Friday, March 18, 2011

Do You Eat More or Less When You See the Calories on the Menu?

First off, I'm about 7 days behind in every aspect of my life.  I went on a girl's trip to Jackson Hole, WY for 4 days and it set me back almost double that time.  My suitcase is still packed and sitting in my bedroom and my toiletries are in plastic bags in the bathroom.  That is why there's been no blogging this week.  But it was all worth it (see pictures below).

What I have been wanting to blog about all week is a new study that was published this week.  But first, a little background:

States like New York and California started requiring fast food establishments to post the calories of their products on the menu in the hopes that people will use this information to lose or maintain their body weight.  The regulators pushing this legislation "felt" that it was a good idea.  There was no data to suggest that it was a good idea, but they just thought it was.  Dr. Dorks of Nutrition (like me) were a little apprehensive about it all.  Without data, how do we know what the impact would be on the public at large?  Plus, it costs the food industry A LOT of money to not only generate that information, but to place it on their menus (not to mention that the information can vary widely depending on ingredients used and preparation method).  And of course, they are going to pass the costs on to their consumers.  So who wins?

Well, it appears that everyone loses.  The restaurants spent all that time and money to provide that information and the studies are showing that the posted calories either have no effect or in some cases, make people eat MORE calories.  No one really knows why people eat more calories, but it may have to do with people's perceptions of how many calories they really need.  For example, if you thought you should eat 2500 calories a day to lose weight, an 800 calorie salad for lunch sounds like a fine choice.  Why pick the dry lettuce and vinegar salad for 400 calories when the 800 calorie salad sounds a lot better and heck, it's only 800 calories!  

But unfortunately, most people do not know how many calories they really need to maintain or lose weight.  And even fewer people really want to count them; they may roughly estimate in their heads and forrgettabboutit.  

The only establishment (based on the few studies that have been conducted to date) where people made better choices after seeing the calories is Starbucks!  And it wasn't on the drinks, but on the food...and I get that.  The last time I had a Reduced Fat Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake was the day that I found out it had almost 400 calories.  But here's the thing...the people that frequent Starbucks are, on average, the people that don't need to lose a lot of weight.  They tend to be more interested in their health.  So the healthy become healthier and those that are really overweight and with poor health do not benefit.  There must be a way to help everyone, regardless of race and socioeconomic status and genetics...I just don't know how yet.  But this is what I think about every day that I go to work.      

Do you read the calories on menus?  Do you choose your order based on the calorie information?  Just wondering...I actually like to see that information and I do make choices based on the calories.  Anyone else?

And now for the personal stuff...

If you haven't been to Jackson Hole, I highly recommend it.  Its at the bottom of the Grand Tetons (and I learned that teton means breast in French).  The people are fabulous (except for our maitre d at this fancy restaurant who hilariously, didn't know the specials because he "missed the meeting" and didn't know the desserts they severed either...yet he'd been working there for quite a while...and still I bought a bottle of soap that cost $30).  

I didn't ski, but it was still amazing.  I saw my first moose in the wild:

Here we are hanging with girlfriends at the house, who are some of the most fabulous women that I know:

And I even went to a cowboy bar where the bar seats were saddles:

All and all, a great girl's weekend!


  1. I have been known on occasion to consult Starbucks or Potbelly's website to find out the calorie count of certain items. Sometimes that 450 calorie cookie from Potbelly's is just plain worth it.
    On another note, I heard that there was a talented singer/songwriter with your group in Jackson. Rumor has it that she nailed those high notes.

  2. I tend to pick items based upon posted nutritional information. If I know that drink A is going to be 150 calories, but drink B is going to be 250, I will usually go for the healthier option.

    The healthier food options also tend to be more filling, so it's a win-win.