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Eat less? Good luck with that!

Posted Mar 01 2011 12:00am
Well, the USDA’s 2011 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been out for a month now, and after about thirty seconds in the news spotlight, they’ve faded out of view. Which is for the best, because even though I give the government credit for trying to steer people in the right direction, their official recommendations every five years on what we should eat are reliably lame, lame, lame.

You can read the latest recommendations for yourself here .

I’m especially discouraged that the USDA is still harping on eating low-fat foods and avoiding cholesterol, when more and more research is showing that real, unprocessed fats are vital to our health, and dietary cholesterol has little or no effect on our blood cholesterol levels. In reality, the blame lies squarely on processed foods and the fake fats and sugars they’re loaded with. But the USDA doesn’t have the guts to specifically warn people not to eat processed food. The big food lobbies are too powerful. So instead, they push fat-free dairy products.

A lot of people besides me have been pointing this out, so instead I’d like to address one USDA statement that many nutrition experts actually applaud, but I do NOT. It’s the key recommendation that Americans must exert more control over our total calorie intake. “For people who are overweight or obese,” the Guidelines explain, “this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.”

(As opposed to the calories we get from eating paint off the walls? Just wondering.)

It’s not that eating less isn’t a good way to lose weight. In the short term, it certainly is. But trust me: telling overweight people to eat less simply does not work. If you are a chronic dieter, binge eater, emotional eater, or however you choose to label it -- in other words, someone who has trouble controlling their eating behavior -- the advice to “eat less” is totally useless.

Eating is playing an important role in your life, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Perhaps it’s comforting you. Calming you. Entertaining you. Giving you something to look forward to.  Maybe you’re eating because you crave one or more nutrients that you’re not getting. If you’re eating mostly processed food, you can eat and eat all day long and you’ll never find those nutrients, because they’re not in there.

To a body or a mind that’s searching for something it needs and isn’t getting, the solution is not to “eat less.” You don’t make up for a shortage by taking something away.

I wish the guidelines would focus more on how you can get what you need from your diet. How can Americans fill the gaping hole that most of us are currently stuffing with fast food? What delicious, nutrient-rich, soul-satisfying foods do we need to eat more of? (Hint: it’s not fat-free dairy products.) What activities besides eating will bring us comfort, calm, joy, and give us something to look forward to?

Okay, so that last one is beyond the scope of the USDA. But that’s precisely why we shouldn’t be taking health advice from the government.
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