Awhile back, Katie mentioned this book on her blog and I immediately ordered it from my library. It seemed like a fascinating book, a photographic look into the diets of 80 people from around the world, arranged in order of calories consumed. It arrived for me last week and I spent a week reading it, first glancing through all the diets, and later reading all the related articles.
It was a fascinating book. It starts with a woman living on only 800 calories a day – a single meal for many people – and moves through to a woman packing away over 12,000 calories daily – more than some of us eat in a full week. Each portrait showed a typical day’s worth of food for that person, with a listing and labeling of contents on the side.
I noticed a few interesting trends as I read through the book and looked over the pictures. People who ate a lot of processed foods, sugar, and fried foods tended to be overweight, even in third-world, impoverished communities. People who drank over half of their calories in soda, juice, alcohol, or coffee (pretty much anything other than milk products) also tended to be overweight. People who led sedentary lives, no matter how low their calorie intake, were also overweight. On the other hand, those who ate whole foods or led active lives tended to be thin, no matter how high their calorie intake was. People lived on all sorts of diets – some who ate mostly milk products, some who ate almost exclusively meat, some who ate nothing but grains, some who consumed several pounds of fresh butter every day – but as long as they were eating whole foods and living active lives, they were a lot thinner than others pictured in the book.
Now I’m not saying these things I noticed are sound nutritional guides to follow or anything, or that the rule was true 100% of the time, or even that the book could be considered a representational cross-section of the world from which scientific conclusions can accurately be drawn. These are just little noticings. Since I’ve been thinking a lot more about active lifestyles and whole foods for the last few months, perhaps all I’m seeing is what I’m looking for. Still, the patterns are interesting to look at.
Also interesting: the volume of food that produces calories. There were some people living on 1600 calories a day who had tons and tons of food on their plates, oftentimes made from ready-to-eat “diet food” products that guaranteed to fill you up on the lowest amount of calories possible. Then there were some diets that looked way too small to actually produce the amount of calories they claimed to produce. I mean, when I see someone with a bunch of Big Macs and fries and M&Ms, yeah, I’m going to expect that to be high calorie, but I get surprised when I see the lady who lives on three small bowls of sour whole milk mixed with a little grain and then realize her scanty meals add up to 2300 calories.
I find that particularly interesting because before this year, I was never terribly aware of the calories in my food. I never counted calories before the end of February, when I joined Sparkpeople. Now I was never a horrible eater, and when I first started counting calories, I discovered I was already eating the right amount for what I wanted to lose. But I have become more aware of food and portions and many nutrition/calorie-related issues, particularly in restaurants. I remember once, a few months ago, going to Olive Garden with Jason and sharing a dessert with him. We got the little trio of 1-oz desserts, the kind that fit into shot glasses and only take two spoonfuls to eat. We got them on purpose – I figured they couldn’t be more than 150 or so calories each. I looked them up when I got home. They’re closer to 300 calories each. I was floored – how could something so tiny be so calorically expensive?? I mean, a whole Hershey’s candy bar is only 200 calories!
This is why, I think, it’s so important for those of us trying to lose weight to really be aware of what we’re eating. I learned the hard way that size is no indicator of nutrition, a lesson that has been reinforced for me many times throughout the past six months and which I saw again throughout Around the World in 80 Diets.
I wish I could take a photo of my typical day’s diet like they have in the book. It would be a perfect photo to go with this post. However, I don’t have the time to prepare everything in advance and I don’t want to waste food that would go bad in setting up my plates (like cereal getting soggy and inedible). So instead, I will just leave you with a run down of a typical daily diet for me.
Breakfast: 1 c Quaker Oatmeal Squares cereal, 1/2 c nonfat milk, 4 oz Simply Orange orange juice
Lunch: 1 c black bean turkey sausage chili, 1/2 c white rice, 1 c baby spinach with 7 croutons and 1/2 tbsp full-fat Italian salad dressing, 1/2 c strawberries with 1/2 tsp sugar
First Snack: 1 toasted mini-bagel with 1 tbsp full-fat cream cheese, 1/2 c fresh pineapple
Second Snack: 5 whole wheat crackers with 2 tbsp hummus, 1 hard boiled egg
Dinner: 1 1/4 c beef and lentil skillet meal, 1/3 c corn, 1 slice toasted wheat bread (no butter), 1 Lindor chocolate truffle
Total calories: ~1700