More 100-Calorie Nonsense

      24 Comments on More 100-Calorie Nonsense

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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24 thoughts on “More 100-Calorie Nonsense

  1. Brian

    Knock, knock, knock. It’s the golf coaches association of America, we have a beef with you!

    Tell them my lack of athletic ability probably figures in there somewhere.

  2. Josh Goguen

    HA! I clicked on that clip and they ran a 100 calorie pack commercial first and I thought that’s what you were talking about so I closed it. I had no idea there was more.

    What I find funny is many of those people who I know that fall into the “experts say” loop will also criticize religious people for “The Bible says” reasoning. Both of them are putting their faith in the words, research and recommendations of someone else. I know at some point, we all have to do that, but it’s the pretending that “I’m smarter because I believe experts” that bugs me.

    My religious friends are at least willing to admit that ultimately they’re relying on faith, period. These nutrition goofs seem to think these pronouncements about portion sizes are based on something like real science.

  3. Jay

    What b/s, but the masses will buy into anything easy.

    Everyone wants to go to Heaven, no one wants to Die……………..

  4. Ellen

    This is another form of clueless media junk about which I roll my eyes.. just like the magazine articles on “healthy eating” I see everywhere. It never ceases to amaze me how the “low fat, watch calories” dogma hangs on and on, even in the face of so much evidence of its complete failure to support public health.

    It amazes me too, although it probably shouldn’t. The dogma is an industry now.

  5. Holly

    For portion control – Everyone needs gorilla hands or fake gorilla gloves… Because I think everyone needs bigger protein needs than what these ladies are saying!!!

    oh and there was an ad for the coupon for those oreos before the actual video. There was a woman attacking the truck carrying the oreos… she’s apparently detoxing from sugar and needs another fix… yeah, that makes *ME* want to go buy those. (as my son says) – I’m just messing with you!

    I try to never eat a serving of meat that’s bigger than my head.

  6. Dana

    I’ve got the Gary Taubes book–library copy, I really should buy it. That’s not all he says about calories. The rest of what he says is even more damning. Here’s a small smidgen of it: You can put two people of the same gender, and at the same age, and of the same height and weight on the same amount of calories and on the same diet every day and their weight changes will be completely different. One might gain while the other loses. One might gain and the other stay at the same weight, or one might lose while the other stays the same. Or both might gain or both lose. There is no logic to it–not if your concept of weight loss is that it’s about caloric intake.

    There are still lots of people who scoff at the idea that obesity is about endocrine problems. Well, what the hell else is it? They’ve done experiments on ground squirrels, OK? Ground squirrels eat nuts like crazy in the fall to put on fat for the winter. If you take them out of their natural setting and put them in a lab and on a diet, what do you think happens? Do they hibernate skinny? No, they do not. They put on the same amount of fat on the “diet” as they do eating like they normally would. Caloric restriction means NOTHING to them.

    Yeah, they’re squirrels. They’re also mammals, like us, who lay down fat with the same hormonal interactions as ours.

    One more data point: Taubes speaks of Ancel Keys, who did research early in our involvement in WWII using conscientious objectors. He wanted to find out what conditions our troops would be facing in Europe, as they surely would encounter people who were starving or near starvation. What did Keys decide constituted a near-starvation diet for the purposes of his study? A food plan ranging from about 1200 to about 1500 calories (roughly) per day. Does that sound like any diet plans you’ve run across over the years? It sure does to me. That’s how much things have changed. We actually think it is normal and right to tell people, women in particular, to remain in a state of semi-starvation for the rest of their lives so the rest of us don’t have to look at “ugly” women.

    (I mean, really, I think that’s what this is about. Because if society really cared about people’s health, and women’s in particular, would it be telling us to starve ourselves? Even a little?)

    Agreed. Women are, on average, hormonally driven to carry more fat than men. Obviously, nature thought this was a good idea. Obviously, most artists throughout history also thought this was a good idea, if you look at the women’s figures they chose to paint.

    Now we tell women 1) they should all be skinny, and 2) they can be skinny if they just starve themselves. Wrong on both counts, which has led to more misery than I care to consider.

  7. Laurie

    Dr. Oz is Oprah’s guru. He has her on a very low-fat diet. He’s like that quack Dr Dean Ornish who continues to hawk ‘eat only 10% of daily dietary calories as fat’. You might have heard Oprah has gained weight and is now 200 #s. She’s upset- Oz tells her she has emotional problems and he still recommends low-fat. Her cells are starving for MORE FAT in her diet and that’s probably why she’s ravenous… Her emotional problem is that she can’t overcome her addiction to Oz’s advice. What’s the definition of insanity? -Keep doing the same thing repeatedly, but expect a new and different result.
    Oprah’s smart, successful, influential and a voracious reader. She’s probably the most recognizable celebrity on the planet. I bring this up because we have a lot of work to do to get out the word that it’s high-carbohydrate diets that are making people sick and NOT high-fat (but eat good quality fat and not that Frankenstein, highly processed vegetable fat originally made by the paint, putty and varnish industry). Eating FAT is THE NEW RE-DISCOVERED WAY. If Oprah is wrong on this issue, it doesn’t bode well for lots of the ‘sheople’ out there. But I refuse to drink the low-fat kool-aid any longer and I don’t want all the ‘Dear Ones’ in my life to suffer from that deadly directive either.
    And what an uphill battle it is. My sister (a physician) sent me an article about the longest-lived people in the world. It was titled “Blue Zones”. I had heard about the Okinawans and a few other spots on the globe, but this had new info and opinion about a small enclave in Costa Rica with lots of centenarians. Naturally, the opinion was from Dr Oz!!!!! This is what he attributes their longevity to….. a diet of “lightly salted corn tortillas, beans and squash”. Yeah right. That’s why they live so long. He prattles on about the work-out they get by preparing food and how their diet must be low-calorie, blah, blah, blah.
    News-flash, Taubes put the calories-in and calories-out simpleton accounting to rest. Shot it dead and kilt it, IMHO.

    We’re trying to get Oprah to look at Fat Head. One of her producers requested a copy of My Big Fat Diet from Dr. Jay Wortman, so maybe there’s hope.

  8. Willa Jean

    Sadly (for her and for several gazillion of her fans) Oprah is convinced that low-carb eating won’t work because she didn’t do well on the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet. She said once that she had an apple for a snack and half an hour later she was craving potato chips and it wasn’t like she’d eaten any carbs or anything ’cause it was just an apple, right?

    I got a glimpse of her the other day and she just broke my heart. She looks AWFUL. Not because she’s gained weight, but because she’s all puffy and swollen and clearly not well. Her thyroid is failing (I wonder why?) and that idiot Northup woman tells her it’s because she’s been “holding in her words” and “not expressing herself.” Right. Oprah Winfrey isn’t able to express herself. So she needs to take lots of long soothing baths surrounded by candlelight. Uh huh. Sure. Either that or she needs to take some thyroid hormones. And throw out the potato chips.

    I really hope you can get her to take a look at Fat Head. It could be the beginning of a return to health for a huge number of people. It wouldn’t be bad for your pocketbook, either.

    My wife has a relative who works for Oprah, and he’s seen the film. All he can do is put a bug in a producer’s ear, which I believe he’s done. We’ll see what happens.

    The Carbohydrate Addict’s diet is doomed to fail for anyone seriously insulin-resistant. That one “reward” meal every day will just keep your insulin spiked and prevent you from going into fat-burning mode. Terrible idea.

  9. Lisa Sargese

    omg…I love you!! Finally someone is telling the truth about this. I put you in my blog links on my blog! Let’s see if I’m able to put you in my blog roll as well. I’ll be quoting you tomorrow, no doubt. Taubes is awesome. You’re awesome AND funny! Thanks for this 🙂

    I appreciate the compliments, and the love.

  10. Matt

    Yeah, the Carb Addict’s diet is nuts. When it comes to keto diets, I personally prefer cyclical keto diets. 1-2 days a week of carbs is adequate to tame my cravings.

    How long does it take to go back into ketosis after indulging in carbs for a day?

  11. Ida

    I had Weight Loss surgery (gastric bypass) about 12 weeks ago.

    We (WLS patients) have been told to watch our portion sizes. For us, a ‘portion’ is about 3-4 ounces, depending on the protein that we’re eating (chicken, fish, beef). That ‘portion’ is approximately 20 grams of protein. And, we’ve been told that we should eat at least 60 ounces of protein a day.

    We are also told that we should eat our protein first, because it will make us feel full — where the carbs will just spike our sugar and leave us to crash later.

    They do make a valid point with the palm of your hand … if you’re a petite person, you probably need less protein to go/survive than someone who has larger hands (generally a larger person). My GF has tiny tiny hands .. she’s 5’1″ … she probably needs less protein than my husband who registers at 6’4″. In fact, her entire HAND (outstretched fingers included) fits on his palm.

    Interesting that after the surgery, patients are told to eat protein first, carbs last. I wonder how many of them could’ve avoided the surgery simply by following those same rules.

    1. Walter

      The correlation of hand size and body size is poor. My sister a head shorter than I am has much bigger hands.

  12. Joanne

    I am an ObGyn MD of 28 years. I never believed in the low-fat / don’t eat meats dogma.

    I always told my patients with PMS that they needed to eat meat/protein and fat for breakfast and stay away from carbs because of the insulin load causing the sugars to be stored and cravings etc.

    Glad my friend, Laurie, made me read Taubes. I already believed in Atkins and Diana Schwarzbein. Before that my mom was an Adele Davis fan.

    I am always telling patients to read Taubes – eat meats and fats and get the heck away from all those carbs: and remember that fruits are carbs. Can’t eat them without protein & fat.

    After I started researching Fat Head and we switched a low-carb diet, my wife told me her PMS symptoms are much milder. Too bad she didn’t get that advice from her doctor. Your patients are lucky to have you.

  13. Bina Eisenberg

    That was painful! Shameless advertising of the nabisco processed cruddy snacks made with all sorts of healthy chemicals. I’m sure most people if they are anything like me cant stop after one. Sugar triggers overeating. Terrible acting too. I find nothing in life more annoying than nutritionists! “Everything in moderation” right? Hmmm, never worked for me!

    That’s exactly the problem. A 100-calorie Oreo snack is just going to prime your appetite for more carbs. If not more cookies, then a big potato with dinner.

  14. Matt

    It depends on the amount of carbs consumed and whether or not one exercises. Generally you get back into ketosis within 1-3 days, though.

    Always wondered about that one. I know people who try to get away with cheating once or twice per week, but then complain they can’t lose weight. I figured they aren’t in ketosis for much of the week.

  15. Matt

    Well, with the Carb Addict’s diet you never actually get into ketosis. You just get to a state where you’re burning fat and some necessary protein, which is why you need to eat a good bit of protein (which you should be doing anyway, IMO). You should read up on intermittent fasting, which is essentially the same concept as the CA diet, except instead of just cramming all the carbs into a short period, ALL eating is crammed into a period of generally 5-8 hours each day, which tends to increase insulin sensitivity even more than the CA diet purports to.

    Oprah dismissed low-carb diets after trying the Carb Addict’s diet. Her “reward meal” usually included a big serving of mashed potatoes. Given that she’s almost certainly insulin-resistant, I suspect she never went into ketosis and continued craving sugar and starch.

    Mike Eades has written quite a bit about intermittent fasting. I guess from a paleo standpoint, it makes sense. It’s not likely early humans could count on three meals per day, every day.

  16. heather

    I just wanted to comment on what you said above about the 100 calorie cookie packs priming your appetite. The last time I went to my doctor, he told me that the reason low carb diets work is because carbs actually stimulate your appetite, making you eat more. I wish I had known this a long time ago. (However, he still suggested the GI diet, which I discovered is just calorie counting in disguise.)

    At least your doctor recognizes carbs make you hungry. Most still think carbs are great and fats are evil.

  17. Matt

    I don’t know the exact details of the Carb Addict’s diet, but if those on the diet kept the carbs within the window under 100-150g, it shouldn’t affect weight loss too much.

  18. Nate

    Oh man, I hate those flippin cookies. The old “thinsations” ones were the worst. They don’t work by restricting your calorie intake, they just cut your mouth up something fierce with their dry rock-hard-iness. Wash down with lemonade for extra aversive reinforcement.

  19. Chris

    my friend has hypoglycemia, so lowering blood sugar levels is quite dangerous. How would you suggest she lower her insulin then? Is low carb different from low sugar?

    Nearly all carbohydrates (fiber is an exception) eventually metabolize into blood sugar. It may seem counter-intuitive, but loading up on carbohydrates ends up lowering your blood sugar; insulin over-responds to the glucose spike, and ends up knocking your blood sugar down too far.

    The best way to keep your blood sugar level is to reduce your intake of carbohydrates, especially the highly refined variety, such as sugar and white flower. That’ll stop the spike-crash rollercoaster.

    But a word of warning: people who have turned themselves into hardcore sugar-burners need time to adjust to burning primarily fat again. If I were in your friend’s position, I’d back off the carbs gradually.

  20. ella

    i thot the vid was great, now i can finaly use the pack of cards, tennis ball and computer mouse im akways carrying around!!
    lol 😛
    seriously, i thought the thing was a joke!! i couldn’t stop laughing!!! =)) 😀 🙂 :p

    I’m with you. If only people didn’t take them seriously…

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