America Fattens on Snake Oil

This is a piece I wrote that was in the Sun. LA Daily News…

I like to think of myself as someone who acknowledges trends but is not ruled by them. For example, I know the 1980’s are back in fashion, but I didn’t tease my bangs the first time around, so it’s even less likely to happen now. And yes, pegged pants make your (and my) butt look big.

Speaking of which, if you’re reading this and are American there is a greater than 65% chance that your butt is actually big. The obesity epidemic is saturated with duplicity. Fat people lie about how much they eat, diet gurus ‘fudge’ the facts about how much people can actually lose and food makers spin and bend the truth about their products All the while Americans have themselves become the elephants in their own living rooms.
“I’m not supposed to deny myself.”

“Lose 10-pounds in a week!”

“Eat all you want and lose weight.”

“I’m big boned.”

“Healthy menu options.”

“Low-Carb.” “Low-Fat”

“Burn more calories.”

“All-Natural” “Healthy”

“I don’t eat that much.”

“All the stars in Hollywood are doing it.”

This health crisis is lies agreed upon. As much as I would like to blame the food industry for their sexy commercials about cuisine that one should rarely if never eat, the ‘forbidden fruit’ which has never seen a tree, it’s not all their fault. As much as I would like to blame the individuals for being junkie hedonists hell-bent on feel good food consumed with reckless abandoned, it’s not all their fault. As much as I would like to paint all those diet hysteria gurus as snake oil salesmen cult leaders preaching the tenets of grapefruit this week and Grape Nuts the next – it’s not all their fault.

It’s ALL of their faults.

A case in point is the recent call to phase out trans fat usage in Los Angeles restaurants. It sounds like a radical change. Anything that requires a decal must be accomplishing something. It sounds good enough. “All food will be fried without using trans fats!” Uh, yeah, but all your food will still be, well – fried. Remember, Kraft took the trans fat out of Oreos in 2003. It didn’t magically make them into carrot sticks. They’re still a high calorie – high sugar sandwich cookie. They’re still Oreos.

So we are still in this haze of misnomers, denial and omissions. We’re still fat. The battle against trans fat is like a trendy diet calling for little sacrifice and yielding little results. It’s like plucking your eyebrows in hopes that you won’t need to get your teeth straightened. Will it make people consume less trans fat? Sure. Will it make people less fat? I won’t hold my breath (unless that’s the next miracle in weight loss – then I may consider it).

Not that I like the idea of the government, local or national, banning things. But for a real radical change in the general public’s waistline, would be a ban on high-fructose corn syrup. Since its introduction into the American food supply in 1980, we have gotten fatter and fatter. It’s called ‘natural’ because it presumably started out as corn. The same argument can be made for heroin, “It can’t be bad for you, it’s just poppies. Think of this smack as a lump of concentrated flowers.” Nutritionists generally agree that the HFCS is bad news for weight control. Take that out of Oreos and then I’ll be impressed.

In this sea of dishonesty, I tend to believe the least popular answer has a higher probability of truth. The truth: being thin is hard work. On a daily basis you have to burn more than you consume. When there’s a choice, it’s more engaging to do less and eat more. The truth: the food industry is successful if consumers are consuming and they have been VERY successful. Making products you want to eat more of is just a good business model. The truth: reasonable and sound advice about eating doesn’t start the newest diet hysteria and that doesn’t sell any snake oil.

And the truth is also this: people don’t want to hear sound advice. We’ve been told it. We just don’t listen. We want to hear that if you hold your breath, you’ll burn twice as many calories than if you breathe normally. It’s the latest trend in weight loss…all the stars are doing it.

5 Comments America Fattens on Snake Oil

  1. Miss Bliss

    OH MAH LORD!! I have been ranting about HFCS for ages now! THANK YOU for pointing out what should be obvious. Not only is HFCS bad for us but it’s given the corn industry so much power that the sugar industry has all but disappeared comparatively speaking. The number of products that have HFCS in them is absolutely appalling and it’s become a real shopping challenge to reduce your intake of it. I’m with you on this one Tina!

  2. August

    I’ve been researching this for a while, because it’s very common for people to demonize HFCS and blame an assortment of societal woes on the sweetener. But the fact is that no scientific study whatsoever suggests that HFCS is any worse (or better) for you than plain old sugar. The main problem here is the use of sweeteners in general. If food manufacturers switched all the HFCS in the world with plain sugar, you’d have the exact same problems. Moderation is keep, imo.

  3. Rob Anderson

    #2 – That’s not true. HFCS is MUCH worse than standard, processed cane sugar. The “fructose” is ginned up so that it contains more sugar, and HFCS is a non-complex carbohydrate. So ingesting HFCS is a double-shot of what’s bad for you.

  4. Slow Joe

    “It can’t be bad for you, it’s just poppies. Think of this smack as a lump of concentrated flowers.”

    I literally LOL’d at this. Great essay!

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