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Does the media control YOUR food education?

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Feb 24, 2013

dietfoodI have two employees who are now trained to travel with me on my never-ending lecture circuit. Shari is one of them. She’s my long-time friend and tennis coach, and she loves the energy at the GSG show.

On our recent trip to St. Louis, she was telling me a story about her roommate, whom I have heard sweet, hilarious stories about for years. Shari is always compassionate in the telling. Brittany is a developmentally delayed 26-year old, a college student for 8 years now, who is at least 100 pounds overweight.

One day Brittany, who has been on just one date in her life, said to Shari, “I am going to go on a diet. Because then boys will like me and ask me out.”

So Brittany comes home from the grocery store and excitedly shows Shari her “diet foods” as she unloads them. She crows as she removes each from the bag, to put it away:

  1. LOW FAT chocolate milk!
  2. Diet Mountain Dew!
  3. Low fat ice cream!
  4. Strawberry Oreo Cookies! (“It’s fruit!” Brittany exclaims.)
  5. Mini donuts! (“They aren’t the BIG ones, see?”)

The crazy thing about this story? Brittany actually lost some weight. The calories, at least, were lower than what she WAS eating previously.

The story is funny. It’s also horribly tragic.

helpAfter my initial jaw-drop, I was preoccupied with Brittany’s triumphant shopping trip story, because it reminded me how ill-educated most of us are about food. What kinds help us, what kinds hurt us. We get mixed up about what causes weight loss, versus what builds healthy cells. This is what happens when all our info comes from the mass media.

MARKETING and ADVERTISING have substituted in the modern age, for EDUCATION. For example, the “MILK: IT DOES A BODY GOOD!” slogan. Most Americans buy that hook, line, and sinker. I had a holistic doctor I think highly of tell me recently, “Sixty percent of pediatric problems would DISAPPEAR if we just got all the babies off dairy products.”

A dangerous new trend is that purveyors of trash foods are sitting around their boardrooms planning ads that sell the junk food’s “healthy benefits.” Even diet soda is touted as healthy, because it has a freshness date! A processed cereal, with white flour and white sugar as the main ingredients, has fiber and whole grains in it! A chewy roll of corn-syrup candy is touted as “servings of fruit.” Pork is “the other white meat.” Nestle Quik is a way to build your child’s bones.

Too many Americans view nutrition as relative. They’re golden because they eat LESS fast food than their neighbor.

(As if cancer and heart disease can’t possibly affect you, as long as  your co-worker eats more junk than you do. It isn’t relative. Not to your neighbors, anyway—it’s only relative to your own genetic weaknesses, stress factors, body burden, and environmental exposure.)

People are always telling me the sins they AREN’T committing. Do we congratulate ourselves that we don’t eat chips and fried foods–while we eat a ton of sugar? Do we pat ourselves on the back because we don’t eat soda–when we eat everything ELSE served at the Golden Arches?

tvfoodPeople will stand in line for an hour to tell me what their sister-in-law eats. Or their co-worker.

These are all mental accountability-avoiding shenanigans that do nothing to further our health. The only thing that matters is the food WE choose every day. The habits we develop. The recipes we shop for and make.

A handful of great habits that “stick” in your life? That’s your simple, inexpensive insurance against the damage of a lifetime of Strawberry Oreos and Diet Pepsi.

There’s something very wrong when our entire education about food comes from a television set.

Posted in: Food Industry, Standard American Diet

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