Jun 20, 2012

"Bread is the Enemy" and Other Tall Tales

The more people I talk to about diet and nutrition, the more I'm convinced we have a serious case of bread-phobia in America. You've probably heard it too. How many people have you heard say they're "staying away from bread" in an effort to lose weight? Yeah.

At this point in the conversation, I usually explain the fact that weight is based on the principle of calories in, calories out, blah, blah, blah. This is never a popular answer. Why? Because it means that weight loss isn't easy; it means you have to eat less, move more, and develop new habits that form your lifestyle. It means you'll have to say no to seconds at dinner and eat sweets less often. It means you have to make a commitment to your health.....and stick with it.

It also means you'll have less risk of developing chronic disease, may live longer and have a higher quality of life, among many other things. I don't know about you, but that sounds worth it to me. Admittedly, changing lifelong habits is no easy task. And it seems that in an effort to avoid this, too many people simply resolve to avoid "bad" foods (common food-phobias include bread, bread products, meats, sugar, dairy, etc.) which can - and frequently do - result in nutrient deficiencies and other health problems.

Interestingly, amidst the bread and other food-related phobias, America has a record number of people with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia, all of which are lifestyle-related diseases. It seems as though avoiding bread just isn't working.

Articles on the internet like this one don't help much either. Here, a journalist postulates his theory that America is in an obesity epidemic due to grain products and sugar. His article, of course, completely ignores well-accepted and tested research that people are eating more than ever before. A lot more. According to the USDA, daily calorie consumption in America in 1970 totaled 2,170 calories whereas in the year 2000, daily calorie intake increased to 2,700. That's a 530 calorie/day increase, which leads to gradual weight gain overtime. Wait a minute, that's exactly what we've seen! In 1980, about 46% of US adults were overweight whereas 67% of adults were overweight in 2000. Now, about 1/3 of the US population is obese, according to the CDC. There is no doubt the trend toward overweight and obesity in the US continues to rise. The question is why. 

As I mentioned before, many people want to blame specific food groups: meat, sugar, bread, dairy, gluten, etc. I've heard them all. I admit, we do tend to eat a lot of breads and sweets. But labeling one or multiple foods as "bad" only perpetuates the problem of disordered eating and disordered thinking. Food is not the enemy; it's how we use it.

Some the major reasons we have weight-related problems in the US are related to the increased availability of food, more eating out, less cooking at home, sedentary lifestyles, and more disposable income. In summary, for various reasons, we eat more today than we did 50 years ago. 

The even more complicated question is how to resolve this problem. The answer involves understanding not only biochemistry, but psychology as well. Working with a healthcare provider - such as a registered dietitian - who provides not only education but continued support and accountability is what I've observed to be the most effective strategy for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. I not only believe this, I've seen it work. Every. Time.

So next time someone tries to tell you that bread is the enemy, thank them for the advice and tell them that you're into eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. It'll rock their socks off.


  1. Well said! It is reassuring to hear that food is just food and is not the enemy. Love the practical advice on your blog.