It’s important to give people accurate information about food, and it’s important to communicate that information in an effective and convincing way. Unfortunately, this infographic, put out by the food psychology department at Cornell, is to food psychology what John Wayne Gacy was to party clowns.
What must have initially seemed like a good idea has turned into a full body shudder of an infographic. Why not ask naturally slim people, the kind of people who never gain weight but also don’t diet, what they eat to stay so
lovely healthy? Taking that information into account will be a great help to those who struggle with their weight enough to have to — shudder — diet. The team of psychologists set up a registry at the hacked (and thus temporarily out of service) slimbydesignregistry.org.
The team asked that the respondents have no history of weight counseling, no major weight fluctuations, and have a healthy weight. What exactly is a healthy weight? The graphic assures us that the average BMI of the respondents is 21.7, which is right smack in the middle of the normal range.
A word about BMI. While the CDC and most health surveys use BMI as a reflection of health, even the CDC admits that this is because BMI is cheap, easy, and accessible, rather than strictly accurate. It’s true that “individuals with a higher BMI are more likely to experience obesity-related health problems.” On the other hand, one study showed that BMI misclassifies large groups of people, depending on their age, race, sex. And, as we’ve seen by the high BMI of various famous athletes, the index doesn’t account for muscle mass.
That being said, I’m perfectly willing to believe that the people who participated in the study are as slim and healthy as they say they are. The main problem is what they say versus what’s up on the chart.
The first indication that this graphic is not going to play straight with you comes when they get to the question of what they eat for breakfast. We are told that 46% of the people ate fruit at breakfast, and 31% of people ate eggs. Even assuming no one ate fruit and eggs in the same sitting, that leaves a lot of people out.
We get a look at what the omitted data might have shown because of a study that had the misfortune of accompanying this infographic. Taken from information gathered at the same site, using roughly the same perpetually slim people, “The Breakfast Preferences of Healthy Weight People” is kind enough to let us know about the 41% of people who ate dairy, the 33% of people who ate granola or cold cereal, the 32% of people who ate bread, and the 29% of people who ate hot cereal. In other words, these people regularly eat every kind of breakfast food (except bacon and sausage), just like everyone else in the world.
Of course none of that is going in the infographic because this graphic gives way too much of an intensely fibrous and protein-rich shit about your health to admit that anyone eats carbs anymore. The press release quotes the author of the study as saying, “One important take away from this study is that a very high rate of slim people actually eat breakfast instead of skipping, which is consistent with previous research on the importance of breakfast.” You’ll recognise this information as being nowhere on the infographic.
Snacks, as we see here, are also suspiciously underrepresented. Do only 59% of people have a favourite snack food? Or are the remaining 41% of respondents owning up to liking potato chips and M&Ms, and therefore remaining undisclosed? Ours is not to reason why.
Ours is only not to diet. Because 47% of these people don’t diet, and 25% rarely diet. This is a very trendy view. These days one is not to restrict one’s calories with an eye to losing weight. One is to reform one’s everyday eating habits and then avert one’s eyes as one floats as delicately as a dandelion seed to one’s healthy, natural, target weight.
And this is the problem. Many people scanning this graphic will recognise that these are their eating habits, and yet somehow they haven’t become the naturally-slim gazelle that these fruit and nut and egg (and bread and cereal and granola and dairy) eating people manage to be. While there is no denying that what people eat does affect their weight, and there’s no denying that eating fruit as a snack and a breakfast food is a fine, healthy, way of life, there’s also no denying that sometimes people get genetically screwed.
One paper, which looked at number of studies on the inter-relatedness of genetics and obesity, found that while there are a number of individual genes that influence one’s propensity to obesity in tiny ways, when all the relevant genes act in concert — as genes are wont to do — they can end up having a much more significant effect. As the authors conclude, “Although individually these markers have modest predictive value, typically conferring a relative risk of 1.2 — 1.5, they might be much more informative when used in combination.”
And slimming down isn’t always the answer. The paper goes on to note, “A large Scandinavian epidemiological study showed that overweight subjects with no associated co-morbidities (i.e., with no metabolic syndrome) who intended to lose weight, and succeeded in doing so, died earlier than those who maintained or increased their weight.”
Which is why the obnoxious personal quotes section of the info graphic — presumably meant to humanize these people responding and make us want to join them in their healthy ways — might as well be designed to get anyone to dive face first into a cheese burger (but only after removing the lettuce and tomatoes).
“Quality over quantity.” Why choose?
“It’s easier to resist food at the store than at home.” It’s easier to stare at a blank wall than go out, but that doesn’t make for a good life, now, does it?
“I train to be strong; I eat to be lean.” No mention at all of being happy, I see.
And then there’s my favourite:
“‘I really regret eating healthy today’-said no one ever.”
Listen up, you poisonous little goblin. We are all going to die, but only some of us are going to be lucky enough to die having subsisted on anything other than our own sulphur-scented self-satisfaction. Reform yourself.
Here’s the full infographic for you to peruse: