The next time you eat something sweet, fatty, or high-calorie...

I saw a sign at Panera that say, "Only [xxx] calories for the entire meal."

What an odd phrasing, I thought. I wrote it down.

I recently saw the exact same formulation in another food ad recently. Don't remember where.

It's how we normally talk about money, e.g. "Only $4 for the entire meal." The "for" indicates an exchange, that you must give up something in order to get and eat the food. And that's why it's weird.

You lose money when you buy something to eat. But do you lose calories when you eat it? Of course not. You get calories when you eat something. Calories are not the cost of eating; calories are the core benefit of eating. The calories are what you're paying for.

There were a couple times at college where I was concerned about money. That was a new thing for middle-class white USian, mostly-supported-by-her-parents me. And a revelatory experience for my relationship with food.

I remember walking through the grocery store, laughing at the 100-calorie packs — no thanks, I'd prefer a snack that doesn't leave my stomach growling — and declining to go to the gym, because spare calories are a luxury, and calories are a gift with enjoy a few more hours of life! written on them, and because calories are awesome and I'm grateful for them.

I would like to do an inventory of a supermarket. Measure the cost/calorie of each item, and then compare the marketing across different cost/calorie levels.

Those of us with the means to be well-fed act as though "post-calories" comes along with "post-industrial." But calories are energy. We'll never be post-calories. Not even the diet industry's best successes at creating anti-fat panic can change that. Humans need a given amount of calories, no matter how fat they are or how passionately they would like to be thinner. A low-calorie lunch means you'll need a higher-calorie snack or dinner, and exercising doesn't mean you "get" more calories to "spend" later; it means you need more calories.

The next time someone or something tries to shame you for eating something sweet or fatty or higher-calorie,  let yourself be puzzled, because it is puzzling.

The human body knows how to find find equilibrium over the course of a few meals or a few days, so that you get just the right amount of calories for you. Do they not understand that? Or do they think that shame can lower a human's basal metabolic rate?

The next time you eat something sweet and fatty, remember why it tastes so delicious. It tastes delicious because it is the assurance that you will continue getting to be alive. And that is something for your body to be happy about.


sui 1/27/2012 2:27 PM  


Yay for energy!

I don't look at food labels anymore, but the more energy I can get into my body (within my own body's natural wisdom's reason, of course), the better.

As I've written before, I don't understand the point of choosing 100 calories of bland cookies or x amount of calories of something actually delicious (mmm, AVOCADO! miss those Californian things).

spider 1/27/2012 3:14 PM  

This was actually really helpful right now. Thank you.

Q 1/27/2012 4:55 PM  

I am continually amazed by how well my body deals with food. I LOVE food. Sometimes, though, I worry that my housemates––some of whom subsist on pizza, pasta with cream sauce, and Lucky Charms––should be eating more nutrient-dense foods along with the simple carbs. But it's none of my business, really. I've taught myself to love eating things that are healthier for my body (I've been eating salad bar beets and raw carrots a lot recently, for instance, and I actually like brown rice and whole wheat pasta better than white now).

One of my favorite things about my house is that if you ask anyone, "Should I get ice cream?" after dinner, everyone in earshot will say, "Yes. Yes you should." It's difficult for me to articulate why I like this, but I do.

Holly 1/27/2012 6:56 PM  

sui - Body's wisdom, always. (If it makes you feel any better, the winter avocados here are a bit funny anyway!)

spider - Indeed? I'm glad, and you're welcome.

Q - Yeah, and it's funny how much easier it is to actually like those more nutrient-dense (I like that phrase) foods once separate "bad" foods from guilt and shame. Once you really have the option of not eating them, I guess.

I like that a lot too...thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth 1/27/2012 9:58 PM  

I've always felt that at fast food places at least, they should charge by the calorie (IE, some of their insane milkshakes would cost more than 10$). obviously this isn't practical for supermarkets, because 12$ a day is sometimes pricey to spend of food per person. but fast food is so unhealthy, I think they should encourage people to eat things that are under 5$, and yet, not 1400 calories...

Noël De Vries 1/28/2012 6:17 AM  

re: bland calories vs delicious calories, it makes me think of writing, when you use a ten cent word, instead of digging a bit and coming up with a $1.00 word. the cheap word just takes up space, next to more cheap words just taking up space. but choose a sumptuously concise $1.00 word, and it fulfills. so it's like, a blank page, with the potential to be filled, or fulfilled.

Holly 1/28/2012 6:01 PM  

Elizabeth - There is a very definite economic factor to the kind of food that a dollar buys, so true -- and health is hardly equally accessible to people with fewer dollars...

Noel - Ooh. I like that analogy alotta lot.

R. 1/28/2012 7:18 PM  

A link to this post appeared on my Twitter feed directly after two different women's tweets about eating "light". Thank you for reminding me that I'm not being weird or unladylike for not giving a crap about calories, kilojoules and portion control.


Holly 1/28/2012 7:22 PM  

R. - Nuhuh. You're being f*ckin' SMART, because those things do not NEED to have craps given about them.

Noël De Vries 1/29/2012 10:41 AM  

on the same topic, my thoughts ran to Christopher Morley's Haunted Bookshop: makes me sad to see what tosh is handed out to that eager, expectant audience, most of the time. There they all are, ready to be thrilled, eager to be worked upon, deliberately putting themselves into that glorious, rare, receptive mood when they are clay in the artist's hand—and Lord! what miserable substitutes for joy and sorrow are put over on them! Day after day I see people streaming into theatres and movies, and I know that more than half the time they are on a blind quest, thinking they are satisfied when in truth they are fed on paltry husks. And the sad part about it is that if you let yourself think you are satisfied with husks, you'll have no appetite left for the real grain.

Holly 1/30/2012 2:11 PM  

Noel - My parents seem often to see C.S. Lewis's "gluttony of delicacy" in situations like these -- but I side more with you, wanting what fully satisfies is not a matter of disordered attention/appetite.

1/31/2012 4:39 PM  

I'm getting very tired of it being assumed that women only eat to lose weight.

Holly 1/31/2012 5:40 PM  

Fé - I have seen so many variations of that phrase on cheap checkout amgazines - eat to lose weight, eat for weight loss, lose weight by eating...Naomi Wolf talks about how subordinated people have always been given less access to resources, including food -- we still continue to excuse and be ashamed of our needs.

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