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Posted by on Jul 31, 2009 in Commentary | 2 comments

Get off the couch and into the kitchen to lose weight

Get off the couch and into the kitchen to lose weight

Michaell Pollan wrote a The New York Times Magazine article today (published in print Aug. 2) called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.”

The questions presented and answered in the eight-page article include:

  • Is there a connection between the increasing popularity of cooking shows on TV and the increased popularity of convenience foods?
  • Do they play off each other to the American public’s benefit or detriment?
  • Is this reflected in the increase in obesity in America?
  • Is there a solution if such a connection exists?

It got me to thinking about a conversation I had with one of my co-workers about five years ago when we made the move from working in an office environment to working from home. She was lamenting the move because working from home meant she would have access to her refrigerator and pantry to eat anything she wanted, anytime.

I told her, “If you have healthy food in your home, healthy food goes into your body and it shouldn’t be an issue.” Her excuse was that with young children in the house items like Oreo’s, potato chips, etc., were “must have” items in her home.

Well, over the years both of us have struggled a bit with our weight, but my struggles (wanting to exercise) pale in comparison to hers. I keep my refrigerator and pantry relatively free of junk food, and I have lost over 30 pounds since I started working from home.

Also, since I enjoy cooking, I try to make a home-cooked meal nearly every evening. On those days I don’t have time, McDonald’s is not an option to alleviate our hunger.

Pollan makes an interesting point (emphasis mine):

A 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David Cutler … and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home.

They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake.

Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity.

In a comedic coincidence, I’m writing this commentary as I’m eating a bowl of Bibimmyeon, one of the ultimate fattening Korean convenience foods. If you eat the entire packet, properly cooked, by yourself (which most people do), you consume 550 calories.

So, how can Americans (and people worldwide) learn to appreciate their food and lose weight at the same time? In an ideal world, Americans might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of industrially prepared food has done to our health by cooking their own meals rather than watching other people do so on TV. If there’s one thing that Julia Child taught aspiring cooks everywhere over the years is, “Practice makes perfect.”

So, what is the perfect diet? Pollan quoted this suggestion from food trend tracker Harry Balzer of The NPD Group:

“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

2 Comments

  1. I like your post as it presents the crux of the issue, &quot;How do we get people back in the kitchen cooking real food?&quot;<br /><br />My gut reaction is that is some celebrity wrote a book stating that I lost X pounds cooking for myself, people would flock back to the kitchen.

  2. Well, the problem is no one would believe a celebrity has time to cook for him/herself. People know that most of those celebrity cookbooks are ghost written by real chefs anyway.

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