Is Cheese Evil?

There have been quite a few articles this past month about Domino's Pizza and Dairy Management (some pointed out to me because I mentioned Domino's a few weeks ago in my post on pizza).

You can read the whole New York Times story here, but in summary, Dairy Management is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture, which is promoting cheese consumption in an effort to sell more whole-milk products by working with fast-food chains such as Domino's and Taco Bell. The chains are offering new products packed with cheese, which is a food naturally high in fat.

This has sparked quite a bit of outrage from many Americans who believe that the agency is pushing healthy food choices (particularly with young people in schools) while at the same time promoting high-fat food.

Lobbying groups for food producers in America are nothing new. Every good American can remember the 'Got Milk' advertisements and regular TV slots promoting pork as the 'other white meat'. I'm not sure that's really the crux of the issue here, however.

The more I witness it, the more I believe that obesity is one of the big scapegoats of our time. It's OK to blame overweight people for eating 'unhealthy food', after all, being overweight is their fault, right?

Society is focused on the wrong issue – if you actually dig through the research it isn't weight itself causing bad health. People can be 'overweight' (by our random BMI standards) but still healthy, if they exercise and eat a variety of healthy food. People come in all shapes and sizes, and thin doesn't necessarily equate to healthy.

This is a really controversial view, however, and I know people are skeptical when I talk about it. But there are two great books out there that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the issue: Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and The Diet Myth by Paul Campos. They have really made me rethink the way that I view weight and body size.

But it's so much easier to blame cheese.

However, cheese isn't the enemy. Cheese and other high-fat foods are necessary in our diet. It's overeating any sort of food that causes us to carry excess weight (for our natural body size), not simply eating what society terms as 'unhealthy' food.

And so why aren't we more focused on the reasons why we overeat instead of blaming the type of food we eat? Well, it's much easier. To say that it was eating all that pizza that caused me to gain some weight when I hated my job is easy. To be honest and say that I ate all that pizza because I was unhappy and it made me feel better is a harder truth to face.

And the reality is that our bodies don't really fight overeating in a big way – for millions of years we didn't have the abundance of dense-calorie food that's now available. Our bodies think that they've hit the jackpot. We'll never starve again!

But we're all responsible for our own relationships with food. We can pay attention to whether or not we're eating more than our bodies actually need. I like cheese and I eat it quite a bit. If there's more cheese on Domino's pizza, will I eat more of it? Maybe, if I'm not paying attention. But these days I find that most of the time, at least (it's still a journey), I'm eating until I feel full. So if something is really super rich I'll have a few bites and stop. If it's less calorie-packed I'll eat more. Dairy Management isn't able to mess around with my stomach's satiation point.

I get really frustrated when I read these types of articles. All this emphasis on being thin and eating a 'healthy low-fat' diet is only going to unleash more eating disorders in the end, particularly in vulnerable young people. And don't take my word for it. Read any book on intuitive eating and you'll see that serial dieting can be one of the root causes of disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders.

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  1. This is a great post! I'm not sure why it is such a controversial that bigger bodies can be healthy. Perhaps because then people of any size would have to look more at their own lifestyles and take judgement off others.
    I really like your blog:)

  2. @sassy - Thanks! I think you're right - it's much easier to blame other people (and cheese!) for the problems in our society. It's much harder to take responsibility for our own actions and treat our bodies with respect.


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