. Boy, that’ll help with sales.

Well, actually, it won’t help with sales … which is the whole point. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is 1) a vegan activist group, not a bunch of concerned doctors, and 2) comprised of annoying, self-appointed nutrition-nannies who think it’s their job to tell the rest of us how to eat. (Dr. Mike Eades wrote about them recently on his blog.)

Like their brethren (and sestren?) at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, PCRM believes people eat junk food because they’re too stupid to realize they’re eating junk food. But by gosh, slap a warning on that artery-clogger and people will gratefully order something more appropriate for a ballgame, like a cup of sprouts.

When I saw this photo, my first thought was that I’d love to take in a game at that park and split one of these monsters with a couple of friends. It’s a $20 concoction that includes five burger patties, five slices of cheese, a cup of chili and some chips and salsa. Yuuuuummmmeee!

And yes, if you ate one of these every day, it could give you heart disease. But if you tried it once, you’d probably just have to drive home with the windows down.

PCRM’s demand for a warning label reminded me that new laws are about to take effect in several states that will require restaurants to list the calorie counts of everything they sell — right on the menu board. No more asking you to do something insanely difficult, such as walking a few feet to read the nutrition chart posted on the wall, or flipping over your placemat to read the chart printed there.

Nope, the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life are convinced that if you are confronted with calorie counts, whether you want to see them or not, you’ll finally stop eating so darned much.

There’s a whole lot wrong with this theory, which I plan to dissect in another post soon. But for now, I decided to piece together a video editorial of sorts, using some extra interview footage, some footage from the film, and some schtick that we cut from an earlier draft.

Enjoy.

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The Lap Band Still Plays On

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I received this email today from fellow comedian and blogger Josh Goguen:

Hey, Tom –

I have satellite radio and they have a channel called Doctor Radio. I happened to be listening when they had a LAP BAND/Gastric ByPass doctor on and I couldn’t believe the things they were saying. She made it sound like something that’s just so great and easy and, aww come on, you’re not going to diet, who are you kidding?

Then she rattled off all these benefits of losing weight (diabetes relief, lower cholesterol, etc.) while completely glossing over how restrictive the diet is or how risky surgery itself is. It almost seemed sadistic. I could almost picture POWs being returned, emaciated while their captors say, “Yes, we did starve our prisoners, but if you look at their triglyceride levels, you’ll see they’ve benefited tremendously.”

Not one person who called in compared it to a forced diet and asked if a person skipped the surgery and just ate the post op food if they’d lose the same weight. It was recorded early in the week, so the opportunity wasn’t there for me to do so.

It seems as if a segment of the medical community isn’t interested in actually educating and helping people help themselves but rather just devising new means to “effortlessly” fix a problem. I wonder what will happen to these people should government healthcare takes effect.

Honestly, if that happens, I believe we can say good bye to the hopes of the lipid hypothesis overturned. I wrote a blog based off of it, but I couldn’t help but share this with you via e-mail.

Josh Goguen

Josh Goguen

Josh’s blog post on the topic, in which he creates his own miracle diet plan, is spot-on.  (And I recommend adding his blog to your reading list, because he covers a nice variety of topics and makes a habit of being spot-on.)

In my previous post about the Lap-Band surgery, I mentioned that a friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery and now regrets it.  So imagine my surprise when I poked through some bariatric-sugery literature available at our family doctor’s office and found that this same friend is mentioned as a surgery success story.  This is what the literature said about her:

[Her name] is a size 4 today after losing more than 100 pounds from her peak weight of 230.  A mother of three, her drive was to be able to be active with her youngest, the way she used to be.

Before her surgery, she had diabetes, sleep apnea, and was on heart medication.  That’s all in the past.  Today she and her husband and the kids play golf and tennis together.

Why, doesn’t that just sound fantastic?  So I emailed her to ask if she knew she was being used as an example of the wonders of weight-loss surgery.   Her reply:

Had I done it your way, I truly would have been a success story. Glad they’re excited about cutting out 20 feet of intestines and subsequently yanking out my gallbladder and keeping me in a constant state of vitamin deficiency.

But gee whiz, she can play tennis now and wear size 4 clothes …

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It’s the Carbs, Not the Calories

A new study presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity concludes that Americans have gotten fatter as the result of eating too much, and not from exercising too little.

I expect most people and nearly all of the media will file this under “Duh, do you think?” I can already hear Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Kimmel delivering a punchline along the lines of, “So we’re fat because we overeat? Well, thanks for explaining that to us, Doctor Obvious.”

But this is one of those cases where the “obvious” explanation doesn’t actually explain much of anything. Read this statement by Boyd Swinburn, the lead researcher:

“There have been a lot of assumptions that both reduced physical activity and increased energy intake have been major drivers of the obesity epidemic. This study demonstrates that the weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories.”

If that’s true, then it certainly supports Gary Taubes, who raised quite a few academic eyebrows (and some well-toned hackles among fitness gurus) when he said exercise has little effect on weight loss.

But it also raises a hugely important question that the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life can’t seem to answer:  Why, after so many generations, did Americans suddenly decide to start eating too much in the 1970s?

Or, asking the same question from another angle, why didn’t our grandparents eat themselves into obesity? The word “leftovers” certainly existed back then, so it’s not as if they didn’t have enough food to make pigs of themselves.  Were they blessed with some kind of Greatest Generation self-discipline that enabled them to leave the dinner table while still hungry? Given what I remember about my grandfather’s smoking and drinking habits, I’m going to guess “no” on that one.

The explanation offered up by people like Morgan Spurlock and Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, is that we found ourselves living in a “toxic food environment.” The evil food producers and restaurants started offering us bigger portions and so, mindless sheep that we are, we ate more simply because we could.

But in order to swallow this load of bologna, you have to believe that eating and hunger are only somewhat related.  Sure, people eat when they’re hungry, but they also eat just because the food is available – in other words, because they’re gluttonous.

One of the insights Gary Taubes presented in Good Calories, Bad Calories is that hunger doesn’t begin in the brain or even in the belly – it begins at the cellular level, when our tissues run low on fuel. If you haven’t seen it already, check out this clip from Fat Head:

Now look at where we’re getting all those extra calories the experts are so worried about:

We don’t eat too much because we’re more gluttonous than our grandparents. We eat too much because in the 1970s the McGovern committee convinced us we need to live primarily on low-fat grains and other starches. We eat too much because our insulin levels are too high. We eat too much because we’re storing too many calories as fat.

In other words, we eat too much because we’re too damned hungry.

And we’ll stay hungry as long as we continue living on foods that spike our blood sugar several times per day. But as usual, the experts have the cause and effect confused:

From a public policy perspective, expectations regarding what can be achieved with exercise need to be lowered and emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less, Swinburn says.

No, from a public policy perspective, emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to drastically reduce their consumption of carbohydrates; do that, and the “eating less” will take care of itself.  But in a country where sugar, wheat and corn are all subsidized by the taxpayers, I don’t expect this kind of policy shift to happen anytime soon.

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Bonus Footage – Frankenstein Fats

You ever have someone make a suggestion that’s so simple and obvious, you find yourself having a serious “Duh!” moment?  As in, “Duh!  Why didn’t I think of that?”

I commented awhile back that I was pleased when our DVD distributor asked for bonus material, because that allowed me to include interview footage that wouldn’t fit into the film.  I explained how they asked for perhaps 20 minutes, I gave them 30, and wished I could’ve inlcuded even more.

A reader named Stephen, who lives in Northern Ireland, asked why I didn’t just post more interview footage on my blog.  That’s when I had the “Duh!” moment. 

So periodically, when the mood strikes me, I’m going to go back through my old interview footage and put together clips on various topics.  This will give you all more opportunities to hear from people like Drs. Mike & Mary Dan Eades, Sally Fallon, Dr. Al Sears, etc. 

I’m not going to edit these too tightly because, unlike in the film, we don’t need to keep the comic timing going, so I can just let my experts have their say.  You may hear bits and pieces that you already heard in the film, but with more of the original interview included.

Today’s clip is about how the misguided fears over saturated fats gave us the Frankenstein fats we consume today.  Enjoy.

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More 100-Calorie Nonsense

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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.

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