Weekend Cooking: The Weight of the Nation

Weekend Cooking meme graphicWe don’t have cable so I’m not watching the HBO documentary series The Weight of the Nation, but it keeps popping up in my feed reader. Marion Nestle gave the best overview I saw with links to other good sources: Pondering the Weight of the Nation. I liked this bit from her review:

The programs ought to convince anyone that obesity is a big problem and that something big needs to be done to prevent it.

But doing something big, the series makes clear, will be very difficult.

This may be realistic, but it is not inspiring.

We need inspiration.   That’s why I wish the programs had focused as much on social responsibility as they did on personal responsibility.

There’s not much amusing about this situation, but I had to laugh at the juxtaposition of two responses to The Weight of the Nation that have a similar tone, but totally opposite solutions.

Gary Taubes, writing for Newsweek and published in The Daily Beast, wrote Why the Campaign to Stop America’s Obesity Crisis Keeps Failing. He believes that the series missed the point by focusing on energy balance rather than the dangers of refined sugars and carbohydrates.

As for those of us who are overweight, experimental trials, the gold standard of medical evidence, suggest that diets that are severely restricted in fattening carbohydrates and rich in animal products—meat, eggs, cheese—and green leafy vegetables are arguably the best approach, if not the healthiest diet to eat. Not only does weight go down when people eat like this, but heart disease and diabetes risk factors are reduced. Ethical arguments against meat-eating are always valid; health arguments against it can no longer be defended.

The Healthy Librarian advocated, just as strongly, a no-meat approach: It’s a Numbers Game! What HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation” Missed – Eat More, Weigh Less on a Plant-Based Diet. Here’s how she thinks we should eat:

It’s a lot easier to lose weight, get healthy, AND FEEL FULL, if you switch to a diet that’s PLANT-BASED, NUTRIENT-DENSE WITH NO-ADDED-OILS and MINIMAL USE OF HIGH-CALORIE NUTS & SWEETENERS!

It’s the ONLY way you can eat a boat-load of food, fill your tummy, be satiated, get healthy, and STILL LOSE WEIGHT.

No calories to count.

It’s that simple!

Heh. This is why I don’t tell anyone else how to eat.

thumbnail of Weight of the Nation Infographic

Thumbnail of The Weight of the Nation infographic from Food+Tech. Click for the full picture.

I remained an omnivore through my 70+ pound weight loss. Even though Gary Taubes and the Healthy Librarian seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum, I have managed to incorporate bits from each camp. I eat a lot more vegetables and a lot fewer carbohydrates than I ever imagined I would.

I routinely eat six cups or more of vegetables, often in the form of two giant salads. I can attest to what she’s saying about volume of food. I was used to overeating. I think it would have been difficult to stick to the program if I hadn’t continued eating a tummy-filling amount of food.

A number of books I read quoted studies that showed the satiety value of protein. I briefly tried the diet in The Complete Beck Diet for Life by Judith Beck, which isn’t as low-carb as South Beach or Atkins, but lower than anything I thought I’d ever try. Even though I didn’t stay with that plan very long, it convinced me to make two changes.

  1. I rarely have a snack or meal without some protein.
  2. At least once a day, I have a snack or meal without a starch.

At restaurants, I often order like someone on Atkins or South Beach since whole grains aren’t usually an option anyway. A salad topped with a piece of meat works well for me. I used to believe that wouldn’t satisfy — maybe that was true when my relationship to carbs was akin to an addiction. An occasional carb-free meal is plenty satisfying now. And, my scale responds well to that choice.

So, Weekend Cooking readers, where do you land on the spectrum from no-carb to no-meat? Are you watching The Weight of the Nation? What do you think?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Check her post for links to other food and cooking discussions.
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About Joy Weese Moll

a librarian writing about books
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11 Responses to Weekend Cooking: The Weight of the Nation

  1. Beth F says:

    I get HBO and forgot about the Weight of the Nation — I’ll have to check out OnDemand and see if I can catch up. I don’t believe in any food plan that says “you can never eat [fill in the blank]” — so I think moderation is the key. And despite *what* you’re eating, one must never lose track of the fact that calories in must be lower than calories out if you want to drop pounds.

  2. Jennifer says:

    You can watch the docu for free at hbo.com or on YouTube. My boss at Washington University is in it!

  3. JoAnn says:

    I don’t have HBO, but am hoping the series becomes available on Netflix at some point.

  4. Cecelia says:

    I haven’t seen this series, but I did recently watch Forks over Knives, and it sounds like the results are the same – eat more plant-based foods! Something I should take to heart…

  5. Carole says:

    I have a view that much of what is done in the so-called war on obesity is completely misguided. I would rather governments focused on teaching children how important it is to eat healthily and be a healthy weight. I do think prevention is much better than the cure, here.

    And for those of us carrying a little too much weight, there needs to be understanding that the reality is that without something drastic like surgery (or full time weight loss like on the Biggest Loser) the best outcome is probably losing 20-30 lbs and still being a bit porky.

  6. I’ll have to check it out, thanks for the heads up! I’m with you though, a little from each side. I have definitely incorporated a lot more vegetables into our diet, less meat, more fish and way more exercise.

  7. Libby says:

    I have only had to go on a diet once – after the birth of the fifth baby. I looked at myself in the mirror one day in a store changing room. I looked kind of lumpy around the thighs! I was horrified, because I had always been really thin.

    Anyway, I had read this article in Woman’s World…you envision an X on your dinner plate that is dividing it into fourths. Two of those fourths have to be filled with fruits and/or veg. One fourth is starch, and the last protein. You get three meals a day like that. No snacks. Plus, I did aerobics and lifted weights.

    It really worked. I got down to 129 lbs, which is thin because I am 5’9″. So, now that baby is 13 yo, and I weigh about 142, which I am fine with. I’m almost 50 and I don’t want to knock myself out any more, you know? So, I just eat ‘whatever.’ But, I know that if I ever look in the mirror again and panic, I can go back to that X-plate diet!

  8. Fay says:

    Joy, for over a year now I have been baking all of our bread, and the result is that we eat more bread than we used to. Good bread, but it has its down side too: all those carbs. We need to cut down. I love baking, unfortunately. Maybe it is time to find a new love. Sensational salads.

  9. Margot says:

    I like how you wrote this post Joy. You stated both sides of the issue without favoring either one and then you gave us suggestions on how you, personally, are dealing with food. Very interesting. Congrats on your 70+ pound loss.

  10. Pingback: Book Review: The Hundred Year Diet by Susan Yager | Joy's Book Blog

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