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Fast Food Follies

How your 'Colossal' burger can contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

by Dear Jon
April 4, 2005

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Fast Food Follies

ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Is eating Carl Jr.'s colossal 1400 calorie burger wrong if that is the only meal you eat all day?

Eater

 
Dear Eater, 
 
There are a lot of ways to define "wrong." I am of the opinion that most things which are "wrong" are no business at all of the federal government or any other regulatory body. If Carl Jr.’s thinks it can turn a profit from this product, it should not be prevented from doing so by regulation, nor punished for doing so by frivolous lawsuits filed by those who are as greedy as they are gluttunous. 
 
In other words, I categorically and without exception oppose any kind of "War on Obesity" that entails either criminal or civil punishment against fast food corporations, their franchises and the entrepreneurs that run them. If you want to eat a Carl Jr’s Colossal, you go on ahead. Be responsible for yourself and take responsibility for your actions. I just want to get that sermon out of the way because everything else I say might be used as ammunition against the fast food industry. 
 
There is a lot that is wrong in your question. Eating 1400 calories a day is still under the threshold of the vast majority of people for healthy weight maintenance. But even if you were to complete the meal with some vegetables and fruit, as in a salad, and maybe some yogurt, to eat just once a day is also wrong.
 
A healthy metabolism is maintained by eating smaller portions frequently. Having something light about once every three hours is just about ideal, with just one meal a day as the traditional "square meal" variety. But for the vast majority of people eating at only one time in a day is not conducive to a healthy metabolism. 
 
Our culture got screwed up about food when folks moved from the farm to the city. This is what happened: Until the 1920’s, people lived on farms and performed hard physical labor for many hours every day. To sustain this activity, they were served lots of proteins and starches at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or breakfast, dinner, and supper in some areas of the Midwest where correct English is used). They also took snack breaks in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon. They might have even ended the day with a snack before bed. Midwestern farm women were the greatest cooks in the world, because they cooked with shortening, fats, and oils, and baked all their cookies, cakes and pies from scratch –exactly what city-slickers head into "Amish country" to experience these days.
 
Then in the 1930’s there was a triple body-blow to the family farm: the economic depression closed banks and made credit harder to get, drought struck the southern plains, and, farms were increasingly industrialized with heavy machinery. The great migration from rural areas to urban centers forever changed the American way of life. Yet, whether on the farm or in the city in the 1930’s, many people really did not know if they would be able to eat the next day or the next week, so, if you could get food, you ate it, and you were grateful.
 
Today we have obese children sucking processed sugar through cardboard "juice" boxes as they head to Carl Jr’s. after school for a 1400 calorie hamburger until Mom can get back and throw the breaded chicken strips in the oven with the frozen fries. Obesity is a childhood epidemic because we do not work at physical labor as our great-grandparents worked, nor do our kids have anything like the chores that our grandparents had to perform. But we continue to think of food the way our great-grandparents thought of it, as something that needs to be eaten in great quantities. While they ate a lot to get them through arduous days and possibly long winters, we eat a lot because…because…because our parents ate a lot because THEIR parents ate a lot because THEIR parents had grown up on a farm. 
 
There are a lot of myths that survive long after the generations that farmed the Midwest between the Civil War and the Great Depression.
 
1. "Clean your plate", meaning, eat everything that your Mom piled on top of it. Why, exactly? Because after lifting hay bales all afternoon you are going to be awfully sorry you hadn’t eaten everything you could. But today we tell kids to eat beyond their fullness – why? Because we had to because our parents had to? I am a small-framed man with a slow metabolism. I was a picky eater (which in Nebraska is about one degree above "Comm’nist" and two degrees above "vegetarian" on the "shoot first ask questions later" list). I was picky because I did not need a lot of food. That meant I was careful in choosing what I was going to eat. The logic that I must finish my egg noodles before I eat my dessert still makes absolutely no sense to me. What did happen, however, was that I was conditioned to eat beyond my need, which I could get away with as a teenager, but as an adult my weight ballooned. Only in the past year have I rediscovered just how little my body needs in order to maintain my appropriate body mass index. So if I serve my kid some sweet potatos, and my kid won’t finish them, there will be no argument from me. 
 
2. "What about the starving children in China? (Ethiopia? Somalia? North Korea?)" I have already treated the logic of this myth in an earlier sort—pointing out that there is no logic to it. Your parents who have raised this guilt-inducing measure for you, do NOT want to get into the issues of justice, free and fair trade, the distribution infrastructure, the foundations of tyranny and the complexity of international relations. 
 
3. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day." Whatever. That depends on your metabolism. On a farm you might still need the steak and eggs. But do you need steak and eggs at Denny’s while meeting a client for breakfast before you go back to your cubicle? Get real. I know of at least one diet plan which, if subpoenaed, I would be able to produce with appropriate references but right now I don’t have the time to look it up, which holds that in a sedentary lifestyle it is not a good idea to eat much more than fruit in the morning. POST® now advertises a weight-loss program in which a bowl of certain of its cereals for each of two out of three meals can help you slim down ten pounds. 
 
4. "If you don’t want it, that’s all the more for us." This is a good trick of reverse psychology when the hay-baling gang is sitting down to lunch at noon and one of the guys has his nose in the air about what is being served. It makes no sense at all when you have over-portioned your child’s plate and everyone else’s, as though your body is going to need the extra creamed chipped beef your child doesn’t want.
 
5. "If you don’t eat this I don’t want you whining to me later that you’re hungry." Um, why not? Ideally the body should take in light quantitites of food about every three hours. If your child is full now and hungry later, why condition the child to ignore the rhythms of the body? Has it occurred to you that ignoring the rhythms of the body might be why so many Americans and their children are fat, or possessed by other eating disorders, including anorexia?
 
So, the right way to eat the Carl Jr.’s 1400 calorie burger is to cut it into quarters and eat one-fourth of it (bun included!) every three hours, along with fruit, vegetables, and lots of water.

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S.E. Shepherd from The Partial Observer writes:
April 6, 2005
In regards to #3, Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, there is some truth to that axiom. Studies have found that people who made breakfast the largest meal of the day tended to lose weight, people who made lunch the largest meal maintained their weight, while people who made dinner (or supper) the largest meal tended to gain weight.

It stands to reason that breakfast, being the first meal of the day, whenever that day begins, should be our largest meal. It is (usually) the longest stretch between meals, from dinner to breakfast, and when your body needs its most calories. And most people lose productivity on an empty stomach, which is why breakfast is so important - you're literally breaking the fast.

That being said, if as you pointed out, breakfast is steak and eggs with a side of hash browns and a large coffee with cream and sugar, break time snack is a couple doughnuts, lunch is a burger and fries with a shake - and your main way of burning calories at your job is clicking a mouse and punching a stapler - then maybe you need to cut down a bit.

Mike Thomson from Paeonian Springs, VA writes:
April 6, 2005
This is one of the better food and nutrition columns I've read. It makes perfect sense to me - I wish I had the internal discipline to live by it.

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