calorie counts

If you follow me on Twitter at all (@sweetestthingdc), you may or may not have seen part of my political views being tweeted after the Health Care Reform bill was passed. As a summary, I do believe that healthcare in this country needs reform, but I don’t believe this bill completely got to the root of the problem including malpractice, the food system and preventative care. Also, I’m wary about how it is written only because since there is a Democratic majority, this bill should have been a piece of cake to pass, but there were still problems. I think it was pushed through too quickly if there was that much unease and maybe politicians should have thought more about the people rather than their reelection.

Yes, I’m a more conservative girl in D.C.; however, that’s my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I hope to respect it and I’m completely open to a constructive debate.

On the other hand, there is one thing that I do not like with this bill that had nothing to do with my political party and that’s calorie counts (from the NYTimes). Yup, that’s right, under this legislation, national chain restaurants will be required to display calorie information for standard menu items as well as calories for each serving of food at a salad bar or a buffet line within the next year. This was formed from the model in states like New York, California and Oregon that have already enacted information like this.

And while some people like this change like Kelly Brownell, the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obseity at Yale University…

“I think it is an historic development.” Consumers spend more than half their food dollars outside of the home, he said, “and when people eat away from home they eat more and they eat worse. And part of the reason may be because they don’t know what’s in fast foods, and they’re often shocked to find out.”

“The broader issue is that this firmly establishes the government’s role in improving the nation’s nutrition,”

others are not so keen on it like Sam Kazman of the general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute…

“Frankly, it seems to me that whether I’m buying an apple or a Big Mac from McDonald’s, if they want to sell it to me without any information, I have a perfect right to buy it. This simply is not a federal issue.”

Now I’m sure you’ve already assumed that I’m not for major governmental legislation. I feel like our country was built on the idea of choice and I don’t need the government to tell me what I can or cannot do in my life. That also moves towards the food industry. I’m not an advocate for governmental subsidies and who’s running the FDA, but without going off on a political tantrum, I also don’t like this part of the bill from a young woman’s point of view.

There’s such a huge focus right now on obesity. On educating people on the dangers of the food the eat and the sedentary lives they lead and while I do think health is important, they consistently miss the other half of the equation. The mental and emotional side of health and those who suffer from eating disorders. No, eating disorders may not have the cost implications of the obese or overweight in regards to illnesses like diabetes and so forth, but instead they also provide the #1 cause of death for any other mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong though, for some people this might help them actually understand what’s going into their mouth. I know my ideas come from my past and you can’t blame me, but do you want to know the calorie counts of everything at a chain restaurant? If you really do want to know, you can find that information online beforehand, but as my friend Steph said to me, I can’t eat intuitively or give my body what it needs with numbers staring at me.

What do you think of this part of the new legislation? Do you like or dislike it? Be honest too! I promise I wont bite 😉

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15 responses to “calorie counts

  1. After struggling with chronic anorexia bulima for over 18 years and totally getting the power of the calories, I thought that I’d be completely against this idea, but a strange experience yesterday made me think again.

    Whilst I am now in recovery, there are lots of foods I still struggle with; and, in a cafe that now provides calorie counts, I found that one of the foods that I would have turned down purely on fear or association, was not the high calorie high fat plate I’d assumed would be too hard to challenge. Because I knew the calorie value, I was able to try a new food safely.

    During my illness, I found out the calorific value, regardless of whether it was easily available; and, if I couldn’t find one, I guessed or just didn’t have the food. An unexpected outcome of listing the calories on cafe food is that I have suddenly been able to see how distorted my perception of food was; and, although this isn’t intuitive eating, it’s given me a reality check and some support in expanding the foods I am comfortable with.

    This doesn’t help intuitive eating; nor does it move away from numbers or the controlling notion of calories – but it was an interesting twist on something that I had considered wholly wrong.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I would have never thought of the this way!

    I agree with you about the bill, especially about the real root of the health care issues like malpractice. I think Mr. Kazman says it best at the end of the NYT article:

    “They’ll decide the font’s not big enough or the words are not scary enough and they’ll push for more,” he said. “I don’t think this is taking us down a very appetizing course.”

    There is just such a disparity between what we Americans eat (fatty fast food) and what we should look like (skinny models/actors), its not surprising that youth today has so many body image issues.

    As seen with cigarettes labels, it doesn’t help. People will just choose to ignore it and those with eating disorders will obsess over it.

    • Interesting point–I think cigarettes are a different story because while certain foods are “addictive” in the sense that the sugar/fat releases dopamine, it is not as addictive as cigarette smoking and people that are still smoking are largely those that did not grow up with the same education as today’s youth have. Smoking among youth has dropped quite significantly. http://www.drugabuse.gov/newsroom/09/NR12-14.html I agree this phenomena will still occur, but I can’t see more nutrition labeling causing more harm than good. I tend to think those with eating disorders are already obsessing, regardless of if the numbers are staring them in the face.

      • Cigarettes are difference because of the chemicals. That regulation I agree with, but Kate’s right in that people will still do “unhealthy” things even with regulation. But since food is not additive, as you said, I don’t feel like the same labeling applies here. And you’re right, someone with an eating disorder is already paying attention to it, but I think this could just cause more people to go insane with calorie counting which usually doesn’t have a healthy outcome.

  3. I totally agree with you about the new health care reform and I really hope that we can get this law revoked or something??

  4. I agree completely. The government needs to back off. We are in charge of our own decisions. But I also agree that it might be beneficial to some people to become aware.. but why shoudl the govt tell private companies what they can and cant do?

    If you’re not sure, then don’t eat it!

  5. I think this is a really well thought out and well written post about a touchy subject. I agree that the government needs to back off. I think you’re right about the country being based on freedom of choice and demanding people have health coverage or requiring restaurants to post calorie information kind of goes against all of that.

  6. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said but the problem is that eating out often takes away consumer’s ability to eat intuitively, because we think we know what we are eating but the reality is that we often do not. And we aren’t trying to help the people that take time to go online and look up nutritional information and ingredients, those people are able to help themselves. (side story, just tried to get on McDonalds Web site, it’s down.) The problem is that so many people don’t take the time to do that, and those are most of the people who are obese/dying/costing billions of dollars.

    I was talking to my roommate about this and she told me that its the law in NY to have calorie counts on menu’s–and she said she looks at the menus sometimes and thinks “Helllll no I ain’t getting that salad for 500 calories.” Which gets at what you were saying and shows that could be detrimental to people with problems with disordered eating. However! Why I do think this legislation is good is because if it changes how people order or makes them think twice about choosing unhealthy food, it will force companies to make their food healthier because no one will be ordering the crappy food anymore.

    Maybe this is just me, but if I actually was still dealing with an eating disorder–or if I was even just a young girl struggling with trying to restrict my diet, I would already have a hard time eating out, and might even imagine calorie counts of certain foods higher than they actually are. Even now, when I go into any restaurant or fast food chain, I can visualize the calories alongside the menu items anyhow, because I have done the research at home (this is just me, maybe others can’t go this far, which is good). So actually seeing the cal counts won’t change how I would order–they might as well already be there on the menu.

    I think it is tragic that our food system has made it so people aren’t able to just choose something that sounds delicious and will be healthy and sustaining, instead of too much in terms or fat, sodium, etc without having to worry about specifics. But until that time comes again, I think listing calorie counts actually helps to create transparency in a completely screwed up world we eat in.

    • I just don’t think it’s the government’s job to list this information because those do not want to take the initiative to go online to look up the information. The government is trying to save you from making “bad” decisions, but one hamburger isn’t going to kill you and its frankly the person’s choice to eat the food, not matter the count, or not. If anything, I’d say dollars would be better spent on educational programs about nutrition for people to make overall informed decisions on food than have the calorie counts. Calories only show one aspect of the food, not the overall health of it, but unfortunately those numbers can hurt.

  7. I think it is a good thing. Not everyone has access to the Internet or knows how to look that information up. Yes, even in 2010 this is not something everyone can do or is able to do.
    Many people truly do not understand about good nutrition or calories. Studies have shown that when calorie counts are posted people make better choices. I think it it makes restaurants offer some healthier options than that is great for everyone.

    • I do see your point, but on the other hand, I think your response shows that we need more nutrition education than just posting calories. For example, peanut butter is very nutrient dense, but high in both calories and fat. Someone may then choose a lower calorie product, but nutritionally, it may not be as great.

  8. I am not an American however I still have thoughts on this issue….as sure enough like everything else….it willl probably come to Ireland soon like everything else. I have a lot of thoughts on this part of the legislation…I could literally rant on for hours (both for and against having calorie counts printed in Fast Food Chains. However, May I take this opportunity to take a slightly different angle and focus for a minute on this quote”:No, eating disorders may not have the cost implications of the obese or overweight in regards to illnesses like diabetes and so forth, but instead they also provide the #1 cause of death for any other mental illness.” Could this be bes=cause the health care system is more than willing to treat patients suffereing from obesity linked illlnesses such as strokes, Myocardial Infarctions, Diabetes, Hypotension, ETC than they are in treating Eating Disorders. I myself, have suffered from anorexia for 17 yrs, and in my experience(&I believe it to be similar in the US…you cannot get treatment without MEGA bucks. YOu either have the money(&we’re talking THOUSANDS)& get the limited treatment available or you don’t have the money and you suffer on….alone….without treatment or much medical intervention. Howeve….someone has a heart attack directly related to their high BMI levels? BAM! They have a bed…and treatment. I’d be interested to know how others see this. Apologies if I have gone on a tangent.

    • I don’t think it’s a tangent, but a great point and one problem I have with how healthcare is looked at now. If the government wants to look at health, they to come from both sides and unfortunately they are not.

      On another note, I hope you’re getting the help you need to get better. It’s a hard road, but one worth fighting 🙂

  9. Tough question. I really do not think having the calories in every chain is going to stop people from eating it. I wish it would but I have a feeling people are still going to eat whatever they want which makes me sad because I just don’t understand how someone can not think twice about what they are putting into their mouths. We only have this one life, and one body, shouldn’t we treat it with respect and feed it healthy food options. My sister and I both struggled with eating disorders and we have just finally found love for food again these past few years by re-thinking about food and our relationship with food. I hope it helps most people re-think about their food choices by having the numbers in front of them.

  10. I like the calorie counts too. I mean, I’m not obsessive, but there’s plenty of times when I’d opt out of something that had 50 some-odd fat grams like many fast food and chain places do.

    I also am glad pre-exisiting condition clauses are becoming a thing of the past, that the Medicare “donut hole” is no more, and I’m hoping that the IT and fraud prevention measures will save us some money.

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