Food: Messengers, Change The Message!

I had a brief Twitter exchange with the author of the book, “The Weight Issue”, Dr. A. E. Oates, this morning. It actually began last night, when I responded to a tweet from Civil Eats about an NPR story titled, “We Lie About What We Eat, And It’s Messing Up Science”. The short and sweet of it is, nutrition scientists cannot rely on study participants to accurately report what they eat each day. They may be underestimating, forgetting, or purposely underreporting certain types of foods, for fear of being judged by the scientists collecting the data, even IF the study is done anonomously. Obesity researchers believe the answer lies in better measuring equipment, ie. digital photographs of people eating.

Dr. Oates tweeted a link to a 15-year-old journal article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where the author concludes it’s all a matter of psychology; people find what they choose to eat so personal, and for some, embarrassing or shameful, that they will not accurately report it. I agree with this. I am using the food diary on Calorie King to keep track of my food intake. I am beholden to NO ONE but myself, and still, there are times I hesitate to record foods I’ve eaten. Who’s judging me? Me. But I can’t lie to myself, and I shouldn’t even feel the compulsion. Where am I getting this message?

Who are the messengers of food and nutrition and weight loss and health? Doctors, nutritionists, news reports?  Consider the words they have been using, for years, that poke at our vulnerabilities, like healthy vs. unhealthy, junk food vs. clean food, bad food vs. good food, “guilty pleasures”. Even Weight Watchers plays both sides of this coin, by preaching that no foods are off limits, but subliminally indicating that low-fat, low-sugar, artificially sweetened processed foods are “better choices” than their more natural, higher in calories, counterparts. Hell, I have even considered changing the name of this blog, because there is actually an argument in the blogosphere about what “real food” actually is.

I don’t want any part of that argument; I just want it all to stop. I want some moderation and intelligence to enter the debate. While there is some scientific proof that some substances are unhealthful to certain individuals, for most of us, that is just not true. The fact is, food affects each of us completely differently. Our genes, our metabolisms, our bodies’ chemistry, are unique, and that makes the outcomes of eating different for each and every one of us.

Here’s my volley across the bow; food is a neutral entity. It contains many, many chemical compounds, which some of us react to better than others. But food is not good or bad. What we choose to eat does not make us good or bad people. It might make us healthier, happier people if we could stop all the stress hormones from flooding our bodies everytime we eat a cookie, and then feel we need to lie about it. If obesity and nutrition researchers want us to let go of our fear of their judgment, they need to stop being so judgmental in their message.

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5 comments

  1. So well said I have nothing to add. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that we are not one-size-fits-all when it comes to eating and the panacea of the day is usually only good for that day; not worth getting stressed over not having it…

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  2. As a food biochemist, I have to both, agree and disagree on a couple of minor points. But mostly agree.

    The disagreement is about the fact that nothing is unhealthy except for a few individuals – there are some things (like the trans-fatty acids in the aforementioned margarine) that are unhealthy for all. There are a few others. But for the most part – you are right, and metabolisms are highly indvidualised.

    The problem is that you are right, but you are addressing the wrong people. Food *scientists* have long said that margarines aren’t healthy (decades longer than it’s been in the media), and what we say now hasn’t changed significantly. But what politicians and lawmakers and media do with studies they get a hold of and how they pervert them and oh gods, add the judgement and fat-shaming? It makes my blood boil!

    To sum it up – I, the food biochemist, agree with you. But you need to be talking to the people who popularize and legislate this BS, not the scientists. Because not even the journalists listen to us longer than it takes them to jot down enough for a stupid sensationalist headline. And then no matter what we say about the study having been misunderstood, it doesn’t help because of course people trust a tabloid more. *sigh*

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    • Thank you for your input on my little rant! ;) It drives me mad that journalism has sunk to such lows. I wrote this after reading the journal article, so the researchers were squarely in my sights! You are absolutely right about the politics of this issue, as well. The history of 1970’s food policy in the US makes my head explode.

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      • Oh merciful gods, don’t even get me started on the mid-20th-century food politics in USA and the BS it spread all over the world out of the mouths of randon bureaucrats who were in no way scientists!

        As to bad reporting? I remember one study being repoted, which talked about how a fatty acid in dairy was found to be protective against diabetes II. The journalist triumphantly finished the article by saying “but don’t start drinking full-fat dairy, fat-free is the way to go!”. Which part of the *fatty* acid didn’t you understand? But nope, ‘report’ on the science and keep on funneling the usual spiel entirely regardless of the science. Argh! (And in case you wonder, that wasn’t some tabloid… that was on BBC.)

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