A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people buying a meal at a fast food restaurant did not choose smaller meals based on posted calorie counts and recommended calorie intake. Well, no big surprise there. Who thought that really would make a difference?
There are certainly people who count calories. But they don’t typically eat at McDonald’s – unless they have kids begging for Happy Meals. And this study was done on adults. Chances are, an adult choosing to eat at McDonald’s is not going there for its nutritional benefits.
I do enjoy some of their salads (which I eat without the dressing, which would add lots of calories and little else – fortunately the salads taste good without dressing). But I never go there for the sake of a salad. I go there – rarely – as a special treat for my son, and the salad allows me to enjoy a tasty and relatively healthy meal while he devours McNuggets and fries.
I don’t even count calories, though if I were stuck eating at McDonald’s (it was one of the few choices for breakfast available the night I was stuck at the Philadelphia airport in April), I might use calorie counts to select the least bad option. Then again, if eating at McDonald’s is a rare treat (for those who actually like their food), splurging calorie-wise now and then isn’t a terrible thing. (I enjoyed a Junior Blizzard at Dairy Queen today, where we took the boys as part of Al’s birthday celebration.)
The most effective means I have found to eat healthy is to change what I eat, more than how much I eat. I can eat a nice big spinach salad loaded with tomatoes and bell peppers and olives, and doused generously with olive oil and a bit of wine vinegar, and not feel guilty in the slightest, because all of that is good for me, including the oil.
I snack on nuts and seeds and dark chocolate, and as long as I don’t include cashews in the mix (or at least only a few of them), I’m simply not likely to eat handful after handful the way I might if I snacked on something like Cheetos or chocolate Chex Mix. I’ve found enough healthy foods I can enjoy eating that it’s a lot easier than it used to be to just say no to the unhealthy stuff.
Maybe counting calories works for some people. As an article about the study points out, those posted calorie counts may help some people. But when it comes to trying to reduce obesity, an approach that focuses on trying to get people to eat less of food that they really like (especially when it’s the high-glycemic food that makes your body crave more) is not going to accomplish much.