“Lose weight while eating ten slices of bread a day.” As unbelievable as it sounds, this is current dietary advice being pedaled by the US Department of Agriculture.
To be fair, this specific recommendation was made for Steven who weighs 185 pounds. Andrea weighs considerably less, so she only gets 9 slices of bread per day.
The ten-slice recommendation is, as far as we can tell, brand spanking new. We assume that we would have noticed it last year when we published our scathing review of USDA Food Recommendations. Our best guess is that it was added in a recent redesign of the MyPlate website.
If you are unfamiliar with MyPlate, it was an initiative launched by USDA in 2011 to replace the long-standing Food Pyramid. Over five years and two million dollars were spent on the project. At the unveiling, First Lady Michelle Obama gave the least inspiring speech of any Obama in history: “When it comes to eating, what’s more useful than a plate? What’s more simple than a plate? The new design is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods we are eating.” Our reaction was, “That’s supposed to be a plate? It’s looks more like a Trivial Pursuit playing piece being orbited by a racquetball.”
The food recommendations behind MyPlate were shockingly similar to those of the Pyramid it replaced. The USDA still endorsed a diet containing quantities of grains and starches so large that their sheer bulk was likely to limit fresh fruits and vegetables. MyPlate continued the pyramid’s fairytale definition of “vegetable” in which a cup of chopped white potatoes is 100% equivalent to a cup of broccoli or spinach. We have to assume that this equivalency continued to be promoted at the insistence of a Senior Senator from Idaho.
MyPlate’s most recent makeover was not publicized. The First Lady made no public appearances. They didn’t even bother to announce it on their own blog. All we know is that we visited the USDA website last week and discovered that the MyPlate logo had been reduced to the size of a postage stamp. The site is now dominated by an on-line calorie counter called SuperTracker.
The new pitch is simple. Religiously record every morsel that passes your lips in the SuperTracker database and stop eating the moment you hit your daily calorie limit. This represents a monumental shift from the USDA’s historical Food Group and Serving related recommendations. “Consuming fewer Calories than expended will result in weight loss[,]” the new SuperTracker explains. “This can be achieved over time by eating fewer Calories, being more physically active or best of all, a combination of the two.”
We never imagined agreeing with the USDA on anything. We have long argued that all successful dieting comes down to calories in vs. calories out. Until recently, the USDA consistently avoided calories and focused on food groups and servings. It was as if the type of calories consumed was more important than the quantity.
We are thrilled that the USDA has joined the world of the calorie aware. Of course, we still differ in our approaches to calorie reduction. SuperTracker is an on-line food journal that keeps a running tally of daily calories consumed. The DYC approach relies on a Food List detailing foods to be eaten, limited and avoided. Eating according to the DYC Food List results in a similar reduction of calories but without the tyranny of having to research and record everything you eat.
As advocates for the idea that it is possible to diet while continuing to drink alcohol, we accept that it is equally possible to cut calories while simultaneously eating ten pieces of bread a day. It merely requires eliminating enough other calories to make room. It can be done. We’re just not sure why anyone would want to do it.
Steven’s SuperTracker recommendations further allow “empty calories” of up to 596 per day. These calories are defined as, “Calories from food components such as added sugars and solid fats that provide little nutritional value.” It is worth noting that these calories are on top of Steven’s bread ration. This leaves roughly 1600 calories—half of Steven’s permitted 3200 calories per day—left for healthy, nutritionally dense foods. If we wanted to limit ourselves to only 1600 nutritionally dense calories per day we would have to start skipping lunch.
We welcome the USDA’s acknowledgement of the importance of calories. We honestly believe that this is a huge step in the right direction. It took nearly 100 years for the USDA to move from recommending sweets to recommending calorie reduction. Hopefully the next few years will see recognition that simple carbs should be further reduced in favor of more nutritionally dense fare. Some day they may even figure out that the calories in alcohol are actually lower—and thus easier to offset—than in most of the empty calorie foods they currently endorse. Until then, there will be DYC.
From Steven’s SuperTracker Plan:
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