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Calories: America's Obsessed Society

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10.26.11
They are everywhere.
On the sides of cereal boxes and granola bars and on tubs of sour cream and peanut butter and jelly and icing and batter mixes and juice and soda and pretzels and sweeteners and protein.
They are plastered all over magazines: how many you should have, how guilty you should feel when you have too many, how many celebrities take in and how many they burn off.
They are used as advertisements to get people like you and me to buy certain food brands: only 100 in this brand! Only 50 in this brand! Only 20 in this brand! It’s diet, absolutely zero in this brand! Come and get ‘em!
They are calories.
Calories, though they’re not portrayed this way in the media, are actually good and important and a bare necessity. They are defined as the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules. In simple terms, calories are what give us energy. And energy gives us vitality and life. It keeps our skin glowing and healthy, our hair growing and our teeth and bones strong and sturdy, so we can do all the things we love to do. We are, in fact, lucky to have calories because they keep us from being emaciated, gray-colored skeletons who don’t have enough energy to get out of bed let alone go on a bike ride, take a test at school, drive to work, or read a book.
But, wherever you go, you will find people declaring that they need to cut back on calories, people searching for ways to effectively count them, like on a calorie counting website (yes, they do exist and there’s no shortage of them) or on a pedometer. Magazines report on ways to find the “perfect diet,” as if such a thing existed! Every person has their own individual set of needs and no two bodies are exactly alike.
Which brings me to my point: calories. We need them, but do we really need to know how many we’re ingesting? By posting everywhere on everything the exact nutritional content in our foods, we are fostering an obsessive, diet-crazed society. If calories were not at our disposal at every turn (yes, in the next couple of years almost all restaurant chains will have their calories posted on their menus) we would have to actually listen to our bodies instead of clinging to some heinous, calorie-oriented diet.
I’m about to tell you something you probably know but never actually think about: our bodies are smart. They are little geniuses, in fact! They know when they need nutrition, and they know when they’ve had enough. If we listen to our bodies, gradual signs of hunger will occur. Hint: this is when you eat! When you begin to feel fullness coming on, assess your hunger, and if you think you are full at that moment, then stop eating. You can always go back to the kitchen and eat something else when hunger comes on again.

This is such a simple idea it’s almost flabbergasting! Instead of listening to some “nutritionist” online or in a magazine, (or sometimes even your doctor!) listen to your body. It knows best.
I am not saying nutrition labels should be nowhere, because sometimes doctors need to know that for patients with special issues who need certain amounts (I’m not talking about having some extra weight, I’m talking about extreme health issues like a premature baby, or a cancer patient who is underweight, etc.) But, if they were simply posted online in one place, not on every single food you buy, our society might take a stride towards a more intuitive eating cycle. Those who are truly desperate to count calories will look them up online (many of these people frantically tracking calories most likely have eating disorders and should get help as soon as possible); the rest of the world will no longer be assailed by guilt because they didn’t buy a low calorie bag of chips, or a granola bar with 50% less fat; we will be able to buy what we want, keeping variation and some healthy choices in mind, and will no longer have to deal with a world obsessed with numbers.
There will be peace, if this happens. Peace at last.


Side Note: Those more interested in learning about intuitive eating should read Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.



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