Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rambly soapbox thing ...

My listening pleasure is currently provided by MC Frontalot.

It was someone’s birthday yesterday, so I went with some co-workers to Generic Chain Restaurant, home of The Giant Platters of Fried Things Covered In Cheese and Ranch Dressing. Several of said co-workers are on the Adkins Diet (or variations thereof), and I’ve just got to say that the Adkins Diet is dumb. These people actually count the "net carbs" in their lettuce and cucumbers. Vegetables are good for you! Vegetables do not make you fat, you idiots. A diet that encourages you to go to the salad bar and load a plate with ham and boiled eggs while skimping on the lettuce, green peppers and tomatoes is just wrong.

But criticize the Adkins diet and all the people on it start squawking about how it works, it works, so-and-so lost X lbs on it! Well, I could consume nothing but beer for two weeks and I’d lose weight, but does that make it good for me? Could I keep it up, make it a "lifestyle" and keep the weight off? Will it make me healthy, or just a few pounds lighter? The rationale behind the Adkins diet is that the body, deprived of its preferred fuel--carbohydrates--will turn to fat instead ... presumably the fat already residing on your frame and not the fat in that bunless bacon cheesburger you’re eating. For some reason this idea is more appealing to people than the simple formula of eating fewer calories than you burn (and, optimally, getting off your ass and burning a few more calories than you did while you were busy putting the weight on).

Adkins has a brilliant hook, of course: it appeals to the kind of people who would really rather stay fat than give up bacon. And isn’t it more pleasant to think you got fat by following the wrong formula rather than because you just plain ate too much? All of the people I know on the Adkins diet are either the sort of folks who otherwise would have never considered a diet, period, or the kind of people who found that other diets just didn’t "work" for them--as if it’s the diet and not the dieter who needs to do the work and actually follow the diet. Like "A," a person I know who went on Weight Watchers, ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts a lot, and then complained that she’d gained weight. She’s on Adkins now (actually, she’s been on it for a while and has reached the stage where she’s started putting some of the weight back on.) Everyone I know on the Adkins diet is still fat, either because the few pounds they lost didn’t make much difference, or because they gained it back.

I think one of the reasons Adkins has become so popular is because "low-carb" is a great food marketing ploy. People appear to be more willing to pay for a "low-carb option" than to just choose smaller portion sizes or maybe eat salads that aren't covered in cheese and ranch dressing. It’s been noted by many people that Americans have big appetites for big plates of food and generally like to feel they're getting way more than their money’s worth at restaurants. Ask people what they think of a particular restaurant and the answer will often hinge on whether or not the place gives you "enough" food (meaning "way too much" food). So all the chains have found that the key to packing in the people is to give the people a lot to pack in. "Diet" and "low-fat" carry implications of deprivation that "low-carb" seems to evade, and people are apparently buying it.

Meanwhile, those of us looking for a sensibly-sized meal containing a little bit from all the food groups should just stay home. Restaurants usually offer salads of course, and some even feature a couple that aren’t covered in meat and cheese, but they’re often flavorless and semi-fresh because they’re intended to be smothered with a half-cup of ranch dressing. Nobody tastes the vegetables anyway. The Generic Chain we went to yesterday also had an "All You Can Eat" salad bar, featuring the same tasteless vegetables and lots of stuff made with tons of mayonnaise. Although that would seem to be the best option (provided one skips the mayonnaisy stuff and actually stops eating before reaching the "All You Can Eat" threshold), I always think about how many people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet and then go pick up the shared salad bar utensils ...

Anyway, so I had a chicken quesadilla. It wasn’t huge. There were a few vegetables involved: lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo and jalapeños.

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