Every month of so we hear of another way we’re all gonna die, or a food that’s going to kill us.

Some of the warnings are genuine: Salmonella in Peanut butter, for example.

But others are hyped up as scare tactics, ignoring how people really eat.

Today we see this screaming headline:Chain restaurants charged with promoting “X-treme Eating”

Yup, the the Center for Public Interest strikes again

You know, the guys who assume you eat the entire serving of General Tso’s chicken when you eat chinese, not that you eat only a small amount of it, sharing it with your wife who got chow mein. The guys who assume a 90 lb grandmom eats the big mac, fries, and milkshake (1200 calories), not the 300 lb 6 foot high school kid who burns about 5000 calories a day.

So now we are told:

A 2,000-calorie appetizer, a 2,000-calorie main course, another 1,700 calories for dessert – those aren’t typos. It’s more like par for the course at Ruby Tuesday, On the Border, the Cheesecake Factory and countless other top table-service chain restaurants.

What’s wrong with this report?
Well, to start with, it lacks context of how people actually eat.
Do normal customers actually EAT an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert when they order? Do they do this for every meal every day? Are the average customers high school kids, construction workers, secretaries, or retired people? Do they eat and run, or spend three hours eating and talking?

The second problem is that the restaurants named are not “fast food” restaurants, but sit down full service restaurants, where the meals are not an every day thing but for relaxation and enjoyment.

For example, when we lived in the USA, when we went shopping in the big city, Lolo and I would eat at Denny’s or a similar “sit down” restaurant. Usually we would have an entre, but we hated wasting meals, so we started to share one entre and one salad and one dessert. Or we would order a “senior meal” when it was available.

I confess, there were times I actually ate an entre and dessert…and didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

Many people eat the meals as a date or a weekly “treat”. So one high calorie meal isn’t going to make you fat.

Some business people might eat there every day, but again I expect they also are smart enough to know about calories.

Should every restaurant produce a list of food nutrition information? Well, that would raise prices in the big chains, and be nigh near impossible for small restaurants like Bad Brad’s or the Bluestem Cafe in our small Oklahoma town.

And is there scientific proof that “food nutrition” lables help? The dirty little secret about those “food nutrition” lables is that everyone swears on the bible to pollsters they read them all the time, but except for MONK and other obsessive compulsive types, most of us only glance at them once in awhile, and use common sense.

Let’s look at how the real world lives.

If you actually went to these restaurants, you would notice that they include families, where that hyperactive eight year old actually eats his entire meal plus half of his little  brother’s meal when he isn’t looking. And mom’s meal goes to the two year old, who shares it with the floor.

And then there are all the little old ladies who never order “senior” meals. They order that 2000 calorie meal and take most of it home in “doggie bags” that they eat for the next three days.

And the final problem with the analysis is that few people actually eat there every single day.

Actually, I did see obesity from too much fast food in my practice as a doctor. Most of these patients tended to be divorced younger guys. They still ate like they were high school jocks, even though they now worked in an office. Without a wife to care for their diet (no, girlfriends don’t make a difference) they overate, and ate badly.

My advice: either to marry (so their girlfriend can nag them to eat better, like a good wife) or to eat at Subway, and eat the turkey sub on whole wheat, not the meatball sub, and drink diet soda with low fat chips.

(and no, I don’t have stock in Subway. But my son worked at Pizza Hut. To eat heathy there, you chose the salad bar with one slice of pizza special.)

Scare tactics like these probably help the consumer by pressuring restaurants to offer healthy heart diets and smaller portion “senior meals”. But after one or two scares, people start ignoring the message and laughing at the messenger.

So yes, eat healthy, but remember, most of us have a life.

Oh look: Another health food. Krispy Kreme Whole Wheat Donuts!

See. Scare tactics actually do work.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she writes medical essays on Hey Doc’s Xanga Blog

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