Sunday, June 25, 2006

Well-Nourished People Eat Too Damned Much

About a month ago my doctor rather snarkily informed me that caffeine, sodium, and trans fats are not considered food groups by the medical community. I tried to explain the concept of efficient eating while in grad school to him, but he kept blathering on about nutrients and blood pressure and family history of every medical problem known to man... blah, blah, blah. My doctor is a giant pain in the ass. After being harangued for what seemed like 53 years, I agreed to try to incorporate this substance they call "real food" into my diet. And then, after I stopped at the local diner for a bowl of clam chowder and a cappuccino, I decided to try to keep my word.

It's now been a month since I started this "real food" experiment. My observation, as suggested by the title of this post, is that limiting the diet to real food is an extremely inefficient way to eat. Do you have any idea how many broccoli spears and pears I have to consume to replace the calories in JUST ONE glazed chocolate donut? I'm exhausted from all the chewing.

Plus, there's much planning involved in making sure you eat enough of the right foods every day. I've been tracking my nutrient-intake on the US government's MyPyramid Tracker, and it never fails to give me a frowny emoticon for something. Frown - Not enough protein. OK, fine, I'll have an egg. Frown - Too much cholesterol. OK, how about a slice of ham? Frown - Too much fat. Bah! It's infuriating. (BTW, be careful about typos in that thing. It's a neat source, but is not a thinking person. It's been trying to send me to the emergency room about once a week based on my typos.)

Anyway, as I've been force-feeding myself absolutely ridiculous amounts of food in order to establish proper nutrition, I've been thinking a lot about getting fat. Probably because the image we are encouraged to have of fat people is "those people who eat constantly" and I am certainly eating constantly. There are times when I think the witch from Hansel and Gretel wrote the dietary guidelines to fatten us all up for the kill. In fact, I have never seen a fat person eat anywhere near the amount of food by volume that I am now eating. Not even once. But I'm not gaining weight.

If anecdote=data for the president of Harvard, that standard should be good enough for me. Right? Right. OK then, here's my analysis.

As a childless grad student, I am somewhat privileged. I'm poor, certainly, but I'm able to take a summer job that I can do well without spending evenings fussing about work details. I don't have to do all this planning and counting for others, so I can concentrate on making meals that fit only my dietary requirements. My salary is responsible for feeding one person, rather than three or four, so I can afford fresh produce and lean meat. Microburg is a "city" plonked down very near extensive tracts of farmland, so I have the very freshest of fruits and vegetables easily available to me for part of the year. This is an ideal situation, really.

And still, I find all this work to plan out and prepare proper, healthy meals very taxing. The temptation to grab a burger and forget about the time, effort, and expense of a balanced diet is great. And I'm not physically and emotionally exhausted from work and caring for children, nor am I buying foods based on their affordability for a family. So, I'm calling bullshit on a few standard prejudices. The prejudice against the poor is horrifying in a lot of ways, but begrudging them food is untenable. The idea that we need not worry about our poor "because they are often fat," suggests that the poor eat too much. It seems they eat too little of the foods that would make them healthy people. The prejudice against the fat, based on the ideas that they eat too much (nope), or lack the willpower to change (doubtful), or they're too lazy to work out is equally ridiculous. Shaming the fat for being too tired or too poor to eat properly is shameful.


medieval woman said...

Ha! This post made me laugh a lot - and you're absolutely right about the prejudices against fat people (that they must just have will-power problems, which is beneath most people's pity) and about the poor.

But I can also relate to the "grad school" efficiency eating - "Ph.D." is right about ramen. It's just too damn good, easy, and sodium-laden to actually give it up in order to go through the agony of chopping lettuce (I think the stuff in the bag smells funny and, thus, I shun it).

lalouve said...

Lots of poor people are both fat and undernourished, since cheap food is high in fat and low in nutritional value. Of course, since it is fashionable to be thin, being thin is more expensive than being fat (or possibly the cause/effect is the other way around).