Calories are not all the same.  Being thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy. And, it matters what you eat.

Those were the messages at the heart of Dean Ornish’s op-ed piece, published in The New York Times last weekend.

Ornish was writing in response to a study, published earlier this year that showed that following a low-carb Atkins-type diet might be a fast way to lose weight.

Ornish made the following points:

  • “Being thin and being healthy are not the same thing. Some diets may help you lose weight but they won’t keep you healthy.”
  • “A low-carb diet increases metabolic rates because it’s stressful to the body.  Just because something increases your metabolic rate doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  Amphetamines will also increase your metabolism and burn calories faster, which is why they are used to help people lose weight, at least temporarily. But they stress your body and may mortgage your health in the progress.”
  • “What you eat is important as what you exclude—your diet needs to be high in healthful carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes…” The list (and you know what it is) goes on.

So what’s this got to do with feeding kids? I think Ornish has tapped into an important point.

The nutrition mindset has led us to believe, not just that a calorie is a calorie, but that nutrients are nutrients and that it doesn’t really matter how we get them.

Giving kids apple juice because it’s been fortified with Vitamin C is a good example of this mentality. There are other reasons to give kids juice, i.e. it’s a tasty treat.  But because it’s been fortified with Vitamin C?

It doesn’t make sense from a nutrition perspective. It also doesn’t make sense from a habits perspective.

Read Coke Beats Juice and Water vs. Punch and Soda.

Our cultural obsession with nutrition makes parents susceptible to feeding practices that send their kids’ habits in the wrong direction.

That’s how parents end up feeding their kids Veggie Pirate’s Booty for the spinach, or chocolate milk for the calcium.  Both send kids’ habits soaring away from real fruits and vegetables and healthy dairy products and towards junk.

Chocolate milk often has more sugar than a chocolate bar.  Read Chocolate Milk vs. Chocolate Bars.

But it’s also the nutrition mindset that propels parents to dumb-down snacks.

They save “nutrition” for mealtimes.  Read Do No Harm Snacking

According to Ornish:

“About 75% of the $2.8 trillion in annual healthcare costs in the United States is from chronic diseases that can often be reversed or prevented altogether by a healthy lifestyle. If we put money and effort into helping people make better food and exercise choices, we could improve our health and reduce the cost of healthcare.”

But let’s not wait until people need help dieting. Let’s help people get it right from the get-go.  Ironically, that means paying more attention to habits than to nutrition.  After all, it’s habits (not nutrition) that dictate what people—even little people— choose to eat.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~