“No food is bad for you,” Lorraine repeated over and over again. No food is bad for me? How can that be right? “Besides diet soda, every single food you put in your body has some sort of nutritional significance.” But what about candy? Chips? Pizza?
As my nutritional therapist, it was Lorraine’s job to teach me about fueling my body properly. I was an athlete, and it was my responsibility to start taking care of my mind and my body—both for myself and my teammates. Ever since I was little, I can remember my parents, my coaches, my friends, and especially the media telling me how to eat healthy. But what does “healthy” even mean?
In the past decade, it has become obvious that maintaining good health has become a focus in America. With our obesity problem, the media and even the government have become attentive to our demand for a new culture that promotes fruits and vegetables over burgers and fries. When President Obama first came to office, First Lady Michelle Obama began a movement focusing on healthy eating, inspiring Americans to eat healthier, more nutritious meals and setting a practical standard for the typical American family. New menu items at restaurants and new gyms have been popping up all over the place, giving everyone opportunities to improve their health and self-esteem. The fitness industry has blossomed in the past ten years, and even the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the number of jobs within this field is expected to increase by twenty-three percent over the next ten years (“Fitness”). The “health-crazed” culture in America seems to be focused on promoting healthy living, giving Americans realistic and practical ways to improve health each day.
But on New Year’s Eve, when you’re listening to everyone’s New Year’s resolutions, how many people say they want to improve their health? In a study done by The University of Scranton in 2014, the number one New Years resolution this year was to lose weight—not to improve health (“New Years Resolution Statistics”). In the media, there are countless articles titled “Your Fastest Way to Lose Weight” and “How to Lose 15 Pounds Fast,” encouraging the American ideal of being thin. American women, in this “health-obsessed culture,” may seem as though they are trying to achieve physical and mental fitness; however, in reality, they are constantly persuaded by the media and the dieting industry to be thin—no matter what the cost is.
Over the past five years, everywhere I have looked, there have been people, magazines, and the media promoting weight loss. I can vividly remember hearing girls saying things like, “Wow you look so great! Have you lost weight?” or shaming those who gained the dreaded “freshman fifteen” in their first years of college. In grocery stores, magazines line the walls with pictures of celebrities in their bikinis, either praising their spring and summer diets or degrading them for not shedding their baby weight fast enough. Even when I’m driving in my car, countless commercials for diet pills and diet plans, encouraging women to lose weight, disregard all health in order to attract their consumers—people desperate to achieve the perfect body. In a survey of twenty-three female Santa Clara University students, I found that seventeen have restricted their diets to lose weight. Restricting food intake is not healthy at all, and shouldn’t young women be taking care of themselves and eating what they want in moderation?
Women have distorted views of nutrition and “healthy eating” due to the pressure that they feel to be thin. There was a time when “low-fat” and “fat-free” were dieters’ mantras; however, doctors and dietitions have begun to stress that fats are good for our bodies. Although many believe that cutting out the fats in their diets will help them lose weight, fats are essential for our health. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and coldwater fish, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, rheumatoid problems, and certain skin ailments (WebMD). Omega-6 fatty acids, found in foods such as eggs, vegetable oils, and margarine, also support skin health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood “sticky” so it is able to clot (WebMD).
In a world where the USDA has monopolized the food industry, we have been fed false information about nutrition. Many do not know what they are actually putting into their bodies—they simply eat things because they think it will assist them in shedding weight. Our nation gets its federally endorsed nutritional information from the USDA, an agency that must support the food industry (Foer 146). Because the USDA has a monopoly on the food regulation industry, each nutritional box on the packaging of almost everything we eat could be completely false information.
Skewed serving sizes and phrases such as “made with whole grain” and “all natural” mislead American women into thinking that what they are consuming will help them lose weight. “Made with whole grain” and “all natural” have been the two most common claims on food products in the past five years, and Americans have fed into the new trends, buying anything and everything labeled in this fashion. Products such as Hunt’s tomato sauce and “All Natural” Snapple Tea contain citric acid and high-fructose corn syrup as additives, clearly showing that they are not made of natural products. The USDA does not regulate this phrase, and they have let manufacturers that incorrectly use this claim remain in the industry. Although the USDA suggests that half of our daily grains should be whole, many products that advertize “made with whole grain” on their packaging are often deceptive, using dark brown coloring and illusory language to fool consumers (“Whole Grain Resource”). Unfortunately, most of the food items we think are “whole grain” are actually made with refined wheat flour as their main ingredient because the USDA does not require brands to disclose the ratio of whole grains to refined grains (Center for Science in the Public Interest).
We have allowed the USDA to be directly in charge of our ideas of nutrition and package labeling, and without even realizing it “we are constantly lied to about nutrition” (Foer 145). This idea of nutrition that American women seem to care so much about is completely misleading. The fact that the USDA has been feeding women false information shows that they are not concerned with people leading healthy lifestyles; they are only concerned with increasing their profits.
Diets such as Atkins and “The Grapefruit Diet,” promote rapid and often-temporary weight loss, which is extremely unhealthy. The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that claims that dieters can lose weight by eliminating sugar and carbohydrates from their diets. Although its simplicity makes it an easy diet to adhere to, it is hard to maintain due to all of the “forbidden foods.” The Atkins Diet is a very well-advertized diet, and convinces consumers that restricting certain foods will help them lose weight faster. Eliminating entire food groups from diets can be extremely unhealthy, and bodies will begin to go into starvation mode if they are not receiving the correct amount of vital nutrients to function. This means that instead of using fat to burn energy, bodies begin to use lean tissue or muscle to provide it with the energy it needs. When muscle is used up, metabolism slows down as well. Ultimately, muscle burns a lot more calories than fat so when we lose muscle, our metabolic rate drops and we burn fewer calories (Kellow).
On the other hand, “The Grapefruit Diet” is one of the most popular word-of-mouth weight loss plans. People claim that the grapefruit has a fat-burning enzyme, and the plan suggests that the fruit should be eaten at each meal. However, any diet that restricts dieters to only eating certain foods is likely to eliminate vital nutrients. This can also force bodies into starvation mode, where lean tissue and muscle are used in place of fat stores. This also lowers metabolic rate due to the loss of muscle mass (Kellow).
Americans buy into these fad diets, spending $40 billion dollars a year on weight-loss programs and products (CNN Health). When it comes to Atkins, “The Grapefruit Diet”, and other trendy diets, they’re simply not designed to give you permanent results. They are also very expensive, requiring you to purchase branded products or buy an endless supply of overpriced books with huge fonts and flashy graphics serving as page-filler. We buy books and magazines that educate us on how to lose weight fast because in reality, that is all we are supposed to care about. In the end, these products offer us no benefits—we simply waste our money on pounds that are quickly lost and regained.
This current obsession with an ideal body shape may have escalated in the past thirty years but the body-shaping, dieting, and fear of fat have all had a long history in our country. It has swung like a pendulum from the 16th century, when women squeezed themselves into corsets that restricted movement, to the 18th century, when women were free in flimsy, empire-line shifts (Foxcroft). In the 19th century, women were trussed up again into that period’s desirably flourishing shape, all bustles and breasts (Foxcroft). “Acceptable” body shapes change as societies change, and the food and dieting industries have now taken advantage of this to make as much profit as possible.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Food Labeling Chaos.” Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/food_labeling_chaos_report.pdf>.
“Fitness.” Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm>.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Foxcroft, Louise. “The Dieting Industry Has Exploited Our Health Fears for Centuries: Here’s How.” The Guardian. 11 May 2015. Web.
“Going To Extremes: Eating Disorders.” CNN Health. N.p., n.d. Web.
“‘Healthy’ Diet Mistakes: Fat Free, Cutting Carbs, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web.
Kellow, Juliette. “Dieting And Metabolism.” Web. 17 Oct. 2014.<http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/calories/burning_calories/starvation.htm>.
Md, Reed A Berger. Fad Diets and Food Trends (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
“New Years Resolution Statistics.” Statistic Brain. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.<http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/>.
“Whole Grain Resource”” United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/WholeGrainResource.pdf>.