The Upside: Food fight and living beyond our seams

The restaurant industry should have seen it coming. After all, when President Obama was Candidate Arugula he actually lost weight by avoiding fatty photo-ops, going so far as to order pancakes to go. (I know, who eats take-out pancakes? No one. Which was exactly the point.)

I can relate. I used to be the perfect weight -- if I was 6'4". I'm not sure of the exact number because once the scale tipped over 210 I stopped looking, mostly because I couldn't see past my gut. But I can tell you that my size 38 relaxed fit jeans were so relaxed they were practically comatose.

Now that I'm a snack-sized 151 pounds of fun, I've watched with a vested interest as the President chose Dr. Thomas Frieden to helm the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- and not just because vests are slimming. You see, Frieden's the guy who, as head of the New York City Department of Health, forced chain restaurants to post the calorie content of their food, sparking a national trend.

Naturally, many in the restaurant industry oppose anything that would stop consumers from emptying our wallets as we fill our bellies. Alfredo Sandoval's small New York chain of Mercadito Restaurants isn't affected yet, but could be as it expands. "It is a waste of time for restaurant operators and unnecessary information that the customer probably doesn't want to see," Sandoval says. "People go to restaurants to enjoy themselves, eat good food, have good drinks and have a good time."

But at whose expense? High calorie fast food may cost little monetarily, but will drive up health costs as Americans become the size of, in the words of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, "little houses."
"Above a point, it becomes a social responsibility," says Barbara Barber, owner of Three Square Grill in Portland, Oregon. "It's disingenuous for the big chains to say it will cost too much." Barber's evolving farm-fresh menu would make calorie assessment nearly impossible, but she's not afraid to have her customers make informed decisions. "I don't want to make my living off someone's fat butt."

Speaking of fat butts, a study presented this month at the 17th European Congress on Obesity concluded that we're getting fatter because...wait for it...we're eating too much. In other news, next year's conference will be called the European Congress on Obviousness.

I myself lost almost a third of my body weight when I realized that my balanced regimen of shame and recrimination wasn't working. I also realized that dieting was like budgeting.

After reading Jim Karas's The Business Plan for the Body, I concluded that my bathroom scale was actually a personal Profit and Loss statement: calories in minus calories expended = weight lost. Or gained, depending on the equation. So what the restaurant lobby doesn't appreciate is that I'd probably eat at fast food restaurants more often if the numbers crunched as easily as Doritos.

Indeed, Frieden's movement to list calories is analogous to his ban on smoking, which actually helped restaurants, raising employment and increasing revenues 9% in the first year. (Contrasted with the 1.4% increase that occurred in retail.) More importantly, New York now has 350,000 fewer smokers than in 2002, with smoking deaths down 11%.

Much in the way our economy has slimmed down, so must we. For if losing weight is like following a budget, then it's time we realize we're living beyond our seams.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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