“Worthless” foods.

This has become a theme among so many of my clients right now, that I was going to write a really long, involved post about this, but really…I’m exhausted.

So I’m just going to do this instead:


Thanks for playing. Hug it out in comments.





303 responses to ““Worthless” foods.”

  1. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Thank you. Short, sweet & to the point, and what I have been trying to tell people for years, what I say in most of my comments, etc., but I am tiring of the feeling that I am beating my head against a brick wall. If I never again hear words like “worthless foods”, “bad foods”, or “junk foods”, or sentiments along the lines of, “OMG, people in this culture are such idiots, we MUST teach them how to eat & tax ‘bad’ foods so that they won’t eat them!” it will be soon enough.

    Now I am off to spread coconut pecan frosting on a German chocolate cake. Have a nice day & enjoy everything you eat without analysis & critiquing it & without guilt…PLEASE.

  2. jaed Avatar

    A pet peeve of mine as well. I think “worthless foods” and “empty calories” and “nutrient-free” are synonyms for “is a food that I think is BAD”, and no more than that. You can recite micronutrient counts all you want at someone, and if it’s something a person considers a bad or impure or low-class or anxiety-producing food, it’s like talking to a wall. (Michelle, I think it was here I saw a post once about whether putting cheese sauce on broccoli somehow removes the nutrients? It’s that sort of thinking, I think. The actual, physical nutrients somehow disappear out of consciousness if the food can be identified in a negative way.)

    Someone recently was talking about that Kentucky Fried Chicken thing, that Double Down, and complained that it was “600 completely nutrient-free calories”. Two pieces of chicken, two pieces of cheese, a couple pieces of bacon, and some sort of secret sauce. A *ton* of protein, a bunch of delicious calcium, some iron and zinc, some selenium – “nutrient-free”?

    (Well, it’s fast food. It must be bad, simply must be. Also, the sandwich contains neither fruit – excuse me, “fresh fruits” – nor vegetables. Gotta be nutrient-free! We all know the only approved source of nutrients is “fresh fruits and vegetables”!)

    Not to mention that the most critical measure of nutrition of all is *calories*. Something with calories cannot possibly be “nutrient-free”!


    1. Erin S. Avatar
      Erin S.

      Was that broccoli thing from here? LOL — my husband and I joke about that ALL the time, because before he met me and I started dragging him home for dinner with my family he hated broccoli and cauliflower and wouldn’t touch them. Now? We eat them ALL the time and are practically keeping the frozen broccoli and cauliflower business afloat lol.

      The only difference? Cheese sauce. So whenever I am making dinner and the planned veggie is broccoli or cauliflower, as I am making the cheese sauce it is almost guaranteed that one of us will decide to hold up a piece of veggie and have it say “Oh NOES! U R STEELIN MY NUTRIMENTS!!!!”

      We’re weird.

      1. jaed Avatar

        Tiny piece of cheese, saying, “I’m on ur plate, stealing ur nutrients!!!” heh.

  3. Papu Morgado Avatar

    I’ve been missing your posts!
    With all the “information” about food and nutrition we hear everyday ( including “empty” calories) it can get really confusing.
    What’s happening to me is that: as I’m giving myself permission to eat what I want (and when I want) all the diet demons seem to arise and show up its ugly head.
    It’s really impressive how many assumptions I have buried underneath about good and bad foods, even though I haven’t been dieting for a long time now.
    And “information” about food is everywhere: in the media, in women’s conversations around you, at work, in your family. I”m very sensitive right now to all the diet and nutrition “advice” we receive everyday. I’ts difficult not to be affected by all this, so I thank you for your post, it reassures me of my choices!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      as I’m giving myself permission to eat what I want (and when I want) all the diet demons seem to arise and show up its ugly head.

      This is really interesting, and really important too, I think. You’re bringing awareness to a bunch of underlying beliefs that you may not have even realized you had before, but were still affecting how you feel about food. Now that you can actually see that they’re there, you might be able to interact with them.

      It’s really difficult and scary though, I know. But you’re doing really well :)

  4. Lydia Avatar

    Yes, exactly! I’ve never commented on your blog before, but this post is such an important message.

  5. Rebecca Avatar

    Even sugar-free Jello? That sounds snarky but I mean it seriously.

    Anyway, yeah, I know just what you mean.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hahaha, good one.

      Well, it is *technically* protein, anyhow. So, yes, even sugar-free Jello contains nutrients.

      1. Elizabeth Avatar

        I think sugar-free Jello still contains a fair amount of water, too.

  6. julie Avatar

    How ’bout fish sauce? Grain alcohol? I’ve got some flavoring things that are questionable, at best. I try not to think of food as good and bad, but worthless is absolutely a big classification of mine. Not that it would stop me from eating something, but it just shows me that I don’t have such an accepting attitude about food as I like to think I do.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, but are those things even considered “food” on their own?

      Not normally, I wouldn’t say. No.

      1. Kelly Avatar

        I’m prepared to try a grain-alcohol-only diet and see how well it works for me.

    2. Sarah Avatar

      Fish sauce contains plenty of salt, and while most people in industrialized countries are more likely to have problems with too much of it, sodium is a vitally necessary nutrient.

  7. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

    I hope this works right, I’m commenting from my Blackberry. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/dining/28Rudn.html is an article about a guy who eats nothing but sweets (candy), and is completely healthy. My favourite bit is where he recounts how his parents took him to a child psychiatrist when he was 6 and his parents were advised to let him eat what he wanted.

    1. Suzanne Avatar

      I love that guy! And knowing he live on candy makes me love him even more, haha!

  8. JeninCanada Avatar

    Thanks for this! <3 Love it, and needed to hear it.

  9. Greg Avatar

    Empty calories is just a way to talk about the difference between refined sugar and kale. I am curious about your opinion on the nutrients in HFCS. Yes, that is a food because it makes up the bulk of calories in many processed foods.

    Although it reminds me of time I made roasted corn at a BBQ and one of the guests complained that corn has no nutritional value because it “passes right through you”. She was eating a hot dog on white bread with a huge cup of Vodka and sprite at the time.

    I was blown away.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      HFCS – I am as yet undecided. But, fwiw, fructose (fructose-6-phosphate, specifically) is a natural intermediary produced during glycolysis. And, yes, HFCS does provide glucose, which is the fuel your brain and body primarily runs on from day to day. The evidence is mixed as to whether HFCS causes metabolic issues in the long run, but in the short term? It’ll keep you alive. And I think the utter panic about it is truly unwarranted.

      I understand what people mean “empty calories” to mean, that is, calories (aka “macronutrients” like carb, protein, or fat) that don’t contain micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals.)

      But, frankly, it’s bullshitty. It gives the impression that energy nutrients themselves are worthless, when, in fact, they are more important in the immediate term than micronutrients.

      You can live for quite a while on nothing more than sugar and water. You won’t last very long, however, just taking a vitamin/mineral supplement and nothing else.

      Ideally, both will come together. And, in the vast majority of the stuff we call food, they do. It’s pretty hard to find something considered “food” that doesn’t contain both macro- and micronutrients.

      Even soda pop has phosphorus, for crying out loud. And fluoride from the water.

      1. Sarah TX Avatar
        Sarah TX

        There’s sort of a college nerd myth that Coca Cola or Pepsi (NOT the diet kind of the Coke Zero kind) is a pretty decent meal replacement when someone can’t get out of the computer lab long enough to eat a “real meal”. In the long run, you’ll almost certainly get some sort of vitamin deficiency, but in the short run it will prevent you from fainting due to lack of Calories or dehydration (which happened to quite a few of my classmates).

        Of course, now you can get Naked Juice in vending machines, which is closer to liquefied “real food”.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          but in the short run it will prevent you from fainting due to lack of Calories or dehydration (which happened to quite a few of my classmates).

          This is actually true. And while, no, this is not even CLOSE to ideal from a personal well-being perspective, it will help you survive.

          But, dang, the bigger issue, to me, is: why in the hell are students pushed to these extremes, where they have to make a choice between “eating actual food” and “getting done what’s expected of me?” These things should not be at odds, and when they are, to me it means something is severely imbalanced and out of whack. Is this a cultural thing?

          If I had to make a choice between working and eating, I’d seriously quit my job. I just would. I prioritize my body’s needs over that crap, and I won’t stand for that kind of abuse. And that’s what it is, when some kind of external pressure denies you the chance to fulfill your physical needs — abuse, pure and simple.

          1. Rose Avatar

            IMO, our society venerates people who work until they drop, put up with horrible pain until they pass out, sacrifice their health and well-being for others… etc. It’s sick if you ask me, but it’s the cowboy ethics the country’s people absorb through their famiies and culture. I mean how many movies has the hero get hurt really bad and leave the scene to heal and fight another day? Usually he stands back up and takes another beating until he’s bloody, broken and maybe dead… but victorious.

            This is echoed on campuses when students are allowed to overload themselves with credit hours and sometimes they do this on top of a full time job and a family to raise. Other times, they do the all-nighters because they wanted to other things during the month and have therefore saved studying until they had to cram, which is stupid if it’s not timed right.

          2. Ashley Avatar

            The last three days before my dissertation was due to my committee (I’m a Ph.D. in chemistry), I lived exclusively on Twizzlers and Dr. Pepper.

          3. jaed Avatar

            It’s unbalanced if it’s a long-term thing, but when I’ve heard such comments (about not getting out of the lab long enough to eat), it’s meant something like “I’m on a roll here, I’m in the zone and I am not going to risk losing my groove by going out for an hour and getting food.”

            This doesn’t strike me as abusive. I’ve been there myself – programming at an intense level requires intense concentration, and it is a real danger if you interrupt a highly focused session of work that you won’t be able to get back your concentration. If it’s happening a lot, that’s one thing, but occasionally other things do take temporary priority over caring for yourself physically.

          4. Elizabeth G. Avatar
            Elizabeth G.

            I’ve done that — with sleep, not food. I’ll be in the middle of writing a song or poem or story or doing something else that’s creative and requires just the right focus, and part of me will be saying “I should go to sleep because it’s the healthy thing to do,” but another part of me will go, “if I let this go now I will NEVER get it back!” Usually, the latter part of me wins, just because my bed will be there at a later time. The exact wording I want, waiting to come out on the page? Not likely.

            I don’t do that with food, though. I can’t work without food; I lose focus and energy, and even if I *am* on a roll, I probably won’t be able to keep it up without something to eat. And honestly, I think in general, any kind of workload that *requires* you to deprive yourself of essential needs (as opposed to my personal decision to do so, knowing I could get them later) is, indeed, abusive. I had a workload like that in high school; all us music/honors kids did. We did it… well, I did it to keep up with everyone else, and also because it was kind of a status thing. Graduating with shitloads of credits made people’s jaws drop; even my guidance counselor was impressed. Personally, I think it was self-abusive and I, at least, should have been stopped. If I had been made to choose, to prioritize, I would’ve been much better off.

            Anyway, getting back on topic: I think there should be a nutrient called “the happiness nutrient.” That way, when people ate less healthy things just because they’re yummy, they could just be like “oh, I’m getting my happiness nutrient!” instead of feeling guilty about it. Only problem is, everybody likes different foods, so it would vary from person to person.

            Haha, happiness nutrient. I’m going to start saying that and see if I can get it to catch on in my inner circle.

          5. KellyK Avatar

            I love the idea of a happiness nutrient!

            I also think you make a really important distinction between putting off biological needs because you’re on a roll and being in a situation where you’re constantly asked to deny them.

          6. Hot Tramp Avatar

            If I had to make a choice between working and eating, I’d seriously quit my job.

            I seriously doubt that you would make that choice if you needed to work in order to have a roof over your head, and the only work available to you was one where your eating preferences were constricted. “Your body’s needs” involve shelter, too.

          7. Michelle Avatar

            This is true.

            Given my history, though, I still wouldn’t put it past me. I once walked out on a (terrible, abusive) job with pretty much no money to eat or pay rent, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Not that I’d recommend it for anyone else.

        2. inge Avatar

          On the nutritional value of caffeinated sugary drinks:

          Some time ago I read some panic-y article about how school girls skip lunch to drink 400kcal lattes instead. Having seen some school lunches and imagining I’d have to put in hours of concentration and mental work on the afternoon, I’d go for the latte in a heartbeat. Fluid, caffeine and easily accessible energy.

          Similary, I have gone for days on nothing but sugar-sweetened iced tea (sugar water, really) and salty crackers when hiking in hot weather, when a sandwich would have been far too heavy food and fruit might have upset my stomach. As soon as I spent a day on the beach instead I needed something more substantial, but there are some kinds of effort where sugar water just *works*.

  10. Katja Avatar

    I’m working to advocate healthy feeding relationships and competent eating. I collaborate on community projects to try to be bring that positive, intrinsically rewarding, emphasis on providing and structure that most of the public discourse on this tuff lacks totally. (The typical shaming, fear-based, prescriptive, paternalistic stuff… ) What I am really struggling with is the people in public health (most of whom seem genetically slim “Born on third base thinking they hit a triple” folks) or on projects that I work on who are old-paradigm, weightist, biased, do all the “how can we get people to eat better and take better care of themselves!” I think I am really struggling because I was one of those (sorry) and have now seen the light after much soul-searching and review of evidence, practicing competent eating and raising my daughter via Satter’s methods, outreach and client work. I am the evangelist who wants to convert people, that’s pretty exhausting too…
    As a colleague said, “Are you brining light to a dark place, or is the darkness just getting you dirty?” I just feel dirty right now.

    1. Emgee Avatar

      ‘genetically slim “Born on third base thinking they hit a triple” folks’

      OOOOOOOOOOH! I LOVE this! Do you mind if I shamelessly plagiarize it?

    2. Michelle Avatar

      I just feel dirty right now.

      That sucks, but I also know that feeling really well. Some people are more comfortable “infiltrating” than others. I did it for a while, and I looked at it as a learning experience, because I genuinely believe “the other side” has good intentions, some good techniques, and a lot of useful knowledge for me to learn from. But I also knew I’d have to go be on my own at some point, because I couldn’t have lived in that space forever. But I learned a lot, and I genuinely respect all the people I worked with and learned from, though I’m sure they’d differ with me on a lot of stuff I say about weight and diet.

      In the end, I may have been uncomfortable, but maybe I didn’t really feel “dirty,” because the people I was working for were genuinely good people. We just disagreed. It’s okay to disagree. Maybe they were even wrong; it’s okay for people to be wrong. It doesn’t make them bad people. It’s even okay for people to be biased and prejudiced. We all are, and we don’t do it to be evil. And we can learn to get past it.

      If I were working for those who were intentionally causing harm, with full knowledge that what they were doing would cause harm (that is, EVIL), then yeah, I’d probably feel dirty. If they were demonstrating a conflict of interest, or fiddling with research results, or getting paid off by some shady lobbyist then…yeah. Dirty.

      Otherwise? I don’t think it’s anything worth feeling guilty about on a personal level. It’s what you’ve got to do in order to learn, and you’ve got your intentions and your convictions in the right place.

      Sometimes it can be psychologically healthy to take a kind of arrogantly benevolent stance (at least in your head) by thinking, “Oh, those poor, terribly misguided souls. How can I help them without scaring the daylights out of them?”

      Or maybe that’s just me :)

      1. Dave Doolin Avatar

        “Oh, those poor, terribly misguided souls. How can I help them without scaring the daylights out of them?”

        Heh… tipping your hand…

  11. Mikuto Avatar

    Oh I’ve missed your posts!

    I think when people say “worthless food” they actually mean “food without moral value” because even people without disordered eating seem to have attached some kind of bizarre morality to food.

    Broccoli is a moral food to eat, ice cream is not, etc, etc.

    The KFC Double Down is a great example, because in all actuality it’s just a chicken cordon bleu with a PR agent. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com actually crunched the numbers, and it turns out that the Wendy’s Triple Baconator has the calories of 2.5 Double Downs, and there’s been no media outcry about THAT particular sandwich.

    So why the media frenzy about the Double Down? Morals. It’s unconscionable to some people to just eat two pieces of chicken for lunch. Where’s the bread? Where’s the limp lettuce and tomato? Where are the things that I can look at and say “well at least I’m getting fiber” or “at least I’m having vegetables”?

    I went off on a bit of a tangent, but I’m sure you know what I was trying to get across. Once people realize that there is no morality attached to food there are no foods that are worthless.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think when people say “worthless food” they actually mean “food without moral value”

      Very good point. I think you’re onto something.

      It’s also interesting how closely “virtuousness” maps onto “full of micronutrients, but with few or no macronutrients.”

      Why in the hell are vitamins so damn virtuous? They’re molecules. Just molecules that do things. And so are macronutrients. What the hell?

      The KFC Double Down is a great example, because in all actuality it’s just a chicken cordon bleu with a PR agent.

      I had not even heard of this, but the way you phrased it is hilarious.

      1. Rose Avatar

        I was just thinking about the KFC Double Down this morning. It was advertised on a KFC I pass. I started thinking about all the fuss and what it was about when I realized no one would think twice about eating two peices of fried chicken and bacon. I still do feel like it’s an incomplete sandwich without the lettuce and tomato however… it’s how I was raised. GAH! I’d have to add it to the sammich if I ever decided to try it. Maybe next time I’m craving fried chicken :D

      2. Hot Tramp Avatar

        I think it all comes back to the moral virtue we assign to “health.” It makes sense for us to promote the idea that you are a bad person if you don’t do everything in your power to live as long as you possibly can, because when people we love keel over, we experience pain. If we can convince them to live longer, we put off that pain.

    2. foreveropera Avatar

      I can’t tell you how much this whole “morality of food” thing relates to my life. EVERY PART of it, in fact. It seems that somewhere along the line I’ve picked up on the fact that there are certain foods that no one wants to see a fat person eat. And that, in society today, being a fat person means that if you should decide to eat those foods, you should most certainly feel “bad” about it. Except that it doesn’t just stop there. It then morphs into (for me anyway, though I don’t think I’m alone in this) ‘I am a bad person as a whole and should not be allowed to feel good or happy about any part of me because my packaging immediately identifies me as a person with no self control or pride in myself.’ What an awful way to live, right?

    3. Rose Avatar

      I think food and eating become moral issues when society is taught that eating can make us fat and unhealthy. Fat equals unhealthy because society pushes the notion that being fat causes health issues, which sometimes it does. But then they take it a step further and justify their judgment and persecution of fat people because supposedly those people are putting an economic burden on society (which includes the hiking of insurance rates.)

      This added into the skinny people who can maintain a socially acceptable size thinking that being skinny is easy. So therefore if you’re not skinny but fat, you are lazy and weak-minded.

      Fat people are seen as horrible, selfish and defective people because we refuse to be skinny so that the country can save money on insurance and health costs. This creates a panic within society. Nobody wants to be shunned, it’s not in our genes. And we all begin to turn to experts to tell us how to get or remain the “good” weight/size. When we stopped listening to Grandma and started listening to the doctors and researchers (who, as it turns out, were just using logical reasoning and not a lot of actual research) is when we lost the war. A war, mind you, that started when advertising became ubiquitous.

      I hope I made sense. Not sure if I did.

      1. deeleigh Avatar

        My grandma, wonderful woman though she was in many ways, was weight obsessed and passed that preoccupation on to all her children. Great grandma, maybe? Or my other grandma…

        The weight obsession goes back a long way now.

    4. inge Avatar

      The thing about Nate Silver’s number crunching on the Double Down that really had me giggling like mad is that his most damning critique is that it does not have enough calories for the amount of fat and sodium it delivers.

      Also, I want one of those Double Downs. All those talk about them makes me hungry.

    5. living400lbs Avatar

      Well…I think it’s also showing how the Atkins fad is *ovah*. Because I’m surprised the Atkins crowd isn’t being vocally supportive of it.

      1. closetpuritan Avatar

        Yeah, if they were going to do this, I’m surprised they didn’t do it during the height of Atkins Diet popularity.

      2. Ducky Avatar

        I actually just thought about the Atkin fad being over today! I realized it was over when I sadly realized Subway no longer seems to offer wraps anymore.

      3. JupiterPluvius Avatar

        It is too high in carbs (breading on the patties, and sugary barbecue sauce) to be an Atkins-friendly meal, actually.

        I ate one FOR SCIENCE and although it was too salty for my own tastes it didn’t make me explode.

    6. Michellers Avatar

      My husband, bless his heart, tried a KFC double-down the other day and complained to me that it really wasn’t decadent at all. Such a disappointment.

    7. closetpuritan Avatar

      I think that this was the first place I saw pointing out that if someone added bread to the sandwich no one would be freaking out about it. If you’re looking at nutrient density, though, I think you’d be better off with the chicken. (Isn’t white bread more firmly on the “bad foods” list than chicken now?) I think part of how they fool you is by saying “we are using chicken AS THE BREAD!” But if you had a sandwich of bread, mayonaise, cheese, and bacon (I think only 2 pieces in this sandwich?), it would be a fairly light sandwich.

      I said as much to a coworker, but that just got him started on how even breaded and fried chicken is less high-calorie/fatty than a hamburger patty (from a fast food restaurant) and fat has the most calories per volume… which seems like a silly way to look at it to me, because I don’t think you’re going to fool your satiety signals for long, if at all, by eating bulky low-calorie food–and if you’re just exchanging fat for protein or low-fiber carbs, I don’t think you’re reducing caloric intake that much, either.

  12. sannanina Avatar

    You know, there are some foods I avoid like the plague (not least because as a fat person I don’t want to be seen eating them – although I also cannot quite get rid of being “scared” of certain supposedly bad foods either). And yet – what always gets me is that people argue that eating only chocolate or candy, or french fries is unhealthy, while the truth is that living exclusively on pretty much any food is not exactly a healthy way to eat. I love blueberries. Blueberries are classified as a rather healthy food by most people. Still – eating only blueberries (or, even eating only fruit) probably is not a good idea in the long term.

    Also – I was on a retreat with other people from my department a few weeks ago. One of my colleagues presented a study that looked at participants’ nutritional goals and how successful they were to put them into practice*. In this study, participants rated their intentions to eat less “bad” food as harder to put into practice than their intentions to eat more “good” food at the beginning of the study. Surprisingly, though, their behavior was not in line with this – they were a lot more successful not eating certain things than to add new things to their diet. One of my colleagues argued that this might have been the case because leaving out the “bad” stuff is a more efficient in reaching your goal – so people put more effort in it. I replied that this was just the case if your goal was to lose weight: If your goal was to eat more nutritious food increasing variety of the food you eat would be far more efficient. I think everyone in the room thought I was crazy…

    *This study was about goal pursuance – they chose nutrion goals because they are common and many people are interested in participanting in a study that might help them to be successful.

    1. silentbeep Avatar

      “And yet – what always gets me is that people argue that eating only chocolate or candy, or french fries is unhealthy, while the truth is that living exclusively on pretty much any food is not exactly a healthy way to eat.”

      You know, I had similar thoughts regarding the movie Supersize Me. All he ate was a McDonald’s diet, literally nothing else in his experiment and we are all suppose to be schocked that it wasn’t the healthiest of ways to eat. I didn’t understand where the expose was in that.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Same here. I watched the movie with my husband, and we actually thought it was pretty entertaining, and kind of fun, and I actually kind of had that pseudo-bonding experience you have with likeable characters, with Morgan and his girlfriend. They seemed like nice people.

        But the whole time, we kept asking, “So, who in the hell really eats like that? And who ever, ever said that it was healthy or a good idea to?” I mean, other than that Guinness Book of World Records dude who ate like 63541361068416541 Big Macs and had one for every meal.

        1. clairedammit Avatar

          Well, I’ve lived almost exclusively on one group of foods, although it wasn’t McD’s, it was Morningstar Farms meat subs (hot dogs, chick’n nuggets and corn dogs mostly.) Can you guess why I was eating pretty much nothing but these? I was dieting.

          (This was my own personal version of an eating disorder and I never want to do that again.)

    2. living400lbs Avatar

      In this study, participants rated their intentions to eat less “bad” food as harder to put into practice than their intentions to eat more “good” food at the beginning of the study. Surprisingly, though, their behavior was not in line with this – they were a lot more successful not eating certain things than to add new things to their diet.

      I’m sure this isn’t related to how adding new foods often requires planning (to buy the new foods, to get more involved in shopping if you aren’t already doing it, etc) and changes to shopping and/or dining habits. Abstaining from certain foods just means not eating them. ;)

      1. sannanina Avatar

        I am not sure this is really it… first of all, I live in Germany, and the food system as well as people’s attitudes about food *are* somewhat different here. For one, I might be in denial concerning the realities of my home culture, but I don’t think there are many food deserts in Germany. Also, I am not sure, but I think participants were undergraduate students at my university, and we have a quite decent cafeteria which would allow people to eat a lot of foods considered “healthy”. (And it is common for students to eat at the cafeteria, since it is not only convenient but also cheap since it is subsidized.) Also, there still remains the fact that people *thought* that abstaining would be harder than adding foods.

        Actually, considering that a lot of people do confuse eating less with eating healthier, it might very well be true that participants evaluated restricting certain foods as a more efficient way to reach their goals. It irritated me, though, that my colleagues did not question if cutting out so-called “unhealthy” foods truly is the most efficient way to improve one’s diet. After all, shouldn’t social scientists be a bit more critical of what is perceived as “common sense”?

        1. inge Avatar

          I would agree that Germany isn’t exactly the land of food deserts, but learning to incorporate new, unknown food into your daily eating is still more work than just skipping something. Too often I look at a pretty vegetable and think, “but what do I *do* with it?” The question never comes up with bread and cheese.

          1. sannanina Avatar

            Yeah, except as I said before: These were (as far as I know) participants that did not have to cook for themselves. Plus, incorporating more foods generally judged as “healthy” by the public is not necessarily the same as incorporating things you never ate before. I actually doubt that most of those participants had the goal of – say – starting to eat more okra (which is quite exotic in Germany). I don’t know the exact data, since this was not my study, but there is a difference between saying “I want to eat more vegetables and fruits”, many of which people are already somewhat familiar with, and saying “I want to try one new food each week”.

    3. ako Avatar

      Still – eating only blueberries (or, even eating only fruit) probably is not a good idea in the long term.

      There are people who try going on purely fruit diet – hard-core fruitarians. And yes, they get pretty sick. Not enough protein, no B-12 unless they supplement, not enough calories, too much sugar, all sorts of mineral deficiencies…so yeah, you can get extremes of unhealthy eating in every direction. But a thin person eating an apple in public rarely given the instant “ZOMG, that must be all you ever eat, and you must be so unhealthy, and you desperately need to put that down and have some some nice protein-and-calorie rich pizza right now!” reaction, whereas assuming a fat person eating a slice of pizza is going to eat all of the pizza in the world and desperately needs to have a bit of fruit pushed at them that instant is depressingly common.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        But a thin person eating an apple in public rarely given the instant “ZOMG, that must be all you ever eat…

        This is a really good point.

        Oh, and don’t forget about breatharians!

  13. Lori Avatar

    Best summation of the issue I’ve seen.

    I agree with the comments about “worthless foods” and morality, but I’d go in a different direction and say it’s also very, very much about class. “Not real food” = “the foods that we associate with poor people.” It’s like we hate the idea of there being cheap, efficient ways of people getting lots of calories–something very necessary for people who have little money to survive–and so we decide that those foods are “not real” and should be taken away.

    I’ll be honest: I’m coming more and more–especially when I look at the absolute nastiness in the U.S. political scene, so much of which is about hatred of the poor and the feeling that “those people” don’t deserve anything–to think that a lot of this is, on some level, about a mostly-unconscious hatred of the poor and perhaps even a belief that, since they are “lazy” and “stupid” (otherwise they wouldn’t be poor!), they don’t really deserve to eat. I think we hate that, for a couple of bucks a day, people can buy enough calories to get by. We want to shame them about that option or even legislate it away. I do think there’s something deeply pernicious about it, even if it’s not the overt intention.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      but I’d go in a different direction and say it’s also very, very much about class.

      I strongly think this is part of it too, and a BIG part. And I think the fact that so many different influences come together to create this symbolism (for “bad” food) is why it is such a persistent one, and so hard to explain away simply. It’s deeply ingrained on several levels, and from multiple directions.

      1. Emily_O Avatar

        I think it’s also very much about fearing female flesh sexually. In the Victorian era, women who exposed flesh were considered low-class and dirty, and all lower-class women were considered sexually promiscuous. Hence the qualifiers about the virtuous poor — it was taken for granted that most of the poor weren’t virtuous, but these people were exceptions. Upper-class women were seen as thin, and not sexual; it was the lower class women who were seen as desirable, available and threatening.

        Skinny women can wear tight or low-cut shirts, but women with big breasts aren’t supposed to. You’re supposed to hide your thighs. Not show off a big butt. Not even hint at the fact that you have a tummy. Women with serious curves are supposed to keep them hidden in almost burka-like matronly wear. Otherwise you supposedly look like some lower-class skank ready to have sex with anyone just because you dare to have size Ds.

        The anti-fat panic is a moral panic, and those always seem to play out on women’s bodies.

        1. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

          Is it wrong to shamelessly mention that I wrote a post about dieting and virginity over at my blog, http://www.zaftigzeitgeist.wordpress.com ? I like what you wrote, it’s a good point. I may use this as a starting point for another post.

        2. Elizabeth G. Avatar
          Elizabeth G.

          I actually posted something on my LJ (which I won’t link to because I’m not all that proud of it) about this, and I also posted a comment on a super-early entry here on this sort of thing. I’ve been wondering recently why it’s such a terrible thing for a woman to have a big stomach. The stomach is where the uterus is, and the uterus is where we grow babies — one incredibly powerful thing that only women can do. I guess you could say that it’s a source of womanly power. So why is a big stomach such a bad thing? Maybe this is another expression of the fact that society still doesn’t think we should have power.

          And there was a whole lot else I wrote about that’s sort of related, but I don’t really feel like reproducing the entire post. Anyway, it’s kind of neat to find out I was sort of right. XD

    2. ako Avatar

      “Not real food” = “the foods that we associate with poor people.” It’s like we hate the idea of there being cheap, efficient ways of people getting lots of calories–something very necessary for people who have little money to survive–and so we decide that those foods are “not real” and should be taken away.

      When I was in the Philippines, a lot of people fairly bluntly told me local fruits and vegetables were “poor people food”. Often using those exact words.

      And, when the connections to cheapness and poverty were different, the food hierarchy was totally different. Locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and beans were at the bottom of the list (I’m vegetarian and people were often surprisingly apologetic about serving these to me), with imported fruits and vegetables more upper-class, and fatty, high-protein stuff like meats and imported cheeses high up on the list. The food most people could afford without too much trouble was low-status, and the prestige food was whatever people couldn’t afford.

      There was also far less stigma about being fat. A lot more people took the attitude that fatness was not a big deal, and was frequently seen as just how you’re built. The thing people were really supposed to watch for, correct, and avoid was dark skin. Everyone knew genetics were a factor, but it was expected you’d use whitening soaps and lotions and avoid sunlight to induce pallor, and you could get a lot of blame for not “looking after yourself” if you were perceived as not doing all you could to stay light-skinned. It was a really bizarre contrast.

  14. Shannon Avatar

    Great conversation. Here’s my husband’s review of the KFC Double Down, which it turns out has fewer calories than some fast food salads.

  15. Todd Avatar

    I’m pretty sure that the terms “useless” and “junk” foods refer to the fact that while they may contain some nutrients, they aren’t particularly good for you. I’m pretty sure it’s not politically motivated. :rollseyes:

    1. Michelle Avatar

      O RLY?

      So what exactly makes a food “good for you?” I’m serious.

      1. Anna Avatar

        Mmm, “good for you” could be–foods that contain compounds reduce the risk of certain diseases (like anti-oxidants in, say, kale) and foods that contain nutrients that are hard to get in our diet (so a relative term–in the US, calories are easy to get. Iron and zine can be tougher, for instance).

        As a relative term, depending on context of what is readily available, I think nutrient density (micronutrients to macronutrients) is a useful term, and doesn’t have to be demonized anymore than low-nutrient dense foods need to be demonized. I eat things that are not particularly healthy, but for a variety of reasons I have chosen it, and it is right for me in that moment. Not healthy in a nutrient sense, but healthy in an overall practical sense.

        1. Fiona Avatar

          In theory it would make sense to judge the value of food based on it containing relatively hard to get nutrients, but outside of vitamin supplements, people don’t seem to aim for variety of nutrients.

          For example, the primary way that I get iodine into my body is through iodized salt but “high sodium” is still a nutritional boogeyman. Red meat is a great source of iron, but ads for steak always frame it as an indulgence item, rather than focusing on its positive nutrient qualities.

          1. Anna Avatar

            Sure, people don’t usually choose food for nutrients. But if a person *wants* to hit all the DRIs for nutrients, and limit ones that put them at risk for certain problems (customized to that persons needs, emotional as well as physical), nutrient density is a useful concept.

            Steak does have positive qualities–but certain macronutrients nutrients in it are easily consumed in excess *in this country*, which is associated with increased risk of certain diseases. It could still be the best choice for someone else, or someone in this country for *whatever reason*. I also don’t feel like iodized salt is a great example, since that’s just a supplement–I can also take it through a multi-vitamin or fortified cereal, it’s all the same. If I’m going out of my way to avoid all salt, supplementing with iodine is pretty easy (avoiding some idodized salt–you’ll get enough iodine still).

            Just my take on it. I find nutrient density of food to be useful, as long as it is not used to moralize. Emotional needs, price, practicality, etc are decided on by the person, and it’s no one else’s business. I do agree with Michelle’s bottom line.

          2. Fiona Avatar

            I definitely agree with you that nutrient density can be extremely valuable, especially if somebody has specific dietary requirements or needs to get as much energy into their body as possible for health reasons.

            The problem is that most people take a glance at the label and assign it a value of “healthy” or “worthless” based on a single ingredient or DRI value. I catch myself doing this too (“Oooo! Zinc! Zinc’s good, right? In the cart it goes!”)

            I don’t think I’m expressing myself terribly well here… but my original point was that nutrient density is potentially a useful framework, but more often than not twisted into something very different.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      (Also, if you want to talk, let’s talk. But take that :rollseyes: shit somewhere else. Errr…let me rephrase that: can you be a little politer, please? We can talk about this in good faith, really.)

      1. Todd Avatar

        How exactly are foods that are labeled “junk” or “worthless” good for you just because it has “some” nutrients?

        :only one eye rolled this time, but that was largely due to my astigmatism:

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It all depends on context and what your body needs at any particular time.

          The dose makes the poison, right?

          Some people’s lives are literally saved by what we think of as “junk” food (if you’ve ever worked with an extremely malnourished population, like cancer patients or the elderly, or the eating disordered, you’ll know what I’m talking about pretty viscerally.) It’s an extraordinarily narrow view of food to call some good and some bad, some worthwhile and some worthless. All foods have useful components. And much of what you think is junk probably has far more nutrients that you might think. It’s not a matter of a “bad” food having *some* redeeming qualities; it’s a matter of there being no such thing as “bad” food in the first place.

          It is truly individual. One man’s junk food is another man’s cuisine, or even possibly, his salvation.

          The people who come to see me to get their eating back on track are not malnourished, but they’ve had their eating competence nearly destroyed by the belief that certain foods are bad, and have gotten to the point where they believe they’ll go to hell for, or be poisoned by, a freaking Happy Meal or a candy bar. That’s not healthy. Food acceptance (and, hence, variety) IS.

          1. Todd Avatar

            Isn’t this like telling somebody to stop hitting their head on a brick wall, but instead use a wooden door? Just because it will hurt less, doesn’t make it better.

            Can a person survive on “junk” food? Sure. Is that a healthy choice? I would venture to say no. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should.

            I have no problem telling somebody to not enjoy an occasional candybar, or burger. Nor, would I tell them that it has nutrients, so have at it. That’s like giving them a blank check.

            I equate this to telling somebody that walking to their car is exercise, so that’s really all that they need to do. Is it exercise? Yes. Is it gong to be enough? Not unless they parked their car a couple of miles away.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            I have no problem telling somebody to not [sic] enjoy an occasional candybar, or burger. Nor, would I tell them that it has nutrients, so have at it. That’s like giving them a blank check.

            See, the thing is, it’s not about what you TELL people to do. Telling people what to do is stupid. Because it’s not your place to tell people what to eat — it’s entirely up to them.

            I tell people to eat what they want, and to not be terrified about “junk” food because I trust, and I know from experience, that people can learn to regulate themselves appropriately, and that food choices are an intensely personal thing. People HAVE to choose for themselves, and the wider the choice they feel they have (i.e., if they’re not convinced that certain foods are “worthless” and/or poisonous and/or morally reprehensible), then the better, overall, their nutrition will be.

            Because variety is the cornerstone of good nutrition. Bottom line.

            Am I suggesting that people eat ONLY “junk” food? No. I’m telling people to stop denigrating and dismissing certain foods from their diets out-of-hand, because of some apocryphal belief that they’re “worthless.” There is no such thing as worthless food. Even the freaking ADA agrees with me on that.

          3. Todd Avatar

            I think the issue at hand is the melding of “worthless” and “junk”. Can a person survive eating every meal at McDonald’s? Yes. Therefore the food is not worthless.

            Will this person likely eat more calories than their BMR requires? I would venture to say yes.

            Largely, fast food, and most prepackaged foods are made up of stuff that our body does not want or need. Do they have some nutrients? Ok, but that doesn’t mean that they are a good choice.

          4. KellyK Avatar

            Todd, that reply sounded like you didn’t listen to anything at all Michelle said. It’s not about always making the best choice every time, but about eating a wide variety of things and trusting yourself to self-regulate.

            Labeling a yummy food as “worthless” or “junk” and therefore “evil” just makes it forbidden fruit. Labeling it as one choice among many that has some pros and some cons is a much more reasonable way to deal with it.

            No one suggested, ever at all, that everyone should eat McDonald’s all the time. But stressing about every morsel of food you put in your mouth and beating yourself up if you have a french fry will do much worse things to your health than eating McDonald’s every now and again.

          5. closetpuritan Avatar

            Because variety is the cornerstone of good nutrition. Bottom line.

            I think the issue at hand is the melding of “worthless” and “junk”. Can a person survive eating every meal at McDonald’s? Yes. Therefore the food is not worthless.

            Todd, I’m not sure if you’re intentionally setting up a straw man, not reading more than a few words of Michelle’s response, or just not getting it.

            Will this person likely eat more calories than their BMR requires? I would venture to say yes.

            Uh… You’re using BMR to mean “basal metabolic rate”, right? And this site, for one, says that is “the number of calories you’d burn if you stayed in bed all day”. So, unless someone is in fact in bed all day–yeah, I would hope so. Something’s wrong with their body’s self-regulation if not.

            OK, OK, I know what you meant, at least in a general sense–that McDonald’s food encourages people to eat “too many” calories. Short term, you probably will end up eating more calories than other places. Long term, your body has internal mechanisms that adjust your hunger signals, metabolism, movement, etc. so that your body will adjust and eat less at the next meal, ramp up your metabolism, etc., so you’re not going to see a permanent change in your weight based on having one particular meal at McDonald’s.

            Largely, fast food, and most prepackaged foods are made up of stuff that our body does not want or need. Do they have some nutrients? Ok, but that doesn’t mean that they are a good choice.
            I guess to the extent that the body can “want” things, that would be reflected in whether, say, one found the smell of the McDonald’s food appetizing, don’t you think? And most people who eat at McDonald’s do find it appetizing.

            Fast food and prepackaged food is made up largely of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and salt. Our bodies do need these things. Most people in industrialized nations (but, importantly, not all!) get more than they need, but to claim that our bodies don’t need them at all is nonsense.

            OK, so, if most people in industrialized nations get more than they need of these things, why is making it forbidden or labeling it as junk food unheathy? (My take, but heavily influenced by Michelle):
            A) There are important exceptions! Some people do in fact need dense sources of macronutrients and/or salt, even in industrialized countries!
            B) Labeling a food as “forbidden” leads to disordered eating patterns–a psychologically fraught relationship with food; in people with full-blown eating disorders it becomes a physically harmful relationship with food. Also, many people find that it leads them to eat MORE of the forbidden food than they would if it was not forbidden.
            C) Occasionally eating “junk” foods is not going to do you any appreciable harm.

          6. Caitlin Avatar

            I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone [sic] a split infinitive. Oh Todd, you were so funny and you didn’t even know it.

        2. Michelle Avatar

          Don’t make me grab your good eye and roll it for you. Across the floor.


          1. Emgee Avatar

            Michelle, you are so awesome (wipes away tear). Thank you for being here!

          2. Todd Avatar

            It’s only fun til someone loses an eye. Of course, I don’t fight fare, so you may lose one as well.

          3. KellyK Avatar

            It’s all fun and games til someone loses an eye–then it’s a scavenger hunt!

          4. closetpuritan Avatar

            Ooh, if you don’t fight fair, then I get to make fun of your misuse of homophones.

          5. KellyK Avatar

            Hey, there’s no reason Todd should fight fare. He should give his quarters to the bus driver & get on without holding up the line.


        3. sunflwrmoonbeam Avatar

          Todd, I’m not a nutritionist, but from personal experience junk food can be VERY good for you. It really depends on context. When I was pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness) there were days I could barely keep water down, and I estimate my calorie consumption was 1/6 of my normal. I was pretty much starving, but often could keep down a greasy cheeseburger and fries–yes, “junk” food. But a cheeseburger and fries has protein, fat, calcium, potassium, and sodium, all things I desperately needed, especially as my vomiting was worst when I didn’t have enough potassium or sodium. Junkfood was what kept me healthy during pregnancy and mitigated a potentially severe complication. In short, it was VERY good for me.

          1. Todd Avatar

            Wouldn’t you consider this an extreme situation though?

          2. KellyK Avatar

            I’ve never been pregnant, but I think a pretty large number of women have morning sickness issues to some extent, so I’d say it’s too common to count as “extreme.” I’ve certainly heard plenty of women mention having at least brief periods where keeping food down was a struggle.

            Even if hyperemesis gravidarum is an extreme, it’s one of a lot of extremes: morning sickness, Kaz’s situation, people with various wasting sicknesses or on chemo who need fast, easy calories, etc. etc.

            Another quirky example (maybe also an extreme), I get carsick, especially if I’m overheated, hungry and/or dehydrated. The quickest fix to all three problems is an ice cream sandwich. Does that mean eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be a good idea? No. it just means that in specific situations, for me, ice cream is a very good thing.

            I think that’s a huge part of Michelle’s point. What’s “healthy” or “worthless” depends a lot on the individual. If a turkey sandwich with fresh veggies on whole-grain bread is going to come back up because of severe morning sickness, but ginger ale stays down, then for that person, at that time, it’s the turkey sandwich that’s worthless and the ginger ale that’s healthy.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            Todd, I’ve come to realize that a lot of these seemingly-extreme situations are actually a lot more common than you’d think.

            There are a lot of people out there living with chronic illnesses that have a wasting component, and who are actively helped by high-caloric density foods. More than you’d probably ever guess.

          4. Noel Lynne Figart Avatar

            OMG OMG OMG!!!

            You are the FIRST person I’ve known besides myself to have this experience.

            I lost about 20 lbs when I was pregnant. They didn’t worry about this because I started out fat. I could eat about one double quarter pounder with cheese every other day with a strawberry smoothie. I threw up everything else.

        4. Kaz Avatar

          I’ll jump in here and add that junk food is extremely important for me personally; I’m disabled and have a lot of difficulty with meals because of spoon issues. It requires careful planning for me to make sure I get at least one meal a day (and any more than that is even more difficult, so my personal goal is one meal and I treat anything extra as an unforeseen bonus). Often (in fact, more often than not), anything that requires more preparation than “stick it in the oven or the microwave” is out of the question because of the cost in spoons, sometimes I can’t use the kitchen so even that’s out of the question, shopping is always a serious issue, insert various nightmare scenarios regarding not eating for two days or living off of one package of dry cereal for five that have taken place over the last few years here… Junk food has the advantage of being high on calories and needing no real preparation, so things like online pizza ordering are my go-to emergency food source. If I ever figure out a good way to keep an emergency food stash a lot of it also stores well!

          Because, you see, when it’s a choice between junk food and air I’m pretty sure which one is better for me as a food.

          (Also when it’s a choice between junk food and one fifth of a box of dry cereal, because good god do I never want to do that again.)

          1. Todd Avatar

            This is going to come across as being rude. It is not the intention.

            What you’re describing is not a nutritional issue. This is a convenience matter. You have health issues that make it easier for you to eat fast food.

          2. KellyK Avatar

            I know you’re not meaning to be rude, but framing this in terms of “convenience” minimizes Kaz’s situation. Kaz is talking about health issues that make it difficult for her to even feed yourself, not “meh, I don’t feel like cooking today.”

            I also think that there’s not much of a point drawing a hard distinction between nutrition and other aspects of a person’s health. What’s nutritious for that one person is going to be the food that gets them the calories & nutrients they need without causing other problems, and things that work in a perfect world but not the real one aren’t much good, as long as we live in the real world.

          3. KellyK Avatar

            “for her to even feed herself” that should be. I gave up on trying to write around not knowing Kaz’s gender & clicked her link. :) But I didn’t fix it all the way through.

          4. Hot Tramp Avatar

            You didn’t intend to be rude, but you clearly didn’t intend NOT to be rude.

            Disability is not about “inconvenience.” It’s about what someone can and cannot do on a daily basis.

  16. Twistie Avatar

    You know, this comes at a really interesting time for me. Just yesterday I was reading about American women in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines during WWII. One thing that really interested me was the fact that the diary of one such woman discussed at length the fact that the women in her camp managed to stave off starvation for nearly two years because they had the makings for fudge. Yes, fudge kept them going until food ran out almost entirely.

    The prisoners made it themselves. Each woman and child would get several pieces of fudge per day, and that allowed them to keep going when there wasn’t enough other food, or when their digestive systems rebelled at unfamiliar foods or ones that had gone bad.

    I’d say there was a hell of a lot of worth in that fudge. It allowed dozens of people to survive a hellish experience.

    An all-fudge diet? That could get grim pretty quickly. Then again, an all chickpea diet causes severe nerve damage. And I don’t even want to think about sannanina’s suggestion of the horrors of an all-blueberry diet, much as I adore blueberries!

    I love my fresh fruits and veggies. I love my meats. I love my dairy products (especially cheeses). I love my grains, whole and otherwise. And yes, I love my sweets. It’s all food. It’s all got its place.

    Food isn’t moral. It’s fuel. It’s a fuel that gives us pleasure when we allow it to do so. What’s not to love?

    1. Anna Avatar

      But context tells us what is healthy or not—when fudge is your only option, healthy. When you get lots of lots of the things that are in fudge, easily (carbs, fat, a few micronutrients), fudge is not so healthy.

      Context, context. Just because a food is healthy in one, doesn’t mean it’s healthy in another. The problem is food police telling us what your context is, when they are not you, and don’t know your particulars. But I can decide based on *context* (not blanket rules), that one thing is more helpful for me than another.

      1. Chris Gregory Avatar

        How? How can you decide? What criteria do you use? And how do you apply it to other people?

        I don’t think that you can. I think your hierarchy is based on notions that you’ve picked up here and there, and while there are actual measuring devices that can tell a professional about levels of various things in your body and how your health is, in a general sense, how can you tell that someone shouldn’t eat a brownie unless you’re that person?

        What you *need* to eat is something you discuss with your body. It’s an internal process. On some level your mind knows an awful lot about what your body needs – there are a variety of sensors in your stomach, all sorts of things going on, which we don’t understand very well, telling you what you need, but on a non-verbal level. Your body doesn’t say: I need five milligrams of calcium, but it might say: I feel like some cheese. So eat some cheese until the desire goes away. There you go! That’s healthy eating!

        If you pay attention to these cues, you should be all right (unless you feel poorly and a medical professional tells you something’s going wrong). Unless you’re sick, you shouldn’t need to know anything more, and in a way eating what you *think* is healthy is not the healthy way to eat, because you’re ignoring what you’re body is saying and choosing something else. That’s dysfunctional eating.

  17. WendyRG Avatar

    I renew my request: a “Fat Nutritionist” gab fest here in Toronto. OK, I know it’s not the centre of the universe, but you gotta start somewhere. We could even hold two: one at the ultra vegan (but awfully yummy) restaurant, Kale; and one at, I dunno, Dufflet’s?

    I’ve read through all the comments on this post and I totally agree and yet…

    Can’t we now move on to advocating for variety…a nice, happy mix of micronutrients, macronutrients, broccoli, cheesecake, KFC, miso soup, curd cheese, kale, jellybeans…?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I am always happy to advocate for variety. Seems like it’s my favourite word, sometimes.

    2. zingerella Avatar

      a nice, happy mix of micronutrients, macronutrients, broccoli, cheesecake, KFC, miso soup, curd cheese, kale, jellybeans…?

      … but (at least for me) not all at one sitting, please!

  18. Loris Avatar

    I’d love to hear what people think of my particular situation. I *had* Grave’s Disease until the doc just told me on Tuesday that my thyroid was over-nuked when they radiated it and I am now as hypo as I was hyper. Seeing that I was up 10 pounds from the last time he’d seen me in January, he put me on a 1700 calorie a day diet. What he missed, or I didn’t adequately express to him, was that the 10 pounds had blown up in the past three weeks, leaving me unbelievably bloated. My stomach was so distended it looked like I was 4 months pregnant. (!) It was clear to me that what I needed was not a diet, but a serious diuretic.

    He asked me if I drank enough water. I told him I drink well over 100 oz a day every single day.

    He asked about my vegetable consumption. I told him that for dinner I frequently stir fry a whole cabbage; half for my husband, half for me. The night before I saw the doc, I’d eaten a pound of roasted carrots and parsnips, just because I really wanted some roasted carrots and parsnips. He started finger wagging about the sugar in the carrots, yet when I got my blood work back from the lab (blood taken at 10 am, 2.5 hours after I’d eaten a bowl of cereal), my blood glucose level was 66. The lab tech off-handedly assumed I was fasting and I emphatically said NO, I WASN’T because I was alarmed at how low that was. The doc asked if I drink sodas. I don’t drink sodas at all, ever. He asked about coffee. I told him I have one cup of decaf a few times a week, and I put milk and ONE (1) teaspoon of sugar in it. He told me to skip the 1 tsp of sugar! (Yes, I’m pretty insulted about that.)

    He asked me whether I was exercising. I flexed, exposing a bicep that is the envy of the men I work with. The night before the doctor visit, I did an hour and a half of various weights and I wasn’t even sore the next day. That means I’m in pretty good shape.

    My baseline stats:
    25 years old
    5’10 tall
    Normal weight fluctuates between 178-182 lbs, and has since I was 12 and I finished growing. When I’m not unbelievably bloated, I have no rolls of fat on my stomach. Measurements are 43 (D cup)-36-43, so you can see I have a balanced figure. My body tends to muscle; I put on ridiculous amounts of muscle ridiculously fast. No amount of exercise has ever made me lose weight; I have only gotten more or less buff.

    Back to the diet:
    I’ve started measuring my food and found out that 1700 calories wasn’t that much less than I eat normally. I’m guessing my normal is around 2000. And now the weirdness sets in: Ever since that doctor visit, I’ve been getting really shaky with hunger mid-morning and mid-afternoon, even though I have an apple or granola bar to eat at those times. I can’t figure it out, and it’s scaring me. So I guess here’s the question: Do I go to a local nutritionist? My insurance will cover it. Because I should NOT be having shaky low blood sugars with the way I eat, and I don’t see how I can continue exercising as hard as I do if I’m on a diet that is producing those shaky low blood sugars. I’m really starting to wonder if I’m hypoglycemic or something. When I get hungry, I get to lightheaded and shaky really quickly. And I’m definitely not diabetic, though my father is Type 1. Anemic? There’s a family history of that. I guess I don’t trust my doctor to get to the bottom of this with me if he keeps referring to the thrice be-damned BMI chart. I really think all he’s seeing is a big girl, not a muscular girl, a very busty girl, or an active girl who eats very healthfully.

    Grateful for any advice from this sensible collection of people,


    1. Twix Avatar

      I’m 5’10” and I have Grave’s. My current weight is 300+. I’m sorry to hear your doc nuked you, that’s a horrible treatment for Grave’s. Because… it’s not the thyroid that was the problem. It’s the disease that affected the thyroid, among other things in your body. You still have Grave’s and now a nuked thyroid. Grave’s can still affect other areas of your body. Your thyroid, now, no longer has the ability to respond to it. Grave’s is an autoimmune diesease that affects the whole body. I was diagnosed with Grave’s in 1996 and I still have my thyroid. Although I’ve had to fight to keep it. I have had 3 t-storms. This is what doctors fear most about Grave’s and rightly so as you can die from one. Both Hashimoto’s and Grave’s can run in families. My family has both. Three of my children have Hashi’s and my oldest daughter is being monitored for Grave’s. As she has the symptoms but the markers for it have yet to show up in tests. I hate to say this because it’s sad but true you will have to heavily self educate yourself about this/your disease and it’s treatments. I’ve found most endocrinologists (in my area) ignorant about this autoimmune disease. And where there is one autoimmune disease it’s not uncommon to find another. So, yes look, look, and look some more. I think you’re right about thinking you might be having sugar issues. I have them too. But get the rolled eyes look from the docs because you know somehow I’m not supposed to have hyploglycemic issues. I was told because I’m so large. Yet I could have diabetes but every time I’ve been tested I’m normal. Again none of that makes any sense, does it? Go back to eating as normal and find a doc or bunch of them that truly care about you, more than that expensive spyder parked out front. You shouldn’t be having the swelling you’re experiencing. But I do have to caution you as I have found that I can put on lots of weight fast and just like you stated – hard to lose.

      1. Katie Avatar

        Are you saying that if you already have one autoimmune disease it’s more likely you’ll find another? I have long suspected that to be true, but I didn’t know if that was a proven fact.

        I had a devil of a time convincing doctors that there was something wrong with my thyroid, even though I have a boat-load of hypothyroid symptoms, except my TSH levels were “normal”.

        1. Twix Avatar

          Yes it is more likely to find that you have another autoimmune disease. My
          mom has diabetes, RSD, and has antibodies for both Hashi’s & Grave’s, currently
          being treated for Hashi’s. My great aunt has Hashi’s, diabetes, and lupus. And
          these are just two of my relatives out of many that have more than one
          autoimmune problem. My youngest son has Hashi’s but his current thyroid
          levels are normal. So he doesn’t take meds. I had to fight their peditrician
          to get the tests done for the antobodies and full thyroid labs. Most docs just
          want to test for tsh levels. Failing to realize that the antibodies can be present
          long before the disease affects the thyroid. It was my strong maternal family history and my oldest daughters symptoms that pushed me to push, push,
          push their pediatrician. He told me their was no way that my kids had any
          concerns for thyroid issues. And that he had some patients that have Hashi’s
          and he was certain mine didn’t. In the end I won the bet and got a little respect,
          long desrved. And unfortunately it is a life long issue that will need to be
          watched and medicated as necessary. Thankfully we caught it before it
          wreaked much havoc to their bodies. It’s my hope in catching it early they
          won’t have to go through some of the issues the rest in my family have gone through. Have your antobodies checked out and find a good endo doc, not one
          who is just chop and nuke happy.

          1. Katie Avatar

            Thanks for the advice. I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, though I lack the markers for both, psoriasis is pretty unmistakable.

            Last year, I started losing hair, I was cold all the time, tired, the whole laudry list of hypo symptoms. I saw an endo and she said my TSH was normal, but my vitamin D was low. She was actually pretty nice, but unpersuaded that their was something wrong with my thyroid. So I saw my GP because I was prepared to start with him and doctor shop if I needed to because I knew something wrong. And it took me sitting in the exam room in the middle of a Texas summer and the room’s air conditioning wasn’t working quite right and I was in a sweater and shivering for him to prescribe something. It helped that he had several years of TSH testing to see that the number has been creeping up every year, which would have been good to know a little sooner, I think. When I see him again, I’ll ask him if he tested for the Hashimoto’s antibodies.

            Thanks for your help.

    2. dominique Avatar

      It’s incredible the shi* they tell you sometimes!!!

      When I was sent to see a dietitian when I was younger she told me to replace the meat in the spaghetti sauce with clams and tofu… and not to eat peanut butter… and not to eat much bananas and carrots…and didn’t give a fluff about what I liked to eat or not. Before I did my own research, NO ONE TOLD ME about instinctive eating (read Dr. Apfeldorfer and Dr. Zermati’s Work also. Skip anything about weight loss and concentrate on natural eating parts.) My doctor told me constantly I was obese and was going to be sick and to have high blood pressure (without any consideration to the fact that everybody in my family has it, and they’re not all overweight, they’re from various sizes, and my «biggest» aunt is also the healthiest.)

      I was simply overweight with certainly not your beautiful body, I don’t even understand why would they want to put you on a diet.

      NOW I am morbidly obese because all the dieting and gaining again.

      Your body knows what’s worth for you, usually. Moderate it if you feel like only eating pizza for two weeks if you want, but usually, it knows. Don’t buy that bullsh* they said. QUIT measuring. Refer to Ellyn Satter’s sayings about normal eating. Don’t count anything. Move around and don’t deprive yourself, that’s all. Change physician to see one who is not weight-and-calories obsessive.

      Love yourself :) !!

      Shed any crazy advice they gave you, eat what you feel like eating, get a nutritionist like Michelle who will help you calibrate what you eat consequently to your very active way of life, and see a good doctor who understands that what you weight is not what you is, and that you are probably heavy because of all that muscle.

      I cannot tell you how I encourage you to ditch the diet.

      1. Loris Avatar

        Ok, now I’m thoroughly alarmed! I’m going to go with my original instinct, which was to beef up the protein in my snacks, and eat more frequently. I’m currently eating on my husband’s schedule, which requires a late lunch (we eat together) and usually a VERY late dinner, since he does Taekwondo several evenings a week and he doesn’t like to eat before he works out. My body seems to want something every three hours or so, so I’m going to try that.

      2. Loris Avatar

        Oh, and the diet and all the panic? It’s because my BMI is 26. I’m dying to point out to a doctor that if somebody cut off my huge boobs and re-evaluated, my BMI would be just fine by the pickiest standards. I’ve always hated that chart. I never felt it scaled up appropriately for height.

        1. WendyRG Avatar

          I have had two bouts of Graves disease. The first was after having my first child, the second as I entered (am still in) perimenopause.

          On both occasions, I took medication but also went for acupuncture. The first time, I was able to get off the medication within about six months. The endocrinologist said he’d never seen anyone get better that quickly. The second time, after a remission of 14 years, I was on medication for a year, but only because my endocrinologist (I moved and had to see a different doc) insisted on it. The second endo (a woman) really tried to get me to go for radiation. When I told her how medication and acupuncture had worked really well, she looked at me as if I were crazy. Even though every month my numbers got better and my doses were lowered, she tried for three months to convince me that radiation was the right choice. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to her.

          I’ve been in remission for almost 1 1/2 years now.

          Loris, your thyroid might be shot at this point, but go and see an acupuncturist nevertheless. He or she might be able to help you, at least somewhat.

        2. Rose Avatar

          Or boobie weight either… :D

        3. dominique Avatar

          Note that this shitty BMI has been made for Metropolitan Insurance Co and doesn’t take many things in consideration, and is therefore considered as not valid by a growing number of health professionals. It’s crap and will always be. How the fluff are we supposed to fit all in the same guidelines? There are supposed to be only three different shapes of people (small, medium and large bones)?? The hell with that. Dump everything you learnt about it and don’t let that ruin your life and natural, healthy lifestyle.

        4. Elizabeth Avatar

          I am 5’2″. I weigh about 190 lbs. I am a size 16/14. According to the BMI chart I am obese.

          According to the same BMI chart, I would have to get down to 104 lbs before the chart suggested that I might want to up my calorie intake.

          (At 105 lbs the chart said I was “within normal range” but I should “be careful” that I not gain any weight. WTF?!)

          Whoever came up with the concept of BMI should be forced to eat nothing but lettuce forever. Just saying….

          1. Noel Lynne Figart Avatar

            Well, he’s been dead a long time. He was an 1840s statistician.

            Analysis of BMI

      3. inge Avatar

        OMG, those “but you must have high blood pressure” doctors. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies.

    3. jaed Avatar

      I have to tell you, what I thought when I reached this point:

      He started finger wagging about the sugar in the carrots


      For God’s sake, go find a real doctor!

      Nothing in the rest of your post made me feel different. Not everyone with an MD is competent. Not everyone with an MD is sane. Not everyone with an MD is paying attention. And a doctor who isn’t paying attention can kill you.

    4. unscrambled Avatar

      My advice: stop the diet, dump your doctor, go to someone that will medicate you correctly (if you’re hypo, you need thyroxine and maybe cytomel or Armour thyroid), and your weight will settle where it settles, which may be right at the weight you’ve been used to, and may be more and may be less. Cripes.

      Actually, there are lots of thyroid support forums out there, with vigilant patients that do their homework.

      But a diet? No, no, no.

      As an aside: WTF is up with people getting all worked up about carrots? It’s a constant source of scorn from food oppressors.

      1. Loris Avatar

        The anti-carrot doctor is so fired! I went to my church’s women’s retreat today and talked to the various doctors and nurses there. They agreed that I was already eating just fine and that I should just double my protein and go on from there. One of the doctors, an internist and a very dear lady, informed me that SHE was my new doctor and I should call her next week. Feeling a lot better about the whole thing.

      2. kb Avatar

        I mentioned to my significant other (as part of a larger conversation involving tomatoes: fruit vs veg and that sort of thing) that carrots were considered “starchy vegetables,” along with a few others, so one should eat vegetables in other categories too (like, all the other colors) for the sake of variety and getting different nutrients. Now he keeps referring to them as “not counting” as vegetables. Arrrgh, that’s not what I said/meant! I’m afraid I might have killed his favorite vegetable by mentioning it was starchy. I just meant you should eat other things *too* not *instead.* Apparently, not what he heard.

      3. jaed Avatar

        Carrots happen to have a high glycemic index; the sugars in carrots spike glucose pretty fast. It’s a peculiarity of the way glycemic index is calculated that it’s based on an amount of the food that has carbohydrates equivalent to, I think, one slice of white bread.

        Carrots don’t have all that much digestible carbohydrate, so that means a lot of carrots. Needless to say, few people eat that many carrots at one time. But people see “carrots! high on the glycemic index!” and that gets transformed in people’s brains (or in one of those not-very-informed news articles about “how to eat healtheeeee and get slim!”) into “carrots have lots of sugar! and they cause diabetes! or anyway they’re bad!”

        It is all such an illustration of how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

        1. Loris Avatar

          Just goes to show that after I lifted weights for an hour and a half, a ton of carrots were just the thing!

        2. closetpuritan Avatar

          Needless to say, few people eat that many carrots at one time.
          This site gives you an idea of just how true that is. (It’s not exactly a FA-friendly site, but… I just think it’s kinda cool. Visual representations and stuff!)

          1. Mander Avatar

            I like the carrot comparisons.

            Though there are days when I probably *could* eat a pound of raw carrots. Yum.

  19. Nancy Avatar

    I hate four brownies today, and tried not to feel guilty about them, guhh. and my dad and i ate the double down sandwich. all the hype about it seems overblown. if they were that concerned about fast food in the first place, why weren’t they raising a shit about kfc before? idk. sometimes it would just be easier to live on diet coke and water. but even diet coke is ‘bad for you.’ water is just about the only thing holy. wait a minute…it makes you fat, according to diet professionals. empty plate empty glass, then the diet demons stop glaring.

  20. Nancy Avatar

    had four brownies today*

    1. dominique Avatar

      HATE four brownies :P interesting lapsus

  21. DottyGirl Avatar

    I have been working to normalise my eating but struggle with my partner, who often rants at me for “wasting” his money on my “junk” (ingredients for baking desserts that the whole family shares, and my occasional bars of chocolate). He earns the money, I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mother. I am a “normal” weight but he sees fat I could (should?) lose and he often sets me up for binges when I feel as though those foods will be cut off (I end up bingeing in secret on foods that are unsatisfying but won’t be missed from the cupboard). I can’t help feeling trapped. How should I approach moral judgements on food imposed from outside when I have no money to buy my own food?

    1. WendyRG Avatar


      No offence but your problem is not food, it’s a partner who’s trying to control your life.

      Who’s pushing for the homeschooling? You, him, both of you? Maybe what you need is a job of your own so you’ll have some money and some literal and figurative independence. Some couples counselling might help too.

      Hope I’m not too out of line here.

      1. living400lbs Avatar

        Wendy, I don’t think you’re out of line.

        Dotty, if I had a partner trying to dictate what I eat I would be *GONE*.

    2. sunflwrmonbeam Avatar

      Dotty, I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mother (or will be when my child is old enough) and my husband NEVER pulls that shit. He says all the time that it is OUR money, not his, and he values what I contribute to our lifestyle. It sounds like your husband needs a serious wake up call, because that shit is unacceptable.

    3. Emily_O Avatar

      Marriage counseling. The way your husband treats you is completely unacceptable.

    4. kb Avatar

      My mom was a SAHM, and I remember as a kid they had a fight, most of which I couldn’t hear, where at some point I heard my dad yell, “It’s MY MONEY.” Later that day, I started crying and asked them if they were getting a divorce, and made my dad feel really guilty for yelling. I dunno exactly what the fight was about or how it resolved, but they’re still married.

      I used to eat pantry items when I was in high school, because I was not allowed to eat between meals so I’d try to sneak snacks that couldn’t be tracked. When I started living on my own and could eat anything anytime I wanted, my weight quit fluctuating. You–you’re an adult! I’m sure you have an obligation to give regular meals to kids and your husband might find it nice when you feed him too, but you should be able to make your own rules for the food you eat. (I think someone, somewhere, has said that before…) Teachers in public schools may make a pittance, but it’s certainly worth at least as much as your grocery bills (probably much more). Plus, you’re like a private tutor–an even more expensive arrangement. You’ve certainly earned your weight in candy bars, and I could go off on a feminist rant about how women’s work is undervalued and SAHMs are sometimes treated as invisible by men who don’t understand their worth, but my comment is long enough.

    5. clairedammit Avatar

      Dotty, I’ve been an on-again off-again SAHM and my husband has made it clear that he believes (as do I) that it’s our money. You are adding value to your family’s life every day, as is he. At a minimum, you get to choose what you do and do not put into your body, food or otherwise.

    6. catgirl Avatar

      I don’t know enough about your partner or your relationship to judge, but it sounds like there is a possibility of psychological abuse. If he is an abuser, counseling probably won’t help. Your situation sounds a lot like the one my parents went through. Because of my experiences, I am very sensitive (maybe too much) to the red flags of abusive/manipulative relationships.

      Even though my mom had a full-time career and supported the family in the early years, my dad starting making a lot of money when I was about 8 or 9. He was very controlling and used his money to get what he wanted. He never said it outright, but we all knew that he’d revoke his money if we crossed him. I pretended to love him only until I could support myself financially. He constantly urged my mom to quit her job, which she never did.

      It is never, ever OK for your partner to tell you that you are fat. My father did the same thing with my mother (who was slim like you), and it was a controlling tactic to make her stay around because she thought no other man would like her.

      This really isn’t the place to go into more detail, but your partner’s comments are completely inappropriate and you should take it seriously. Even if it’s not abuse, it’s not a situation that is healthy or “normal”. Also consider how his attitude affects your children. Is he controlling with how they spend money (if they have an allowance)? Does he tell them that they should lose weight? As hard as it is for you to hear, it’s even worse for kids to hear from their own parents.

    7. KellyK Avatar

      DottieGirl, I can pretty much echo what everyone else has said. A certain amount of arguing is normal, but it’s not “his” money. It’s your (as a couple) money. Homeschooling your kids adds a huge value for your family. Like kb said, you’ve more than earned your weight in candy bars just homeschooling the kids, let alone the cooking and cleaning and other household chores I’m sure you do.

      If your husband’s being controlling, marriage counseling might be a good idea.

      I’d also ask him to drop the “his” money BS. When you got married, you agreed to share money, responsibilities, and stuff.

  22. Tanz Avatar

    And it’s funny because it’s not like this knowledge is new, either. I’m in my mid 30’s but back when I was a kid our local GP told my Mother to give us kids flat lemonade (Sprite, 7Up, etc) if we were dehydrated (or at risk from it) from a bug, because, quote: “all you really need short term is glucose and water”.

    And I have to agree with the poster above who said ‘junk’ saved her during pregnancy. Ginger ale and ice blocks got me through a dodgy few months too.

    1. Chris Gregory Avatar

      My father was a professional cyclist when he was young, and continued riding throughout his life. Back before there were ‘official’ sports drinks they’d experiment with homemade versions. Fizzy lemonade with sugar added to it, to get rid of the carbonation, was pretty popular. And there’s a point where your body becomes pretty freaking desperate for calories because it’s scared your brain is going to lose power. Eating a lot of icecream was the usual solution. He’d come home from a big ride and sit down with a tub and finish it, then have dinner.

      But outside of sporting activities, middle-class people aren’t going to need a lot of calories (my father was a builder’s labourer as well, so he ate quite a lot compared to an accountant, for example). They’re going to prefer lighter foods, and that becomes a mark of refinement and reputability. With it comes a revulsion for foods with enough calories to serve the needs of people who do physical labour.

      I was reading an interesting chapter about pasta in John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, talking about how most American books about Italian food are fixated on how much pasta is proper or ‘enough’. In Italy, ‘pasta’ is almost the same as ‘food’ – the poor and the rich will both eat pasta, but the rich will have more sauce and the poor just the pasta, but enough to fill themselves properly and leave a little for the cat. The American anxiety is about eating pasta in the proper amounts when they aren’t familiar with the rules of propriety and aren’t financially constrained – they can afford to eat as much as they could possibly want. You’d think the solution is to eat your fill, but bugger me, that’s not the conclusion most people seem to want to hear.

      The way you eat food signifies where you belong in a complex hierarchy. So talking about empty calories and junk food is a kind of code, that says you identify with bourgeois values and have the proper innate revulsion for the preferences and dietary needs of lower-class people.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        There is nothing in this world quite so wonderful as a big maw full of nice, firm spaghetti.

      2. Daniel M. Avatar

        So talking about empty calories and junk food is a kind of code, that says you identify with bourgeois values and have the proper innate revulsion for the preferences and dietary needs of lower-class people.
        Ahh, i always thought why i eat so poorly according to the newspapers and now i see it is because i vote for communists! :D

        1. clairedammit Avatar

          This concept is weird to me (although I’m amazed at your insight) because where I come from, a family of middle-class foodies in the South, poor people food is the best food. Cajun! Mexican! Soul food! Tex-Mex! But this totally explains why my mother-in-law and I cannot get along when it comes to food.

          1. Daniel M. Avatar

            The insightful bit was by the guy above me- i used italics to denote quoting.
            But it was pretty insightful – like in the past when feudals would not look at a potato ….

          2. Sunshine Kat Avatar
            Sunshine Kat

            I so get this post, my family always had lots of food growing up but never much money. My dad used to cook food through the night because he couldn’t sleep I can’t imagine being at home and not eating something, we used to eat fried bread, pig and duck (my dad used to go hunting) fresh caught seafood, crayfish etc it was delicious.
            When I first moved away from home I lived with my sister in law who was quite appearance focused I couldn’t believe she only ate one meal a day and it was a jar of baby food not only was it expensive at four dollars for a small jar but it just seemed like it must be really unsatisfying. We weren’t really allowed to eat in the house either so every time I was out of the house I would be stuffing my face with fish and chips.

      3. closetpuritan Avatar

        the rich will have more sauce and the poor just the pasta, but enough to fill themselves properly and leave a little for the cat.

        Cats eat pasta?

        1. KellyK Avatar

          I don’t know about cats, but my mom used to have a dog who loved spaghetti sauce. When my grandmother was making it, the dog would sit in front of the sliding glass door and shiver–in July! Smart puppy.

  23. QoT Avatar

    I heart this post so hard. Having had a roaring email argument with some friends over the moral judgement in the phrase “empty calories” … ARGH FRUSTRATED. They’re really good about my fat acceptance and supporting personal choice and acknowledging the privilege we have in the choices of food available to us, but there’s clearly still this “oh but not THIS junk food, THIS is objectively bad” line they can’t cross.

    It got to the point that one friend was quite happily saying, “oh sure there are circumstance where junk food is good, and sure some people don’t have time/money for/access to non-junk foods, and sure we shouldn’t label food as “bad” because food isn’t moral, and sure people can eat what they want, BUT thatdoesn’tmeanyoushouldeatburgerseveryday.”

    Your blog totally keeps me sane, I swear.

  24. SereneBabe Avatar

    Same with chemicals. Not all chemicals are good for you, of course, but it’s all chemicals, food is…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      One of my first experiences with anti-intellectualism was when I was 11. I was camping out in the backyard with a girl I didn’t know very well. She just happened to live near my grandma, who decided it would be nice if we made friends.

      While sleeping under the stars, it’s customary (I think) to have long, ridiculous conversations speculating about the origins of the universe, and aliens, and how you’re never going to get married when you grow up because boys are GROSS.

      So we were having one of those. Or rather, I was trying to. At one point, the girl made a comment about how chemicals were bad (can’t remember the context.) And I said, yeah but, everything’s made of chemicals, even people! Even you and me!

      And she kind of looked at me with really big eyes, seemed to think about it for a second, and then responded with, “Yeah, but not, like, SCIENTIST chemicals.”

      I was so depressed I think I just went to sleep after that. Now I think, what a little snot-nose I was! That poor girl. If you’re out there somewhere…I blame my grandma. You can too.

      1. Daniel M. Avatar

        Ugh! If i could only count the times i had this kind of conversation with FREAKING ADULTS! even when i was a kid – either one way (E’s and additives are not necessarily evil) or other (botulin is natural, so is green mushroom (Amanita phalloides) and both will kill you with high efficiency)

        1. sannanina Avatar

          I have a better for you. Some time ago I actually had to argue with a BIOCHEMISTRY STUDENT that naturally occuring poisons are not necessarily less harmful to humans than poisons that were sythesized in a lab and that there are things like naturally occuring carcinogens. (Since I was studying psych at that moment he was not aware that I have a life-science background myself and I have to admit that I was equally pissed off by his self-righteous “I-know-this-better” attitude.)

          (On the other hand… I have also seen chemistry and biochemistry students who were blissfully unaware that they were actually able to produce some pretty dangerous stuff in the lab.)

          1. Michelle Avatar

            One time I spilled lye all over myself in the lab. Good times.

          2. Daniel M. Avatar

            As a 5 year kid i trench-gassed our appartement, by mixing vinegar and bleach and evolving lot of chlorine.
            We had windows open for rest of the day

      2. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

        Does the human body treat vitamins from a vitamin pill and vitamins from a piece of fresh fruit or a vegetable or whatever any differently, by the way? And is there any difference in the molecules of vitamin-pill vitamins and food vitamins?

    2. catgirl Avatar

      I’m a chemist by trade and I absolutely hate it when people use “chemicals” like it’s a swear word. I cringe every time I hear something advertised as “natural”. The appeal to nature is a logical fallacy and it’s probably the most common one that I encounter.

      If I were dishonest, I could sell plain tap water as a miracle cure and slap a label on it that says it “works with your kidneys to naturally detoxify your body”. I could sell it for $50 a bottle and probably get away with it because that statement is technically true.

      1. closetpuritan Avatar

        Your 2nd paragraph is pretty clever and funny.

        I can’t get fully on board with the meme of “look how foolish those people are who think ‘natural’ is good and ‘chemicals’ are bad!”, though. Yes, natural things can kill you. Yes, the popular/vernacular definition of chemicals (or “organic”) is different from the scientific definition. But it’s not that bad as a heuristic. If nothing else, chemicals not found in nature haven’t been around as long, and we’re less likely to fully know what they do. BPA, trans fats, aspartame-cancer-does-it-or-doesn’t-it, eating little pieces of nonstick cookware coating may be bad for you… That’s enough for me to be wary of eating chemicals that we’ve only started eating in the 20th century or later. (I still bought some reduced sugar marmalade a few days ago that food coloring in it, when I could have gotten full-sugar-no-food-coloring marmalade, because I don’t like jam that’s too sweet. So, I’m not a fanatic or anything, but still.)

        1. deeleigh Avatar

          Transfats are found in natural, whole foods. Not in large quantities, though. Just FYI.

          1. closetpuritan Avatar

            Maybe I should have mentioned that I knew that. Although I don’t believe that they’re chemically identical to transfats made from vegetable oil.

        2. catgirl Avatar

          But it’s not that bad as a heuristic.

          I disagree. There’s no evidence that “natural” or “organic” things are less harmful or more nutritious than “artificial” ones. Newer chemicals have actually been heavily studied. It’s not like people just toss random stuff into food. I don’t think you realize how much research has been done on everything from artificial sweeteners to pesticides. It really is a logical fallacy to think that “natural is better” is a good heuristic. At best, you’ll probably waste money. At worst, you could risk your life or health. Show me the evidence that we know more about the effects of natural chemicals and I’ll believe it, but not before then.

          1. closetpuritan Avatar

            I don’t think you realize how much research has been done on everything from artificial sweeteners to pesticides… Show me the evidence that we know more about the effects of natural chemicals and I’ll believe it, but not before then.

            I’m not making an argument that particular natural chemicals have been better studied, in a scientific setting, than particular manmade chemicals.

            I’m not an expert on the EXACT legal hurdles that manmade chemicals pass through, but the examples I’ve mentioned above have convinced me that the answer is: not enough. Well, that’s not necessarily the problem–the fox-guarding-the-henhouse setup where the company who wants to create the drug is the one that carries out the research may be the greater contributor to the problem.

        3. sannanina Avatar

          Actually, I kind of agree with the idea that “natural” is a good heuristic – not least because our bodies (and the rest of the natural world) actually evolved to deal with chemicals that are not man-made and have been around for a long, long time.

          Yet, heuristics only get you so far. Also, without a lot of background knowledge we are not really that good in deciding if something is a naturally occuring substance or of it isn’t. I am particularly thinking of medications here… a lot of the active ingredients in them were originally isolated from plants (or fungi, or whatever). Sure, they often have been modified to small degrees, but usually those modifications made the easier to metabolize for our bodies. So the knee-jerk reaction that some people have when it comes to “natural” as opposed to “non-natural” remedies is actually kind of silly. (I should say that I don’t really trust that all drugs on the market are generally safe and effective, though. As long as research in this area is mainly paid for by the pharma industry who obviously has a financial interest in getting their stuff on the market there are major loopholes in the approval process.)

          1. catgirl Avatar

            Actually, I kind of agree with the idea that “natural” is a good heuristic – not least because our bodies (and the rest of the natural world) actually evolved to deal with chemicals that are not man-made and have been around for a long, long time.

            Our bodies didn’t do nearly as well evolving against natural pathogens until we came up with artificial, man-made things to help us out. And we didn’t evolve to “deal with” many, many natural substances, unless you count dying as a type of dealing. Appeal to nature is a logical fallacy no matter how much you wish it were otherwise. Evolution isn’t perfect, it’s only good enough. It won’t necessarily maximize health or life span, if those things don’t provide enough benefit for perpetuation of the species.

          2. closetpuritan Avatar

            Uh, I’m talking about food, not pathogens. Big difference.

            There are, of course, natural substances that we didn’t evolve to deal with. But all those yummy scents and tastes in herbs? The plants evolved those specifically to kill insects. You’ll notice that we can eat them.

            I never argued that Appeal to Nature is not a logical fallacy–that’s why I used the word “heuristic”, to indicate that it wasn’t perfect. I don’t think evolution is perfect, or that it will “necessarily maximize health or life span”; I learned about Huntington’s disease in school, too, yaknow.

          3. closetpuritan Avatar

            I don’t think that there’s any reason to believe that chemicals we’ve historically consumed in small amounts (or that are found in plants we don’t eat at all) that are isolated and taken in great quantities would be safer than manmade chemicals. (Hell, WATER is dangerous if you drink 10x as much as a person normally would.) In both cases, people haven’t been consuming them in those doses for thousands of years.

      2. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

        I too work as a chemist (chemical analyst actually) and have joked many times about selling organic food with a nore at the bottom that says “Guaranteed to contain carbon”

        1. KellyK Avatar

          Hehehe! That would be awesome!

  25. vegas710 Avatar

    I haven’t read through the comments yet and I’m brand new to this blog but I wanted to tell someone who would understand. Yesterday we were talking about being healthy and my 6 yr old said, “I’m healthy, look how skinny I am!” OMG. So we had a little chat about how fat only tells you what a person looks like, not how healthy they are. I hope these little moments override what she hears at school and on tv.

    1. Erin S. Avatar
      Erin S.

      Tell me about it… day before yesterday my nieces were over at my house. The older one was playing with my guinea pig (if you define playing as “re-enacting Lady and the Tramp with a lettuce leaf lol). The 5 year old started complaining that the older child was feeding the guinea pig too much and she was going to get fat and die.

      I just about cried. I tried explaining to her that that wasn’t going to happen and Kibble would be just fine, but I’m not very good with explaining things to 5 tear olds. Then we were distracted by a tangent on whether or not lettuce was gross or delicious heh.

      1. Loris Avatar

        I have guinea pigs. They absorb nutrients differently than we do, so they need to eat constantly. Mine can demolish a cabbage leaf in seconds. Aren’t their little noises just darling? But it’s crazy that such little children have already picked up food anxiety.

        1. jaed Avatar

          The really crazy thing is, they probably haven’t picked it up from the general culture… it’s probably being taught to them in school. Instilled in them deliberately from the youngest ages.

          When I was a kid, we weren’t expected to start hating our bodies until we were twelve or thirteen. Now it starts at five or six. *sigh*

          1. Jen Avatar

            The other day as my 7 year old daughter went to dig into a bowl of cheerios for breakfast, the nutritional facts on the box in front of her caught her eye. “Mom,” she says, “I don’t think I should eat this…. It has calories in it.” First I had to refrain from beating my head against the nearest wall… and then we had a loooooong talk about calories and the importance of feeding yourself when you’re hungry. But I find it scary that my 7 year old didn’t understand anything except “calories are bad”.

          2. Elizabeth Avatar

            When I was vacationing in London I was very happy to discover that the nutrition labels use the word “Energy” rather than “Calories.” I think we should do so here too.

            (Is it still the rule that calories cannot be listed on foods that are specifically sold for children under 2 (baby food and such)? I had heard a rumor that folks were trying to change that rule….)

          3. Anna Avatar

            A calorie is a unit of energy (dietary Calorie=kilocalorie). I’ve seen “joules” listed as well. But “energy” without a unit is meaningless.

            I see what you mean, though–if people realized calories were a unit of energy, then they’d see there’s nothing inherently bad about them. They could call it “energy” and then list “500 kcal” or something like that, so people would make the connection.

          4. Skittle Avatar

            “They could call it “energy” and then list “500 kcal” or something like that, so people would make the connection.”

            And that is exactly what they do in the UK. They tend to mark it in kJ as well as kcal, but I can’t remember if that’s a legal requirement.

    2. Suzanne Avatar

      Vegas! I love this blog. Glad you’re here! My 7 y.o. told me she wasn’t skinny like her friend Paige. I pointed out that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that as long as your body is working it is good. And then I got carried away and told her, “Besides, Paige never freaking eats! How healthy is that?!” (She’s a very picky kid and it drives me batty.) It was a bad Mom moment all around.

  26. Kath Avatar

    You need a *like* button. I don’t have anything to add, I just dig it!

    1. Dogfood Provider Avatar

      I agree. LIKE*infinity.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Maybe instead, people could just start leaving comments that say “I POOPED.”

        It would be the ultimate compliment.

        what is wrong with me

        1. Sefi Avatar

          I ate a burrito and it was amazing! :D

          I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this post and the comments in it.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I love burritos. They are so full of beans and cheese and goodness!

  27. Twix Avatar

    My spouse just had a colonscopy and an upper endoscopy done because he was having issues choking on his food and not being able to eat. He also has a family history of colon, throat, mouth, and lung cancers. So they wanted to services both ends, hehe. This is also a man who has been smoking 2 packs a day and has survived pretty much on Ding Dongs, HoHos, Twinkies, fruit pies, chocalates, sugared tea, and Mt.Dew for the past 30 or so years. He eats and drinks sugar, lots of it. He weighs 128lbs and works in a industrial factory 40+hrs a week. You would think the doctors would have come back saying that he was dying from something. Nope! He said as far as he can tell my spouse is fine, everything looked good. He had a small ulcer and he’s waiting on the biopsy results. No explantaion as to why he’s been having trouble swallowing. The doc did tell him to cut out the sugar and start eating healthy things like oatmeal and high fiber stuff. I don’t understand how some folks can do as he has done and be just peachy. And others of us… He must have recieved his nutrion from all of that somehow. ;-)

    1. WendyRG Avatar

      I like to talk about my mother-in-law, who died recently at 82 in bed of a heart attack –i.e. just the way we all want to go.

      She believed in the main food groups: nicotine, caffeine and sugar.

      She had 4 cups of coffee every morning, the first with 4-5 tsps. of sugar and cream. The others she took with artificial sweetener (I guess she had to do something “healthy”). She usually had a bowl of cereal or toast and often didn’t eat lunch. Supper was early (5 p.m.) and consisted of traditionally “healthy” foods: often chicken, and veg. Then came the evening nosh fest: her living room was junk food heaven, filled with boxes of cookies, salty snacks, candies.

      She ate slowly and stopped when she was full. She was, in fact, quite a wise, intuitive eater. She walked every day and smoked like a chimney (her apartment reeked).

      There were many things I didn’t agree with her on, but I envied her eating style.

      RIP, “Ma”.

  28. Daniel M. Avatar

    This is just funny – i misread the title as “‘Worthless’ fools”
    Made you sound a bit more evil than in reality… pity it was just my imagination.

    With the topic i am in agreement – as i mentioned quite often, i know precisely how well can a coke or sugared black tea keep one going even with empty stomach…

    But i am not so sure about the other foods. While i agree they have load of macronutrients and therefore are useful, i have read somewhere that the micronutrient lack makes people fat because they get hungry much faster , as the body requirements for the other stuff are not met.
    What do you think of that argument? I am not sure how to evaluate it because on one hand it makes sense, on the other, one gets hungry when his stomach empties, so it should not have that much effect…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      What are you talking about, I AM TOTALLY EVIL. You worthless fool!

      Anyway, about the actual argument — I’m not entirely sure if we know how micronutrients affect a person’s hunger signals. I mean, they probably can, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. For example, people with iron deficiency can develop pica, and end up eating socks or ice or whatever…which doesn’t exactly help with the iron deficiency. And probably doesn’t make you fat, either.

      So, I mean, yeah. Eating foods with only macronutrients is not a good idea. However, it’s actually pretty difficult to find such foods. Most foods have a profile of micronutrients along with macronutrients, and someone who has decent access to food and who isn’t eating disordered is probably going to eat a wide enough variety of food that it will balance out over time.

      The idea that modern people living in rich countries with plentiful food supplies must maximize their micronutrient intake at every turn is absurd. There’s very little risk of deficiency for most of us (vitamin D aside, in some cases), and we have plenty of room in our diets to eat foods that maybe are enjoyable but aren’t super-concentrated sources of vitamins, you know?

      1. Becka Avatar

        When I was severely anemic, I craved ice all the time. I would hit up Jamba Juice at least once daily for a giant cup of their soft pellet ice, and it was SO SATISFYING. Now that I’m taking iron supplements and birth control pills to regulate heavy periods, I look back on that time and wonder, why the heck did my body think ice would solve the iron problem? It’s such an odd transference.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It is totally odd. The body is a mysterious, wondrous, and sometimes comically irrational, thing.

  29. MadGastronomer Avatar

    I’m currently getting very similar reactions while coming at food from a very different direction.
    I’m a neopagan, a trained culinarian, and a restaurant owner, and I’m currently putting together a workshop on Sacred Food for my community. I’ve got the opening pretty well planned, and I’m very happy with it, but when I tell people about it, and I reach a certain point in the recitation, nearly all of them want to make either an objection or an objection disguised in a joke.

    I plan to open the workshop by giving everyone something to eat, something simple yet tasty (possibly onigiri). I’ll let them chat and munch a bit and settle down, then set a piece of fruit (something ritually significant) on the table. “All food is sacred.” Next, a loaf of bread. “All food is sacred.” Next, a bag of Doritos. “All food is sacred.” Finally, a Twinkie. “ALL food is sacred.”

    This, of course, is the point at which people want to object.

    My speech continues, “Why is all food sacred?” And the answer I’m looking for, of course, is that food feeds us, allows us to stay alive. And a Twinkie will, in fact, do that. But people want to object. “That’s not food!” they say. But it is: it feeds us.

    I’m getting a little frustrated with this tendency. Ok, more than a little. It makes me think I’m going to need to talk more about the sacredness of all food than I had first intended. Hrm.

    1. Daniel M. Avatar

      A master was explaining the nature of the Tao to one of his novices, “The Tao is embodied in all software — regardless of how insignificant,” said the master.

      “Is the Tao in a hand-held calculator?” asked the novice.

      “It is,” came the reply.

      “Is the Tao in a video game?” continued the novice.

      “It is even in a video game,” said the master.

      “And is the Tao in the DOS for a personal computer?”

      The master coughed and shifted his position slightly. “The lesson is over for today,” he said.

      1. clairedammit Avatar

        If by “DOS” you meant “BIOS”, that’s an amusing story. But do you agree with the master?

        1. Lampdevil Avatar

          Nah, he means DOS. As in the old-ass Disk Operating System for computers, which eventually evolved into/got consumed by Windows.

          The joke could be easily updated to say “the Windows operating system” or some such, riffing on the older-than-the-hills tech griping that “your operating system of choice is bad and evil and wrong”.

          How apt, comparing the “value” of food and the “value” of software! Humans get so doctrinal about these things, eh?

          1. Michelle Avatar

            MS-DOS 4EVAH


          2. Daniel M. Avatar

            UNIX FTW!
            Down with the evil empire!
            For the Trinity! (Kerningan, Ritchie, Thompson)
            I think you will enjoy these as well

          3. Michelle Avatar

            You are so super nerdy.

          4. Daniel M. Avatar

            Of course i am! Why would i otherwise be spending my life at the internet writing hopefully entertaining and insightful comments ? (sarcasm)

            BTW at least you see that you attract all kinds of audience!

    2. zingerella Avatar

      It makes me think I’m going to need to talk more about the sacredness of all food than I had first intended. Hrm.

      I’m wondering if you mightn’t need to take a step back and talk about both the nature of food and the nature of sacred. Or is that later in the workshop?

      Because if people see food not as “that which nourishes,” but as “that which is tasty,” “that which is morally acceptable,” “that which marks me as a certain type of person,” or something else entirely, you’re going to have to break down their understanding of food before you can open them to the essentially sacred nature of the Twinkie. (That was fun to type, BTW. I now want to write a song called “The Essentially Sacred Twinkie.”)

      And if people’s notion of sacredness is bound up in some innate idea of … I don’t know, perfection, or purity, or, again, that-which-separates-us-from-the-less-enlightened (and a lot of people’s religion—pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, FSM-ist, New Atheist, whatever—kind of is all about separating themselves from the supposedly less enlightened),* then they’re going to hit hard against the idea that the (distinctly impure, unnatural, unclassy, mass-produced) foods are sacred.

      I wonder how many of those who say the Twinkie or the Doritos are not food at all have ever been really, truly hungry.

      * Please note: I am not saying religion is all about this. Just that for many practitioners (and embedded in many creeds and scriptures, admittedly) religion plays an important part in defining their identities and in maintaining a distinction between those who share that identity and those who don’t. Religion is by no means the only way that people do this. Food, interestingly enough, is another. Which is, of course, why many religions have food-based rites and proscriptions.

      1. jaed Avatar

        “I wonder how many of those who say the Twinkie or the Doritos are not food at all have ever been really, truly hungry. ”

        Best sentence in a really insightful post. I just wanted to say that part again.

      2. MadGastronomer Avatar

        I’m wondering if you mightn’t need to take a step back and talk about both the nature of food and the nature of sacred. Or is that later in the workshop?

        Well, the nature of food is wrapped up in the sacredness of food, but yeah, that’s apparently the bit I’m going to have to talk more about. But if they don’t understand the nature of sacredness, then this is the wrong workshop for them.

        *sigh* I suppose I’ll have to give at least a brief definition. But seriously, I decline to accept people who should be in Paganism 101 classes instead.

        And if people’s notion of sacredness is bound up in some innate idea of … I don’t know, perfection, or purity, or, again, that-which-separates-us-from-the-less-enlightened (and a lot of people’s religion—pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, FSM-ist, New Atheist, whatever—kind of is all about separating themselves from the supposedly less enlightened),* then they’re going to hit hard against the idea that the (distinctly impure, unnatural, unclassy, mass-produced) foods are sacred.

        *sigh* *grump* OK, you have a point, and a good one. Grrrrr. Why did I agree to do this, again?

        Yes, you’re right, I need to do some more definition of terms. Dammit.

        I wonder how many of those who say the Twinkie or the Doritos are not food at all have ever been really, truly hungry.

        Yes THIS.

        That was fun to type, BTW. I now want to write a song called “The Essentially Sacred Twinkie.”

        If you do, pleasepleasePLEASE send it to me! This handle @gmail.com. Please!

  30. Sara A. Avatar
    Sara A.

    So one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had was just outside of Glacier National Park making fudge. I, personally, don’t really care for the stuff, but I enjoyed making it and how happy people were when I did and how their faces lit up when they beheld a table full of different fudge varieties. To me, fudge is one of the best survival/backpacking/camping foods there is. It’s compact and packs a lot of calories, fat and sugar in to a relatively small amount so if you are going to go take a 10 mile hike take along a half pound of fudge to share with your friends and eat it at mile five when you’re beginning to flag and feel your energy go back up. It seemed common sense to me.

    Day in and day out hikers, mountain-bikers, back-packers, and other outdoorsy types would be coming in and out of the store and all of them saw fudge as bad. They would look longingly at the counter and take samples and talk to me. They’d be in ecstasy over chocolate peanutbutter swirl fudge or snickers fudge and when I ventured to saying that they should get some because they love it… They’d start in on the body hate. Which made extra amounts of no sense to me given all they’d accomplished for themselves. I mean, hell, if I’d decided to bike the Going to the Sun Road, I’d sure as hell want something more delicious and compact than trail mix or Spaggheti Os to take with me.

    1. Emily_O Avatar

      Peanut butter and honey are highly recommended hiking foods, so I don’t get why fudge wouldn’t be, especially fudge with peanut butter. It sounds pretty perfect to me. I guess this is one of those “chocolate is sinful” things. Because people tie chocolate to indulgence, to feeling really good, to sex — which is great exercise, but I digress. Chocolate is loaded with nutrients, too.

    2. Elizabeth Avatar

      If you had labeled the fudge as “energy bars” they would have had no trouble buying it. Just saying….

      1. Mander Avatar

        Definitely this. And sprinkle some oatmeal or flax seeds on top for good measure.

    3. Cara Avatar

      I love trail mix! Of course, I always put good stuff in it like peanuts and M&Ms and things like that. Trail mix just isn’t trail mix without chocolate, imho.

  31. Grace Avatar

    I would like the long entry, please.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Five bucks. And you have to buy me a beer, too.

      1. clairedammit Avatar

        Can we just buy you five bucks worth of beer?

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Well…it probably wouldn’t be very good beer then, would it?

          (Not that I wouldn’t drink it.)

  32. Judy Long Avatar
    Judy Long

    I just ate chile picante corn nuts & a McDonalds chocolate chip cookies for breakfast & my body feels just as good as if I had eaten oatmeal. So there!

  33. Nancy Avatar

    had a dark chocolate bar today at starbucks with my dark cherry mocha iced. i enjoyed it quite a bit and i could feel the nutrients. yay for my strong, amazing body.

    1. Hollie Avatar

      Oh, their dark cherry mochas are rocking my world. It hadn’t yet occurred to me to try them iced, GENIUS. Tomorrow my Starbucks gold card and I have a date.

  34. Hollie Avatar

    I want the long version too! I’ll buy you a beer. I’m sure there are nutrients in beer.

  35. Rachel Avatar

    I love your blog and I’m slowly, but surely, coming to grips with my disordered eating and learning to let my body dictate what it wants to eat. That being said, I’m also an environmental studies major, so food holds another significance for me in regards to the ethics of where it comes from.

    I completely understand that some people simply cannot afford and, for various reasons beyond their control, do not have access to fresh, sustainably produced food. I can also recognize that a Twinkie has fat, carbohydrates, and a few other recognizable nutrients that our bodies will happily take up as we nosh with pleasure. But what about the rest of the ingredients – as in, the ones our bodies aren’t used to and can perhaps be harmful? Of course a Twinkie isn’t “worthless” but is it “good” in the sense that it isn’t harming you, the family living next to the cornfield that was sprayed with pesticides, or the planet? Say all you want about the high-fructose corn syrup hype, but industrial corn production is far from sustainable and if you purchase that kind of food, you’re supporting that method of agriculture – affordability aside.

    This is pretty off-topic, but I’d really like to see a discussion about the somewhat conflicting messages myself and a lot of people in the Fat Acceptance movement are faced with. Specifically, “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” (which I LOVE) and “Choose food that’s good for your body and the planet.” Where do you draw the line, if there even is one, between saying food is neutral and taking into account its environmental impact? It’s definitely something I’m grappling with, and I’m curious to hear what other people have to say. If this isn’t the appropriate venue, I apologize. I just can’t help but think of these things while reading your wise words :-)

    1. MadGastronomer Avatar

      To me (as someone who mostly tries to eat sustainably, and tries to supply her restaurant the same way), that falls under the “you like” and “you want” clauses. If you have the ability and the desire to eat sustainably-raised food, then by all means, do it. But, as you note, not everyone is able to, and not everyone wants to, and we can’t make them. If we want to change people’s eating habits to ones that are better for the planet, then we need to change their ability to access sustainably-raised food. But an individual’s first priority is, and should be, keeping him or herself fed.

      1. Rachel Avatar

        I was having brunch with a friend at the “greenest” restaurant in my state, and we inevitably got onto the subject of eating sustainably and personal and collective responsibility. She said, “What people eat is a really personal thing, but the fact is, what a person chooses to eat DOES affect me, and the planet I live on. It’s hard to say ‘It’s none of my business’ when it impacts me directly.”

        I’ve had to put the reigns on my pushy, pro-sustainability nature when it comes to other people’s food choices, which I suppose comes with maturity and realizing that there’s such thing as free will and personal choice. However, what my friend said made me wonder, where does personal responsibility fall when something that IS so private and shouldn’t be anyone else’s business, in fact, affects everyone? And what can and should other people, who know the impact such choices have on the environment, do about it? Should they do anything?

        1. MadGastronomer Avatar

          You can lobby for laws that support sustainable agriculture, you can spread the word about sustainable agriculture, you can start a sustainable gardening club; there are all kinds of things you can do to promote the things you think are right without being obnoxious and interfering in other people’s choices. Go do some of those things, if you feel that strongly.

          1. julie Avatar

            I feel the same way about gas guzzling cars, useless toxic plastic crap, disposable culture, etc., etc., etc. It goes much further than food, if one goes there.

    2. sannanina Avatar

      This is pretty off-topic, but I’d really like to see a discussion about the somewhat conflicting messages myself and a lot of people in the Fat Acceptance movement are faced with. Specifically, “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” (which I LOVE) and “Choose food that’s good for your body and the planet.”

      Michelle has addressed that point to some degree in earlier posts, I think… I agree with you, though, that a discussion like that is necessary – I am not sure if it really needs to be discussed in an FA context, however. Actually, it always strikes me as weird how many conventional “food rules” DON’T take environmental issues into account at all. I remember a list of “super foods” I came across some time ago. In the comments someone said we all should eat those foods several times a week. I actually liked most of the foods on that list (well, at least the vegetrian foods since I am a vegetarian). Yet, apart from the problem that many of those foods were expensive, for most of them there were environmental reasons NOT to eat them all-year round, several times a week.

      For example, many fruits and veggies are in season for a relatively short time in most parts of the world, and I find it kind of problematic to tell people they should eat them all year round. Even if you buy organic fruits and vegetables outside of season, the energy that goes into transporting them or into freezing them make them quite problematic from an environmental point of view (or at least this is my belief as a layperson).

      In fact, considering the impact that eating certain foods has on your body, on the people producing them, on society in general, and on the planet as a whole seem so complicated that I am not sure I can weigh them appropriately. After all, this is not only about things like the environmental and social impact of production and transportation, but also about things like storage, packaging, and food security. I don’t know much about these issues – but different from what people want to believe benefits in these areas do not always seem to correlate positively.

      Uh… am I still making any sense here…?

      1. Rachel Avatar

        See? You can’t help but get caught up in every confusing layer! It’s getting to the point where I can’t even think of an apple as just that – a fruit. I start thinking of where it’s from, the current season, how it found itself in my hand, is it organic?, is it local?, is it tasty?, am I in the mood for it?… the list could go on forever. Sometimes I don’t think anyone is capable of weighing it all appropriately.

        I was unsure when I posted, but I can’t think about food and eating and ignore its history, which translates to intuitive eating being a trigger for my organic-neurosis. I know what you mean about eating seasonally, since I live in the northeast, and things like strawberries are in season for like, a month. I’ve had to reprogram myself to splurge on them when they’re in season and then move onto other things when their time is up.

        1. KellyK Avatar

          Mmm, strawberries. Would freezing local strawberries yourself be an option for you to enjoy them outside of that month without much environmental impact?

          1. sannanina Avatar

            Actually, as far as I am aware (and feel free to correct me) you need quite a lot of energy to store foods frozen – so frozen food are not really that low on environmental impact. (Plus, strawberries are one of the foods that just taste much, much better fresh than frozen.)

          2. KellyK Avatar

            I don’t know the specific energy costs, but if you already have a freezer, I doubt it takes tons more energy to keep strawberries in it than to leave the space those strawberries would fill empty. Depending on where you are in relation to a grocery store, it might be more or less energy than it would take to go pick up something else that is in season.

            And yes, strawberries are definitely better fresh. I’m waiting eagerly for strawberries to come in season around here.

          3. closetpuritan Avatar

            I remember reading that IF it’s a choice between air and a food product going into a given space in your freezer, it’s more energy-efficient to have the food product there.

            If you don’t freeze the strawberries yourself, though, you then have to take into account your effect on the grocery store and producer’s energy consumption…

          4. Michelle Avatar

            I basically gorge myself on strawberries (and other fruits, like peaches, OH GOD ONTARIO PEACHES, and Concord grapes) when they’re in season. Then I don’t eat them again (unless I get a strong hankering, and I buy some frozen ones) until the next season. I remember one of my first nutrition courses, the professor was talking about eating seasonally, and how it can be perfectly fine for your body. She said that, in the summer, sometimes they’d have a dinner of fresh sweet corn and peaches, and just go nuts on them for a while. I loved that.

          5. sannanina Avatar

            Over here, aspargus season has just started, and soon there will also be the first fresh potatoes. I can’t wait. Then there will be strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and finally my personal favorites, blueberries. Oh, and I forgot fresh, deep red tomatoes from my parents garden.

            Every year this time I really, really can’t wait for all the summer fruits and veggies. I do eat some fruits and veggies out of season, but they are sooo much better when they are in season and fresh.

            (Oh yeah, and I forgot fresh green beans. And all the herbs that my mum uses to make salad dressings in the summer.)

          6. closetpuritan Avatar

            Concord grapes FTW! I am obsessed with them when they are available. (Regular grapes taste meh to me. I never buy them, but sometimes I’ll have some if someone else has bought them.) One of my coworkers tried one of my Concord grapes once, though, and he spit it out! You’re only the 3rd person I’ve encountered who also really likes them!

            I cannot get decent peaches around here, though. :(

          7. Suzanne Avatar

            Try a champagne grape if you can find them. So tiny, so tasty!

    3. clairedammit Avatar

      You draw the line where you want to, where it’s best for you, and not where someone else wants you to. For example, I’m vegetarian, for ethical and ecological reasons primarily, but I’m not vegan, because taking it that far isn’t healthy for me, although I admire those who do. And some of the reasons I have are reasons that nobody else has. They’re just mine.

      1. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

        I’m vegetarian. I was vegan for five years, for reasons which were valid for me, and then I went back to vegetarianism, again for valid reasons. But I have this odd reluctance to talk about it, as if I’m expecting militant vegetairans and vegans to jump out of the shrubbery and berate me for my choices and make me explain them in excruciating detail. Hasn’t happened yet (touch wood.)

      2. Cara Avatar

        I actually started off as a full-on vegan for ethical reasons, but as someone with a history of eating disorders, I found myself having to make the choice to become ovo-lacto vegetarian instead, because veganism simply feels too much like restriction to me. I feel guilty about it fairly often, but I do what small vegan things I can do easily (non-dairy milk, vegan margarine, that sort of thing), and when I can’t, I just go with the flow and try not to feel guilty. In the end, my sanity is important, too. You know?

    4. purpleshoes Avatar

      Okay, so: I chose my undergraduate school specifically based on places where I could study international trade and work on an organic farm. I take this business seriously.

      Simultaneously, I actually believe that an excess of personal responsibility in the question of ecological correctness is unhealthy and debilitating. The fact is that pretty much all of us are going to consume about as many resources as everyone else in our particular culture with a similar economic status. We can make our individual choices as responsibly as possible because we want to support the local food movement / help keep an organic farmer going / be part of a wider cultural change, but I feel like we have to make these decisions while remembering that we’re one six-billionth of the planet and that this individual apple does not actually have the entire future of our species resting on it. I’m not saying that we should feel helpless, either – just that changes have to happen collectively to stick, and that it’s an open question whether individual consumer choice is particularly effective in addressing environmental concerns (as compared to, say, collective action or central regulation). If you derive satisfaction and a sense of connection from whatever your chosen form of Doing Your Part is, more power to you! Yay! But if the amount of information you need to process to make individual decisions starts to get debilitating, then it might be time to step back and figure out some priorities that can help you get through the grocery store without feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. There were 96 billion apples produced on Earth last year (I looked it up!) and I can’t take responsibility for all of them, after all.

      1. sannanina Avatar

        purpleshoes – I agree with you. And actually, I also think that the emphasis on personal responsibility can turn into a “but I am being so GOOD while you are so BAD” argument – an argument that is particularly ridiculous since I have yet to meet the person who looks at ALL the ways his or her behavior have an impact on others and on the planet (I don’t even think we can do that as individuals – we don’t even have access to all the data available somewhere on that, not to mention that data that is not available anywhere). On the other hand, I will admit that I do have a problem if people don’t think about the impact of their behavior at all.

        1. purpleshoes Avatar

          Yeah, I feel like there has to be a difference between acknowledging that we’re all members of Team Human and we should probably use whatever powers we have for good, and using the fact that I have more power than another person (even if it’s just buying power) to act like I’m more moral and enlightened and make them unhappy. I work hard to negotiate that balance, since I was a twit about it a lot in youth.

          1. sila Avatar

            You guys are dancing around it, but here’s what I’m getting out of this: Each of us makes eir own food choices, whether organic/local or twinkies or whatever. It’s a personal choice, and *don’t* proselytize our personal food choices, and don’t judge. Even if it’s ‘bad’ for you/the planet/etc.

            (I personally strive to keep my food educating, when I do it, far away from the table. I’ll send out the watch list for seafood to friends, but if I’m out with someone and they decide to order the Chilean sea bass because it looks really tasty, that is None of My Business.)

          2. purpleshoes Avatar

            I don’t know if I can give up being a judgey mcjudgerpants about food systems and the environmental and labor implications – I worked in farmworker health outreach for two years in college, and our food systems have some real problems that have nothing at all to do with whether or not we’re size-anxious. But I agree that under no circumstances should anyone comment negatively on what someone’s actually eating, for example at the dinner table. Not only is it bad body politics, it’s wretched manners.

          3. KellyK Avatar

            under no circumstances should anyone comment negatively on what someone’s actually eating, for example at the dinner table. Not only is it bad body politics, it’s wretched manners.

            Yep, I love the line you draw here, and I don’t think systems like businesses, government entities, etc. deserve the same “non-judgey” respect that individuals do.

          4. Michelle Avatar

            Totally agreed.

      2. Michelle Avatar

        I love the way you stated this.

        I also think that people need to remember that, while we can certainly care about all the things that impact humanity, everyone has their own set of things they can actually be active in. And that’s a good thing — what a bummer the world would be if the people who currently put their energy into stuff like anti-racism and health care advocacy and whatnot suddenly decided to pour their energy entirely into eating a certain diet for the good of the environment/food system. (And I’m sure there are people that do both, but energy and time are scarce commodities.)

        I’m not saying it’s not important. I think people who can and want to SHOULD do so, and I believe they can make an impact by doing so. But the world is a big place with lots and lots of problems. No individual has the energy or means to take on every single problem, and I don’t think there should be a lot of guilt about that. Guilt, inappropriately applied, is debilitating. Nothing constructive gets done if we’re all sitting around feeling guilty for stuff that’s outside our scope.

        1. sannanina Avatar

          Actually, I had a conversation with another vegetarian about just that. It wasn’t actually about food, more about… well, choices in general. I said that I am perfectly aware that each time I drive a car I a) don’t exactly do something positive for the environment and b) take the chance of killing animals – or worse – even people. Yet, I still choose to drive from time to time (though I don’t own my own car and generally go by bike or public transport – but then even public transport is not “environmentally neutral”). I make that choice because it is convenient, sure, but if I never would choose the convenient option I would spend all my time growing and preparing my food, sewing my clothes or just moving from one place to another (not to mention that even if I spent a lot of time moving around my circle would be very limited). I would have no time left doing my “actual” work which I love and which I do believe in important in a societal context. I also would have no time left for the people in my life. So I choose trade-offs. Sometimes, those choices will be far from perfect, but I have to choose, and so I do the best I can. And I generally believe that many, if not most people around me do the same… and those that don’t… well, honestly, I don’t think I would want their lives, so I try not to judge them. Although, I still need some practice in not judging others – particularly if I get the impression that they are “deliberately” ignorant or intolerant .

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Interesting example. I am another one of those people who doesn’t drive and doesn’t have a car (neither does my husband.) We’re staunch pedestrians/bicyclists/transit-takers. Not entirely by choice, since I am scared of cars and never learned to drive, but from a young age it also struck me as kind of absurd that people needed individual gas-powered transport units to like, go to the store.

            Either way, this is part of what we do, and it has some small impact, somewhere. It’s one of those things I do, but that I don’t expect everyone else to do, or even be able to do, or want to do. I happen to live in circumstances (a walkable city) that make it possible for me.

            A while ago, people on Metafilter (a.k.a. the place I go to abuse my psyche on a daily basis) were getting all uppity about people using dryers to dry their clothes. Now, I understand the reasons, actually. It does take a lot of energy to dry clothes, and yeah, lots of people COULD dry their clothes on a line. My problem is 1) I don’t want to, and 2) even if I wanted to, the logistics would be kind of difficult: tiny apartment, no space for drying racks, and no yard. And I started to feel defensive about it, which is just absurd.

            We have to make choices. No way around that. Some of those choices are going to be less than ideal because this is the real world, not rock candy mountain. We have to live with them and stop getting all up in other people’s shit (and our own shit) about it.

            If you want to raise awareness, spread information, educate — then great. Do that. It will probably make a positive impact. But being an asshole, while fun, probably isn’t doing anyone a whole lot of good.

          2. closetpuritan Avatar

            Also, at least on an indoor drying rack, some things don’t dry properly. Things like jeans and towels. They dry so slowly that they get a funny smell. So at least if you have an apartment, you can’t necessarily dry all your laundry without a dryer. (If you are able to have an outdoor clothesline and regular warm, sunny, and/or breezy days, that might take care of the problem, though.)
            I have a drying rack, but I only have one, so most of my clothes don’t fit on it if I do a full load of laundry. I just put the quickest-drying and/or most delicate stuff on there and the rest in the dryer.

          3. closetpuritan Avatar

            Also Also! Putting stuff on a drying rack is surprisingly time-consuming! So I don’t blame anyone for not doing that. It does help some types of clothing last longer, though; I’m told that dryers break down elastic, for example.

          4. Suzanne Avatar

            I hang to dry all bathing suits and lingerie items (underwear/bras) because it really does make them last much, much longer and retain their shape. Nothing ruins your day like saggy underpants. I have a tiny pink clothes hanger apparatus with clips all over that I got at the dollar store 5 years ago. Highly recommend it.

          5. Ducky Avatar

            All this is making me think about where I’m living and where I grew up. I’m in the very northeast tip of Montana, on the border of Canada. We have winter for like, 8 months practically! Good luck eating seasonal only food under that timeline.

            And the food we get in my grocery store? We get two kinds of frozen fruit, strawberries and mixed berry. That’s it. And there’s no such thing as fresh fruit and vegetables in our grocery store too. By the time it gets to us (in the winter mostly) it’s pretty sad looking.

            The nearest McDonalds is an hour away and the nearest Walmart is three hours away. My town is only 2,100 people big. We HAVE to drive. The nearest hospital to give birth in is an hour away.

            I’m not trying to be ranty but it’s crazy that I feel like I’m breaking all these eco moral codes just for living, you know?

          6. sannanina Avatar

            Ducky, I hear you. But while I get that some people will always be more dependent on cars (or other motorized forms of personal transport) and while it is just not feasible to eat “locally” in many areas of the world I do also think that American infrastructure is designed in a way that makes these things even harder. I have to tread lightly here, since I am a European, and there are of course plenty of issues in my home culture, also. And yet – the lack of fast (and affordable) train connections, for example, or the fact that many of the streets in American cities don’t have have side walks (not to mention bicycle lanes) just blows my mind. So does the fact that many American houses are incredibly badly insulated – I mean, I get that in many areas of the US air conditioning really is a good idea, but it should be an addition to insulation not a substitute. And just to make this clear: I am not blaming individuals here – these are societal problems. And honestly, in these areas I would have no problem with some serious governmental regulation (at least if it takes into account that not everyone has the financial resources to properly insulate their house).

            Also, considering that I live in an area of the world where I can buy fresh, locally grown strawberries when they are in season I really don’t see the necessity for people HERE buying imported strawberries that also taste a lot worse just to in order to eat strawberries a month before the local season starts. It is not only an environmental issue, either. I also think that quality of the fruits of vegetables sold suffers (at least in terms of taste) if these fruits and vegetables have to be picked before they are actually ripe in order to allow for long-distance transport. (Okay, sorry, I am ranting. And I guess I still do have a hard time not being judgemental.)

          7. deeleigh Avatar

            Just wondering: which American cities don’t have sidewalks? I’ve never seen a city without sidewalks, and I’m American. I’ve seen areas in outer suburbs without sidewalks, but never a city. It’s true that not all cities have bike lanes, though.

            Also, in my job, I’m a specialist in building regulation. Due to the more extreme climates in North America, building standards here tend to be stricter about insulation than European standards (with a few exceptions). Sure, you’ll find 50+ year old houses that are uninsulated, but you’ll find them in Europe, too.

            So, the points you’re making don’t entirely ring true to me…

          8. sannanina Avatar

            Deeleigh – you are right about the side walks, sorry – although where I was living (Wichita) they really were present only in the city center. You did not have to move far out to find streets without side walks.

            But, yes, I am pretty sure that houses are on average better insulated where I come from (Germany). Though my experiences with buildings in the Netherlands were different. On the other hand, the Netherlands are much more bicycle friendly. Also, if I got it wrong about the specifics I am sorry, but energy cosumption per person is way higher in the US than in Germany or other European countries. Of course, Germans still use far too much energy (and a lot more than people in some other European countries). I also don’t know how much of this is due to “individual” consumption.

          9. deeleigh Avatar

            One big reason why North Americans (Canadians, too) use more energy than Europeans is because our climates are more extreme. I’m not dismissing the effects of suburban sprawl, the car culture, and general wastefulness (is it really necessarily to light up downtown skyscrapers every night?), but part of it is due to factors that aren’t in anyone’s control. And, yes, this includes northern Europe. For example, the Great Lakes region gets colder in the winter than most parts of Germany, and hotter in the summer than anywhere in Germany. It’s -20°C in the winter and 35°C in the summer here.

          10. deeleigh Avatar

            Oh – actually, those temperatures are for the big cities in the southern part of the region (Toronto, Detroit, Chicago). It gets much colder up by Lake Superior. If you want to view charts for climates in different parts of the world, look here: http://www.climate-charts.com/world-index.html

          11. Suzanne Avatar

            Orlando, Fl lacks sidewalks on many, many of its streets. I lived there for 6 years.

          12. deeleigh Avatar

            Oh, 0kay. I’ve never been there. I’m mostly familiar with the northeast and midwest.

          13. KellyK Avatar

            Everybody does the best they can with what they have. Nobody (nobody worth listening to, at least) expects you to bike 40 miles or whatever to the store or live on locally-grown potatoes year-round.

            A lot of this stuff, like others have already said, is systemic. If there were better public transportation, there could be less dependence on cars. (I don’t know if it’d be feasible to have train or bus service where you are, but if we had a good public transit system over even 50 or 60 percent of the country, people driving in other areas wouldn’t matter as much.)

        2. purpleshoes Avatar

          Honestly, I have never drunk as much soda in my life as I did when I was doing farmworker outreach, because people offered me soda as a kindness and something we could share even though they were dirt-broke. I wasn’t going to reject something that they were essentially trying to bless me with, even though I don’t normally care for soda (except on ice cream) and do have baggage about it being Bad Food. Not only is it undesirable for everyone to take all their time and energy and focus it on personal lifestyle “purity” instead of on their chosen activism, there are a lot of situations where dietary purity can get in the way of reaching across social barriers. Sharing food is a powerful act, whether it’s homemade collards or pepsi from a vending machine. I used to be a fairly strict vegan, and one of the reasons I quit was that for me personally it was more important to let people show me kindness by giving me those bacony collards then to get irate about the bacon. Everyone’s got to negotiate their own comfort level, I think.

          1. Ducky Avatar

            This makes me think of cattle brandings. When you go to something like that you HAVE to eat the dinner prepared, if you don’t it’s perceived as incredibly rude and insulting. At least around here.

      3. Jen Avatar

        Oh that is so well said.

  36. chava Avatar

    So, all food has nutrients. Even Jello. And ALL FOOD IS SACRED. Yes. I’ve had to work past a lot of personal programming to get to accepting that point.

    Ironically, once I did, I had to turn around and seek out the help of one of your nutritionist colleagues. Turns out medication reactions + very high activity levels (marathon training)= some foods have more necessary nutrients for me than others.

    Which has done a tapdance on some of my FA/body image stuff. I own a fsking food scale now. And read food labels, which I’ve never done before. And take freaking vitamins. This is very hard to wrap ones head around without becoming even more eating disordered than the average American woman already is. Yet, at this time, necessary.

    I guess my point is…all food has nutrients…but for some people, at certain times in life, watching how much and what we eat becomes necessary.

    1. FitYoginiRunner Avatar

      “Turns out medication reactions + very high activity levels (marathon training)= some foods have more necessary nutrients for me than others.”

      This is absolutely true. When I ran a few miles every day on top of my weight lifting evening workouts, I discovered by trial and error that my running means I *need* more carbs than someone who’s sedentary or who only does resistance training to function (I bonked pretty bad a few times) and that I feel better eating more protein than someone who only does endurance training or who is sedentary.

      I also learned that when your glycogen stores are out, you really do want that 4:1 carb:protein ratio. I thought I could just make a general protein shake that included simple carbs and get back to normal pretty quickly. I *can*, but life is actually lot easier with the “magic” ratio!

      I’m very eating competent. However, I watch what I eat pretty carefully, because if I don’t, odds are good I’m going to feel pretty bad. I know what makes me feel good. I know how much makes me feel good. I know what I enjoy eating sometimes but that makes me feel bad if I eat it too often or too much of it. I eat what I want until I’m full, and then I stop. I enjoy eating and cooking.

      Part of how I know this about myself is that I measured and calculated. I know what ranges in grams of carbs and protein I need to feel good, and I also know roughly what that translates into on a plate. I read food labels obsessively when I buy foods with labels. (I mostly buy whole foods because I’m too lazy to read so many food labels.) I want to be in control of what I eat. I don’t want to let some food company executive decide what I’m going to eat today. They don’t know what my body needs! I know, because I set out to find out systematically.

      I think the reason I don’t find watching what I eat problematic, and even find it interesting to consider myself a one-woman nutrition experiment, is that I have never dieted. It’s not triggering because there is nothing to trigger. Michelle is better suited to give advice on not getting too wrapped up in negativity regarding eating than I am, but I also think it’s all about aim. WHY are you watching what you eat? I don’t want to be “skinny”, I want to be strong. I want to give my body what it needs and I want to feel good. (Related to some comments above, I specifically aim for variety in what I eat as a key part of my wellness strategy. If I see a fruit or vegetable I don’t know, I find out how to cook or eat it and then I work it in.)

      Maybe you can replace one mental “tape” with another? As a marathoner, your food is indeed directly linked to your performance. Without the right food, you won’t be able to give as much as you could have had your body had everything it needed to keep you going. Why don’t you try to replace being an athlete with whatever your dieting demons are? Nobody on a diet is going to be an athlete after all, we need our calories and nutrients! Good luck with the marathon!!

      1. chava Avatar

        Hah, know what you mean about the carbs. Mmmmm, carbs.

        Ironically, I’ve never formally dieted either (food restricted, yes, but its a little bit of a different beast). My “tapes” came more in the form of very thin, very food restrictive parents who never really got down on my body (much) because, well, I was medically underweight (even with DD boobs) until I was about 21, which seemed to suit them just fine.

        To make a long story short, I left home, became obsessed with cooking from scratch, didn’t own a scale, and don’t read food labels because I don’t buy or eat much that comes out of a box. ( I mean, things like dried beans and flour, sure.) Hitting a normal body weight was a shock to the fam.

        Anyway, becoming very athletic was challenging because, ironically, never having dieted, I had NO IDEA how to count calories, how many calories were IN anything, or how many calories, protein or carbs I needed for what I was doing. Or how many micro nutrients, for that matter. Add to that a medically induced lack of appetite & sudden weight loss, and I REALLY needed one of Michelle’s colleagues!

        But enough about me. Holy Hannah, lady, you lift AND do endurance running?! Whoa mama. I feel the urge to make you a meatball grinder, stat. Them’s some *nutrients.*

        1. FitYoginiRunner Avatar

          Haha, don’t worry, I keep track of what I eat to make sure I eat enough! (I just ate a bowl of tomato soup, two warm multigrain turkey-tomato-cheese-onion sandwiches, and a quarter of a pineapple.) I had no idea of how many calories were in anything when I started getting seriously into fitness either. It’s been a process. But I think it’s been worth the trouble to find out, I feel better now and have more energy for the workouts. I spent so much time trying to cut down on my meat consumption without upping my other proteins I would never have found out I needed more protein to feel good if it hadn’t been for a nutrition guide for athletes I read. I’ve also found that for me, exercise and eating a certain way go hand in hand. I can’t really fudge either too far from what I’ve found works for me or I start feeling gradually worse and worse. Not sure why but I get a generally uncomfortable feeling. Anyone telling me to change that can sod off. I guess it’s easy for me to say though because my parents never particularly expressed opinions on my eating.

          Sorry to hear about your parents. Have you considered talking to fellow runners about how (much) they eat? Reality check for the tapes? Not that every runner is all about the nutrition hardcore. I went trail running with some people two days ago and after we all went out for burgers and beers :) But maybe that could be helpful to you too?

          Lifting is good stuff for runners too. Resistance training can decrease injury risks, and I’ve found that it’s helped me push for speed because my muscles have gotten more used to working anaerobically. You don’t even need dumbbells to get started – squats, pushups, and pullups can get you pretty far! Plyometric training is also great for runners. All doable at home in a living room!

  37. clairedammit Avatar

    This post, and the comments, are so awesome I forgot to put my lasagna in the oven. Dinner is going to be 10 minutes late! I wish I had found this earlier, but I’m glad I’m here now.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Well…as long as it ain’t burnt. Nothing sadder than a burnt lasagna.

      1. Ducky Avatar

        I *love* slightly burnt lasagna! That crispy bottom noodle. Mmmm

        1. Daniel M. Avatar

          I like such potato!
          Caramelisation and Maillard reaction FTW!

  38. Rose Avatar

    I thought you might like to get involved with a project I heard about on Facebook. I never know if you get your emails, so I’m putting it in comments:

    Abolish size zero models in the fashion industry Is looking for psychologists, Nutritionists , life coaches and specialists in eating disorders or life coaching to help start up discussions on BMI, body image, easting disorders, anorexia and helping educate yong women and general topic discussions for people who want to be healthy models..please click like if you ar…e in this field and i will be in touch many thanks x


    1. Suzanne Avatar

      Some people are naturally a size zero. Not me, but I do know some and they are beautiful too. Granted they should not be the only type of beautiful represented in the modeling industry, but “abolish” them sounds pretty sizeist to me.

  39. […] to inspire better eating by making food—any food, even “worthless” ones, which Michelle and commenters rock here—more expensive for people who are already struggling with the cost of eating well. I know, I […]

  40. Ducky Avatar

    Aw man! I am *so* late to this party!

    I wanted to throw in my two cents about the KFC double down. I think part of why it gets so much flak is because the commercial and pictures just makes it look so greasy! It makes me a little queesy to even look at it because grease has been making me feel sick lately.

    I have a quick (kind of off topic) question, I need some advice.

    I’ve been having trouble eating lately. I’ve been trying to practice intuitive eating for a few months but I just can’t understand my body! I eat what I’m craving when I’m craving and I stop when I’m full (that is, if I can get to what I’m craving in time.)

    But the past few months I wake up feeling sick. Then I feel starving, then if I don’t get something to eat fast enough, I’m feeling too sick to eat again! Nothing feels satisfying, it all makes me feel sick. I think I’m catching my body’s signals when it’s saying, “Hey Ducky! I’m totally full now, thanks!” but my stomach still feels heavy and disturbed.

    My therapist thinks I’m somatizing, and I know that sometimes I totally do that, but it seems unreal that it’s happening to me all the time! Supposedly there’s nothing wrong with me physically.

    So I was thinking, maybe I need to keep a food journal and mark down when I’m not feeling well and how I’m feeling? Have any of you done this before? Does it help? I’m nervous to start because I’ve had disordered eating in the past that led to a terrible depression.

    One last thing! I hate water. I have to force myself to drink a bottle of water every day. Everyone tells me, “The more you drink water the more you start to like it!” but I’m 22 and I haven’t experienced that yet! In fact, I always feel more thirsty when I drink water. Most of the time I forget to drink anything at all. I hate the taste of artificial sweeteners so things like Crystal Lite mixers are out. Can you guys help me figure out a way to make it easier to drink water?

    1. chava Avatar

      You could try sparkling water or selzter, I know that helps some people who hate the taste of water but for one reason or another can’t have juice. There are the fruit flavored but non-sweetened waters as well.

      You may also not need the water as much as you think you do, if you are taking in juice and milk, etc, and don’t feel dehydrated (tired, headachey, tight skin, lethargic, etc).

      Is there any reason you haven’t seen a doctor about this? Sounds like something you might want professional help with. The morning nausea could be any number of things from pregnancy to an acidy stomach–the internetz won’t help you much there.

    2. Amy Avatar

      At a spa I went to once they had pitchers of water with various thinly sliced fruits and vegetables floating in them — oranges, lemons, cucumbers. It was delicious.

      1. Amy Avatar

        Also sun tea. Take an old juice bottle full of cold water, throw in an herbal teabag or two (Red Zinger is my favorite) and put it in the sun for a few hours. You can also make chai this way, chill and add ice, milk & sugar for an iced chai latte, but then it probably doesn’t count as water anymore.

        Also in my comment above I did not mean to suggest that they MIXED their fruits/vegetables. It was far too classy a joint for that. No, they had separate pitchers of cucumber water, lime water, etc. In spite of their snobbery I really liked drinking their tasty water.

        1. MadGastronomer Avatar

          How exactly does that not count as water?
          This whole idea that adding calories or sugar or whatever makes something suddenly Not Water is just another version of the good food/bad food divide. Water hydrates you. Milk contains water. So do juice, coffee, tea, beer, all kinds of things. You should drink water to hydrate yourself, so drinking other things (as long as they aren’t TOO diuretic, and my understanding is that the diuretic properties of coffee have been exaggerated) works, too.

          Unless you’re drinking olive oil, liquid pretty much does equal water.

          1. chava Avatar

            Well…as far as the chai:

            Depends on the person. Caffeine can effect different people very differently, I think, in terms of how much it water it makes you–ahem–lose. I find it works best to drink two glasses of water per CUP of coffee for my body. But that’s just me, and part of that’s the Topamax, I drink like a damn fish anyway.

          2. closetpuritan Avatar

            I appreciate your point, but I find that sugar makes me thirsty (maybe more so than a lot of people), so any liquid with sugar in it isn’t going to quench my thirst nearly as effectively as water (and milk has naturally occuring sugar, and as chava mentioned, there’s the caffeine effect). The effect wouldn’t be any different than separately drinking that amount of sugar and milk and caffeine and then drinking that amount of water, but the combination is not a drink I would recommend on a hot day after a run.

          3. Amy Avatar

            My impression about the water/not-water thing was if the not-water beverage had stuff in it that the kidneys needed to filter (like caffeine) then it wasn’t the kidney-restful flushing kind of beverage that water is. I dunno, though, maybe Michelle does?

            Sorry if I came across judgy about beverages, I don’t subscribe to the whole worthless-heavenly food dichotomy, but I do have an easier time paying attention to what’s “healthy” in beverages than what’s “healthy” food because I don’t like Coke or coffee, and also because I wasn’t psychologically tortured (i.e., denied because I was FAT) with beverages as a kid the way I was with food. So beverages are less loaded for me.

            So, anyway, yeah, drink what you want, or don’t. Just thought I’d share a couple of ideas that worked for me.

        2. closetpuritan Avatar

          I think my favorite on a hot day is iced mint herbal tea. (At least, my favorite that I regularly make. I like lemonade made with a real lemon like you often see sold at the fair, but don’t usually make that myself.) During the summer I have a mint plant growing and I’ll pluck and rinse off some sprigs of mint, pour boiling water over them in a glass jar, and then stick it in the fridge for the next day. (If you’re using a fresh plant, sun tea doesn’t really work.)

          When I’m really thirsty, though, I usually just want straight water.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            That mint tea sounds awesome. (I’m a fan of hot mint tea for an upset stomach–iced mint tea sounds really refreshing.)

    3. Michelle Avatar

      No one’s too late to party :)

      I would definitely see a doctor to rule out any weirdness going on in your GI tract (or elsewhere.) I think keeping a food/symptoms journal for a while is a good idea, just to see if you (or your doctor) can draw any patterns. (I know food journals can be triggering of past ED issues, so it might help not to write down portion sizes, but rather just WHAT you ate, the time, and what kind of symptoms you have at what time.

      But, also, what you describe sounds similar to what I’ve heard from some other people who haven’t had great luck with intuitive eating. Sometimes the hunger signals don’t get picked up on until it’s too late — you’re to the crisis point and feeling sick. People usually have luck by creating a regular eating schedule and then sticking to it — meaning, eating even when they’re not hungry — for several weeks. Maybe it’s a good idea for you to either have a late night snack before bed, or right when you get up in the morning. You could experiment with it and see if it makes you feel more or less sick.

      Re: water — you don’t have to like it. In fact, you don’t even have to drink it, if you don’t want. The awesome thing is, all food contains water. And all fluids contain water (though there can be a slight counterproductive effect if it’s something super sugary or containing alcohol or caffeine.) The old saw that we need to drink eight glasses of pure water a day is inaccurate — it’s based on an *estimated* need for total fluid for the average person. That fluid comes from lots and lots of sources, not just water.

      I really like seltzer water and other fizzy things. And I also really like the idea of fruit waters. Aside from that, you can get juices, milk, etc. etc. and that will all work toward meeting your total fluid requirement. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of water. But plain old water (though it seems to work great for lots of people) doesn’t have to come into the picture at all.

      Notice what quenches your thirst by paying close attention. I really like Coke, for example, and it hits the spot at the moment, but afterward I feel even thirstier. Same with beer. But milk does it for me. Juice does it for me. So do lots of other things.

      1. Ducky Avatar


        I haven’t been to the doctor because it’s been a very stressful time, I was at the doctors just a few months ago, and I’ve grown a slight fear/distrust of doctors, so I guess I’m combining those 3 excuses to try to figure it out on my own haha.

        I’ve definitely noticed that if I go to bed hungry I wake up sicker in the morning. I’ve also noticed I feel queasy all day if I didn’t get enough sleep so I’ll try to work on those two things and see if they help.

        Also, reading this thread has made me realize that I drink a lot of soda. Well, I’ve cut down to one soda a day but I’ve been replacing that additional soda with Capri Sun so maybe I’m consuming too much in liquid form and it’s confusing my body? Does that even make sense?

        Thanks everyone for the advice, I really appreciate it!

        1. chava Avatar

          When my calorie consumption was down to 1000-1200/day I was having very similar symptoms to what you describe. After upping my intake for a week or two it slowly got better. It got worse before it got better, fwiw–if you’ve been nauseous and undereating, it may take awhile for your body to adjust.

          I found some of Michelle’s suggestions very helpful: create an eating schedule that meets your caloric needs (mine were about 2500-2700, for example), figure out what tastes acceptable or good and meets than intake need, and stick to a set meal plan for awhile.

          1. chava Avatar


            I would also try cutting out or to a minimum of caffeine for awhile. It acts as an appetite supressant and if you are having issues, might be worth cutting back on until you get your appetite handled.

            Meal replacement liquids (milk, protein shakes, whatever) shouldn’t “confuse” your body. I rely on them a lot now since it is hard for me to eat a lot of volume at once.

          2. Ducky Avatar

            That’s something I never considered. I can’t really measure the calories in what I’m eating because it’s all homemade (by my mom) but since I’ve moved back in with my parents I know I’m totally eating less. A normal day is 2 meals, maybe a snack at some point, Capri Sun, and 1 soda. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot now that I think about it.

          3. FitYoginiRunner Avatar

            I know someone who only eats one meal a day, but I know I’d feel pretty crappy eating only that or what you’re eating. I need three meals a day and ideally two snacks. Sometimes I’ve tried to only eat brunch and dinner on a weekend and that just doesn’t work for me, not even when brunch is half of my resting metabolic rate and dinner is the other half. I just seem to need to eat more often, period, no matter how many calories I’ve already eaten that day. Especially if it wasn’t that many yet. That’s when my blood sugar goes for a roller coaster ride and takes my wellbeing with it. Blech.

            Eating is important! Did you get this sorted out?

    4. Sarah Avatar

      I love very dilute fruit juice, especially cranberry or orange, for hydrating. I tend to make my own lemon or limeade a lot, again more dilute than usual. Straight fruit juice or sugary drinks are too sweet and don’t hydrate me, but something cold and tart and a bit potassiumy tends to work even better than pure water. Even just a dash of lemon or lime juice in straight water is very nice when it’s hot.

      How important is it for you to get actual straight water? Do you like melon or cucumbers or other foods-which-are-mostly-water?

      1. Ducky Avatar

        I loooove watermelon but I don’t get a whole lot of it. I’m not big on other melons or cucumber. But your idea to dilute fruit juice sounds delicious!

        I’m not a big juice drinker because most juices I like have a really thick texture that’s bleehhh to me. Diluting it would probably make it awesome!

      2. Lampdevil Avatar

        Diluting juice is genius and awesome. I grew up in a household where Kool-Aid was always in the fridge, but it was made to my dad’s standard. Which was using the unsweetened grape crystals, diluting the hell out of it, and only using 1/2 to 2/3 the required sugar. My dad did lots of yard work and hard labour, and once described to me “I don’t want to drink something sweet. I want something wet.” It was sour and refreshing and fantaaaaastic on a hot day.

        When I moved out on my own and aquired roommates, they were not impressed with my idea of how Kool-Aid ought to work. Compromise had to be reached where I would mix a pitcher as per the instructions on the package, and then pour myself a half-glass which was then diluted with more water. I also tend to do the same to frozen juice, either mixing in more water than required or diluting what’s in my glass. (Hey! It makes it last longer, too! When you’re broke, you wanna make that $1 can of punch last as long as possible!)

  41. Michelle Avatar

    Hiya – I’ve been subscribed to your blog for awhile (my son introduced me to it) but this is the first day that I REALLY read it. I started with this “Worthless” foods post and read the comments. And I am truly in awe…and maybe a little in love! ;)

    I’ve been heavy all my life – about 9 years ago I had a gastric bypass and lost 105 pounds. I’ve kept off all but 10 pounds these 9 years. And despite all that I still struggle with food. What *should* I eat …what I *can’t* have…what’s *good*…what’s *bad*. It is mentally draining.

    All I can say is thanks to you Michelle and all your readers/subscribers. I’m going to really start focusing on this and allow myself a little more. I think I deserve that.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hey Michelle! We have the same name. It’s so great to hear from someone who’s had a bypass who is (I presume!) doing well. Good to have you here.

      1. Wunderama Avatar

        Thank you – I changed to my email address so as not to confuse the issue here :) Yes, doing well in body but not so much in mind. But I think reading these entries can help me a lot.

        Thank you again.

        Wunderama (also Michelle)

  42. Nancy Avatar

    linking this on my blog!

  43. Erin Avatar

    so this has pretty much nothing to do with this specific post, but i had to share because i was disgusted. i’m a georgia resident, and the website of the atlanta journal-constitution has a slideshow outlining exactly which kids’ meals at fast-food restaurants are best for parents counting their kids’ calories. like i said, disgusting.

    i’m all for kids eating healthy, but the exact calorie counts are a little overboard.


    1. unscrambled Avatar

      AAAAACK why did I click? I knew what I was getting into. From the slide about KFC:

      “But let your child be naughty and the calories pile on”

      Naughty? A kid is naughty when they finger paint the walls of the KFC with ketchup, not when they eat fried chicken. They are HUNGRY when they eat the chicken. Way to encourage the good/bad disordered and restrictive approach to eating early. Cripes.

      1. deeleigh Avatar

        Yeah, you’re right. The whole slide show equates “good” and “healthy” with a low calorie count and “bad and “unhealthy” with a higher calorie count. There’s no mention of micronutrients and no distinguishing between situations. For example, did the kid just finish little league practice? Then maybe they’re hungrier and need more calories. Was the kid playing video games and munching on chips all day? Then maybe skip the fries.

        1. Slim Avatar

          Screw micronutrients — they’re so fixated on calories they aren’t even considering the possibility that a kid might benefit from having milk (gasp! chocolate milk!) rather than Capri Sun.

      2. closetpuritan Avatar

        Naughty? A kid is naughty when they finger paint the walls of the KFC with ketchup, not when they eat fried chicken. They are HUNGRY when they eat the chicken.


    2. ako Avatar

      So the most low-calorie option at KFC is 141 calories, and they’re uncritically recommending it as the healthiest option for kids? Because a great many children are going to need more calories than that. Yeah, you will get kids on certain days that are perfectly full and content with a 141-calorie meal, but for a lot of kids, that’s going to be nowhere near enough, and parents don’t need someone pushing the idea that “Your child (and we’re not going to specify whether we’re talking about a child of five or ten) will be healthiest if their meals contain fewer calories than a can of soda!”

      Talk about “Calories are bad!” thinking run amok.

  44. […] of all, as the lovely Michelle AKA The Fat Nutritionist put it in a recent post ALL FOOD CONTAINS NUTRIENTS. NUTRIENTS ARE GOOD FOR YOU. NO, REALLY. I’M […]

  45. Lila Avatar

    Your site is a port in a sea plagued by Hurricane Stupid. I want to have your babies. (Metaphorically of course.)

  46. Emily Avatar

    Can I just say I love you? “Empty calories” is one of my parents’ favorite phrases (you know, the couple who seemed committed to relentlessly screwing up my relationship with food but were actually just lovingly misguided). Through this and that boring circumstance, I am living 450 miles away from home this summer working for my dad, and somehow when weighing the pros and cons of leaving my carefree life behind for four months, I forgot about the whole food thing. I’m just now sorta being okay with eating whatever feels good, and here’s my dad telling me I should use the elliptical trainer for a half hour every day and try these new Healthy Choice Steamers! and oh by the way I went to the grocery store and bought NO fresh veggies but plenty of snack food because I’m unconsciously ironic like that.


    Please post occasionally over the next four months or I may lose it. Or maybe I will just break down and spend part of my first paycheck on some online nutritional counseling. ;)

  47. Aeva Avatar

    I’m beginning recovery from an eating disorder. I’m constantly painfully hungry and bewildered about wanting to eat and eat and eat when everyone else around me is throwing away half eaten plates of food. I haven’t been good at all about getting normal meals – I eat about five apples a day so I can feel full but they don’t really keep me going. Most days I feel like I can’t even think straight.

    With all that, reading your blog and being told that it’s okay to eat what I want, when I want it, is like a blessing. Go forth and fill up, my child. I love reading what you write and I’m hoping for the day where I can not only take it to heart, but put it into practice.

    Thank you.

  48. Hot Tramp Avatar

    I love how any time you contradict the conventional gobbledegook about “good foods” and “bad foods,” someone shows up to go OMFG SHE’S SAYING THAT IF YOU EAT NOTHING BUT MCDONALDS YOU’LL BE FIT AS A FIDDLE HOW IRRESPONSIBLE KILL IT WITH FIRE. Er, that’s not what you’re saying at all. Goodness.

  49. Jeannie Avatar

    Thoughts on this??? http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/65781 (Government tracking kids’ BMI)

  50. KatyAitch Avatar

    There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Smart guy, that Shakespeare.

  51. […] The post they linked to was called “Not Fit To Eat”* was talking about a $2.50 pack sold in a South Auckland dairy, that contained Oreos, two packets of chip like things, and an orange drink. I agree that that is not an adequate lunch, but each of the individual components, and the pack of the whole, is totally fit to eat. […]

  52. Maz Avatar

    I have only just been directed to your site and although I’m a bit late on this post I have to say a huge THANK YOU. I have two daughters and I am determined that they will never even think about dieting (both my mother and my husband’s mother are repeat dieters, on and off again and constantly ‘watching what they eat’ – it drives me insane). But reading this makes me realise I still have a long way to go. I have been sucked in to the whole treat food/everyday food rule book that gets hammered in to all parents of young children and never even thought about it. My children have a Wiggles DVD that devotes a whole segment to treat food (BAD) vs fruit and veges (GOOD), for goodness sakes.
    Reading just this post has given me a lightbulb moment, I can see I still have a lot of work to do on my attitudes towards food, but hopefully I can start passing that on to my daughters while they are still young. All food contains nutrients, it is all good for you! Love it!

  53. […] much rhetoric around at the moment around “empty calories” and “junk food”. Everything has nutrients in! A burger, for instance, has protein, and fat, and iron, and some vitamins, and the bun will provide […]

  54. KellyK Avatar

    I hope that playing necromancer on an ancient post is okay–this post seemed like the best place to leave this fairly general comment.

    Michelle, thank you for your blog and for the awesome info and common sense you put out there. Tuesday night and yesterday, I had some sort of 24-hour viral thing and couldn’t keep food down. I was very much thinking “no such thing as worthless food…sugar is energy” all day yesterday as I nibbled pretzels and drank soda.

    That sounds minor, and it is really minor, but I didn’t stress out about it or try to eat “healthier” things that I would’ve had trouble keeping down. A year or three ago, I totally would have, especially the *eeevil* sugary soda, and your blog has been one of the ones I go to for food sanity. So, thank you for that.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow, you’re very welcome. And I had a very similar experience earlier this year, blech. I tell you, 7-Up was like nectar of the gods. Whatever keeps you alive in your present condition is the most nutritious food for you.