Healthy Eating: A Shared Responsibility

June 3, 2014

Today’s nutrition post is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The CSPI acts as the voice of the American public on the topics of food, nutrition, health and beyond. I am happy to host Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy, to write about the challenges of eating healthy in today’s world. I started KERF in 2007 as a way to help people navigate these challenges and show by example that eating healthy could be enjoyable. Most people know the What and Why of nutrition but it’s the How that is harder to execute on a daily basis. I hope that the How has jumped from my kitchen to yours.

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How many times do you start out the day, full of resolve to eat well? Then by the time you get to dinner, you think, “maybe tomorrow.”

You’re not alone. It’s possible to eat well and watch your weight in America today, but the super-sized portion sizes, food everywhere, eating out, food at meetings, and other unhealthy influences persistently work against us. Same goes for our kids given the heavy marketing of junk food, unhealthy options on restaurant children’s menus, sugar-packed snacks at soccer games, and poor options at kid-oriented venues (my sister had to search high and low to find a fruit cup for my niece, Skyler, among all the junk at Disney on Ice this winter). The food environment makes healthy eating like swimming upstream.

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I remember when my daughter, Camryn, was in elementary school. I could rarely offer her a treat at home, because her teacher would have given them candy for being quiet during math, or they had cookies at aftercare, or there was a class party for the 100th day of school – almost daily.

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Margo and Camryn

While of course, individuals are ultimately responsible for what they will eat, food choices are affected by what food is available, prices (including what is on sale), how food is packaged, portion sizes, convenience, the attractiveness, presentation and placement of the food, information, marketing, and food politics.

When you go shopping you can’t even buy printer cartridges at Best Buy or towels at Bed Bath & Beyond without walking past a giant array of candy. Who goes into the drug store with a list that includes picking up your prescription and a Snicker’s candy bar? Yet, we often buy food when we weren’t hungry or even thinking about a snack before getting to the checkout.

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Companies know that just seeing that food will make us feel hungry. That’s why food is everywhere these days–in vending machines, at gas stations, ball games, shopping malls, bus stations, airports, clothing stores, highway rest stops …

Portion sizes have grown over the years, and studies show that people eat more food when served more. That is profitable for food manufacturers and restaurants because the cost of the food (the price paid to the farmer) is only a modest fraction of their costs. If you buy a snack for a $1.00, the farmer gets about 20 cents. The rest pays for the food company’s overhead, transportation, labor, marketing, and other costs. So if they can get you to buy a large fry for a $1.50 instead of small fry for a $1.00, almost all that extra 50 cents you paid goes toward company profit. But the extra 200 calories we eat – that goes straight to our hips.

CDC The New (Ab)normal

{Photo Graphic Credit: CDC}

Soda, ice teas, sports drinks, and other sugar drinks have gone from being an occasional treat to the standard beverage offering. Sugar drinks are now the number one source of calories for Americans. Also, soft drinks are the only individual food which has been directly linked to obesity. Coke and Pepsi make sure there is soda everywhere—to stimulate your thirst and cravings—and they have increased the size of sodas from a modest 6.5 ounces back in the 1950’s (about 80 calories) to a hefty 20 ounces today (about 250 calories). That way each time you buy a soda you buy more.

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People don’t chose to be overweight. It’s not something many desire and strive for. You don’t often hear, "I really hope I can put on some weight before the summer or I’m working hard to grow out of my wardrobe." In fact, it’s something that many people actively work to avoid. 75 million Americans say they are dieting, and we spend over $60 billion a year on weight-loss products and services.

Most Americans want to eat better—not all, but most. But it is just so hard in our food-and-soda everywhere, giant-portion-size, obesogenic food environment. That’s why I and my colleagues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, not only try to provide people with solid nutrition information through our Nutrition Action Healthletter, reports, and website, but we also try to change the food environment to make it more supportive of healthy eating.

We led the efforts to get Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food (and are working now to update those), get junk food and sugar drinks out of schools (coming this fall), put calories on chain restaurant menus (coming next spring), get trans fat out of food (the FDA proposed a rule on that this year), and more.

If you don’t smoke, healthy eating has more of an effect on your health than anything else you can do. The choices you make in the grocery store and in restaurants are crucial, but you also can join with moms, dads, health professionals, and other concerned citizens to make healthy eating a bit easier for yourself and your kids. I hope you’ll join us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on our website. Let us know what issues you struggle with and how we might work together to make healthy eating more possible.

Margo

Margo Wootan is the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), one of the country’s leading health advocacy organizations that specializes in food, nutrition, and obesity prevention. Dr. Wootan received her B.S. in nutrition from Cornell University and her doctorate in nutrition from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Wootan co-founded and coordinates the activities of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) and the Food Marketing Workgroup. She has coordinated and led efforts to require calorie labeling at fast-food and other chain restaurants, require trans fat labeling on packaged foods, improve school foods, reduce junk-food marketing aimed at children, and expand nutrition and physical activity programs at CDC. Wootan has received numerous awards and is quoted regularly in the nation’s major media.

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This post was sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lisa @bitesforbabies June 3, 2014 at 6:09 am

I made a promise to myself that when I had kids I would prepare as much as I can from scratch (I also love cooking so this isn’t a task for me-it just comes naturally!). I try to eat as healthily as possible, and the more that I do, the more I realize how many BAD options there are out there, that feign to be GOOD choices!!! I dedicated my entire Blog to healthy recipes just for my kids (and me too!).If anyone is looking for healthy options for the family, you should check it out!

http://www.bitesforbabies.com

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2 Natalie June 3, 2014 at 6:52 am

Bad food choices never made me overweight – instead they give me a host of horrible digestive issues that left me several pounds underweight. It took a while for me to realize the link between what I was eating and how I was feeling – which may have even made it harder for me to stop doing things like also picking up a Milky Way when I went into the gas station to use the bathroom or get some water. I didn’t have this voice in the back of my head telling me “do you really want to eat that and gain weight?” because instead the voices of the general public were saying things like, “oh, you’re so lucky – you can eat whatever you want and still look great!” (when actually, I looked SICK) or “please girl, eat some junk food to gain weight!” which is just as detrimental – NO ONE is immune to eating crap and obesity is far from the only problem. The biggest change for me now, and what I think is the most lasting change for anyone, is that I don’t see any of that as food. Those are just non-food items. It’s no different for me anymore than looking over a toy section at a dollar store. I would never go to an event like Stars on Ice hungry, because as far as I’m concerned, they don’t offer food there. I bring my own food EVERYWHERE and even if once and a while I forget or circumstances change and I’m left without something – well, on the one hand, since I’m healthier, I don’t feel the need to eat constantly, and secondly, I might as well be stranded on a desert island, because I don’t see convenience stores, pharmacies, or gas stations as options of places to get food, and I just deal. Even if someone were to put a candy bar in my mouth, it wouldn’t taste good to me anymore, because my palate has changed – I eat so much less sugar (chocolate less than 85%? No thanks!) that anything there would taste sickly sweet, and the same is true for the pasture-raised animals and vegetables not too far removed from their nutrient-rich soil and small farm that I eat now. The sad little lettuce and tomato that would come with a burger in December just would not be food to me. I don’t know how to get everyone to make that change but I know that once they do, that’s the kind of mindset that will last and help break-free of the yo-yo dieting mentality.

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3 KathEats June 3, 2014 at 8:02 am

What a transformation!

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4 Kimberly June 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

I’ve been noticing how many more healthy food options are out there, even at places like gas stations and convenience stores. Maybe it is just my area (Maryland, suburb of DC) but you can go into a gas station and get little containers of pretzels and hummus, fresh fruit, yogurt, smoothies, salads (if you are at a Sheetz, you can get a made to order one but a lot of the other ones have pre-made salads in the cooler cases). They even have these little “Lunchable” sorts of things for kids, but they have grapes, veggies, and other food more healthy then the typical Lunchable. Of course, they still have giant sodas and candy bars, but it is great to see more healthy choices and options too! Something for everyone.

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5 Kate June 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

Interesting comment! What does your diet look like now?

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6 Marieke June 4, 2014 at 4:44 am

Wow Natalie, that is amazing! I myself am working towards what you have achieved, and it’s working really well. Changing your mind has a lot to do with it, I agree. Well done!

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7 Anele @ Success Along the Weigh June 3, 2014 at 7:18 am

I am so glad that when we started losing weight that the craving for soda went away. We didn’t drink it regularly during the week but on the weekends we could easily split a 2 liter. Now, I can barely finish a 12 oz can on the rare occasion I get one. (5x year or less)

I’m also grateful for restaurants putting calorie info on their menus. We had to eat on the run Sunday and it helped me make the best decision for the calories I wanted to have for the day without going off the rails.

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8 Livi June 3, 2014 at 7:54 am

This is so interesting!! The Standard American Diet (SAD) is sold to us every day and it feels like an uphill battle against what we’re being sold and what we should eat. I hope by the time I have children the common thinking will be changed from what it is today!

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9 Shelby June 3, 2014 at 8:02 am

Great post!

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10 Carly June 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

Hi Margo – great post! While I live in Canada, the issues you fight for are prevalent here as well. One huge change I noticed (from being a secondary school teacher) was when the pop and junk food vending machines were not allowed in the school’s anymore. Kids complained, but most of them are more aware of nutrition now and they get used to it. Plus, the unfortunate reality is that if they really want a pop/chocolate bar they are going to get it at the corner store a few blocks away. Although, at least it makes them walk there!! Thanks for the great read!

PS – I don’t often give high school students treats, but for the younger kids I tutor their treats include Nerf footballs or nail polishes!

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11 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats June 3, 2014 at 8:30 am

This is a great article and definitely an issue that concerns me a lot! I’d love to work in this field and with such an organization. It’s amazing to look at the difference in portion sizes between 50-60 years ago and now – if only everyone could see and realize that. And if only restaurants would start offering smaller portions!

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12 Liz @ Tip Top Shape June 3, 2014 at 9:01 am

This is a really interesting post. It’s somewhat scary when you realize how much external factors affect your eating. It seems like something that should be completely within your control, but with all the outside influences it’s really an uphill battle to make healthy choices.

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13 Kate June 3, 2014 at 9:56 am

This was a perfectly timed post! I am a single woman in my early thirties with no kids and I have found myself struggling with my weight over the past year. I have always been thin and my BMI is still within healthy limits, but I notice that my pants are much tighter. This morning I tried on shorts that I wore last year and they don’t fit! It’s a daily struggle to make healthy choices. There is constant temptation…wine with dinner, sweet treats, no time to cook and ending up at Five Guys or Moe’s, snacking in the office. I often think of you, Kath, when I’m struggling. I love your concept of the squiggly line effect and I try to strive for that. It is easy to get off track on the weekends and I try to make better decisions during the week. I often feel hungry and I wonder if that is just because my body is used to larger portions now. I exercise at least 5 times a week and just can’t shed those last 10lbs. It really does make you wonder how much of an influence the large corporations have with marketing power. How do I find the self control? I would love to see more posts about your shopping trips and what exactly you buy. The food on your site always looks delicious. How does someone make the transition from a diet that is somewhat nutritionally void to real food? I’d be interested in reading more!

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14 Lexi June 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

I loved reading this post! I think it’s so important to educate people about health and wellness and how destructive billion dollar corporations can be to our health. I’m super excited to start my journey to becoming a certified Holistic Health Coach at the Institute of Integrative Health this month so I can help people change the way they think about food and their health. Thanks again for sharing :)

xXo, Lexi of http://www.prettyandfresh.com/

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15 mandie June 3, 2014 at 11:08 am

I’m constantly shocked what other people feed their children, not that I’m perfect, but I teach 2nd grade and the junk kids come to school with on a daily basis is appalling. My son will be going to pre-k in another year and I recently asked the teacher if she has ever had a parent provide their own snacks, the snack are provided by the school. She said never in her 4 years teaching there. She listed possible snacks as; cherrios, cheeseballs, cheezits, animal crackers etc. Looks like I will be the “weird” mom because I’d rather my son have less processed stuff.

P.S. I try to not use food motivation in my classroom, I do a lot of stamps, pencils, and stickers instead of candy.

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16 Laurie June 3, 2014 at 11:08 am

I have been eating a whole foods, plant-based diet (vegan) for 2 years for health reasons and would love to know what you think about this video about eating eggs. It is only about 3 minutes long.
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/debunking-egg-industry-myths/

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17 Chelsea @ TableForOne June 3, 2014 at 11:23 am

I really love this post. Growing up, we never ate fast food and my parents did their best to teach us to enjoy all things in moderation. We had treats a few nights a week, but most of the time, dessert was fruit or nutra grain bars. Now that I am on my own, I strive to eat as I did growing up. It’s not always easy to ignore those fast food chains and candy isles but it is worth it. Our health is so much more important that that yummy looking milk shake or side of french fries.

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18 Jessica June 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

I love your clear, well-written, and strongly-worded post, Ms. Wootan! You are placing the blame squarely where it belongs – on the manufacturers who produce addictive junk and then sell it to us through deceptive, misleading practices. I just read Michael Moss’s _Fat Sugar Salt_, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, but I’d like to share it with other readers as well. He lays out in great detail where things went wrong in the “food” industry.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/books/salt-sugar-fat-by-michael-moss.html?pagewanted=all

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19 Jessica June 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

And thank you, Kath, for putting this out there.

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20 Rebecca @ it's a nourishing thing June 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Great post! This is exactly the reason why I started cooking at home. I want to eat real food and with that comes knowing exactly what is in my food.

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21 CaitlinHTP June 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm

This was an awesome post.

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22 Amelia @ Eating Made Easy June 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Absolutely love this post. Sharing immediately!

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23 joelle @ on a pink typewriter June 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing this, Kath!

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24 Kate @ NourishedNellie June 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Great post by Margo, thanks to Kath for sharing. As frightened by the state of the food culture in America as I am, articles and organizations like this give me hope for a brighter future. I believe that Margo was featured in the HBO documentary series Weight of the Nation developed in 2012. I recently watched the four part piece as a part of the Obesity in Society class I took and was enthralled with the information presented. You can watch it for free on both YouTube and HBO if interested!

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25 Kate @ leanrunnerbean June 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Wow – that graphic showing how portion sizes have changed is incredible. I remember how shocked I was seeing the difference in the portion sizes when I traveled to the states from Australia (where I live). It’s true, everything really is bigger over there.
Love the blog btw. Kate :)

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26 Kelsey @ SoMuchLifeToLive June 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Such a great post! The scale graph got me….

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27 AmyJoGo June 4, 2014 at 5:12 am

This is my absolute favorite guest post and I’ve been reading your blog now for 5 years(whoa).

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28 Courtney June 4, 2014 at 6:59 am

So “while of course, individuals are ultimately responsible for what they will eat,” it’s also true that “People don’t chose to be overweight?” this article is poorly written and needs to pick a side. While correlation = causation, I definitely think it’s fair to say that we CHOOSE what goes into our mouths, and said food affects our bodies for better or worse, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we CHOOSE a snickers at CVS, CHOOSE not to exercise, then step on the scale and realize your weight is up!

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29 Courtney Cherico June 5, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Correlation does NOT equal causation is what I meant to type**

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30 Wendy June 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I really enjoyed this blog post. It highlights some key facts and really makes you think. I have a 14 year old and I must say it’s hard to get her to understand why she should avoid the processed or high sugar foods. I do not bring it into the house but at school it is everywhere. They have a salad bar line at school which she eats often and I’ll ask what she had and it will be muffins and cheez-it’s, gold fish etc. Why is that on the salad bar? She goes to the mall with her friends and the temptations are at every turn. All I can do is stress to her the importance of eating clean as much as possible and hope she makes the right choices when she is on her own.

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31 Alexandra Caspero June 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Great guest post Kath! I LOVE CSPI! I subscribe to their Nutrition Action newsletter and give it as Christmas gifts to some of my clients :) Thanks for sharing this- I was nodding my head at every paragraph.

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32 Enough June 4, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I stopped eating fast food almost 30 years ago and have rarely drank a Coke or had a burger or fries since. It’s easy to stop eating fast food; you make up your mind and do it. My generation never heard or got any sympathy for our weight woes; I hardly believe anyone would have said weight gain has something to do with the “food landscape”. Face it, you millenials are weak people. Obesity is your fault, not the systems. When millenials decide to toughen up and change, America will be a better place filled with slim, happy people, like it was when I was growing up. Stop your whining and stop assembling yourselves in to a new age Gestapo. You will NOT tell me what to eat or how to live my life, tyvm.

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33 Emma June 4, 2014 at 9:29 pm

If you don’t want “people telling you what to eat or how to live your life,” then why are you reading a blog that discusses food and health? The obesity epidemic is a product of many things, but certainly it does have something to do with the general population’s lack of general education about food and yes, the food landscape in which we live. So many unhealthy foods have become normalized and people grow up eating such foods, without understanding that they not only contribute to their own health problems in more ways than simply calories, but that the combination of fats and sugars and salt make them hit pleasure centers in our brains in a way that is genuinely addictive. There is a lot of scientific literature on the subject – it’s real.

Also your phrase “new age Gestapo” is incredibly offensive… as is your assertion that millennials are weak people. I just don’t understand why people who make such broad assertions even bother going to a blog where they may hear a conflicting opinion with such a closed mind. Maybe you should just write your own book and read it over and over again.

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34 Jeri June 4, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I went to BBW with the kids last night. I ate way too much and way too late. I haven’t eaten all day because I still feel full. I haven’t eaten like that since I met you. Even before I stopped eating fast food, I started to only order a hamburger, small fries and small drink. This has now gone over to Starbucks with me only ordering a short or a tall.

I’ve always wondered why did meals, plates, cup get so big? Moe doesn’t always mean better.

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