If the piece of cake you were about to eat came with a warning label listing how many minutes of exercise you’d have to do to burn it off, would you still eat it?
A review of evidence at Loughborough University in the UK showed that PACE labels – physical activity calorie equivalent – may reduce peoples’ intake by 200 calories a day. And because normal nutrition labels don’t seem to be ‘changing eating behaviours’ and decreasing obesity levels, the researchers believe “labelling food with “exercise calories” (makes) it easier for people to understand what they (are) eating and nudge them into making better choices.”
Here’s what the labels would look like:
The Royal Society for Public Health says: “This type of labelling really does put an individual’s calorie consumption in the context of energy expenditure and knowing how out of kilter we can be partly explains the record levels of obesity we face.” They want the labels put on everything, STAT.
The ‘record levels of obesity’ we face aren’t because most people think chips and cake are actually great foods to eat all the time.
Obesity is a problem because of a lot of things, none of which a little runner on a food package is going to change.
- Many people don’t have enough money for less processed food.
- Lots of people need to work to support themselves and don’t believe they have time to cook for themselves.
- We are, as a society, too sedentary.
- Mental health systems the world over are broken, and people can’t get the help they need.
- We don’t teach our kids in school to shop and cook.
I’m sure there are another 100 causes, but yeah – these are the ones I’ve thought of in less than three minutes.
I’m sure I’ll get lots of messages telling me that these labels can be part of the solution to obesity. Eh, probably not.
I support giving people information about their food. Calorie counts on menus, okay. It’s good to give people a relative idea about their Chipotle burrito or Panera salad that they thought was ‘low-cal.’
But remember the operative word here: relative.
Putting calories on a package and telling people to run for their food isn’t giving them relative information that’s beneficial.
It’s weird and rude and shaming and insinuates that you have to earn the food you eat.
What if someone can’t run or walk as the labels suggest? Are they not entitled to eat that chocolate bar, then? Yuck. How do they know exactly how much exercise I personally need to eliminate those calories? Why do I even want to burn off all of those calories, anyhow? Are they just trash?
I don’t even want to think about how many people who are predisposed to eating disorders – both under and over eating, will be triggered by these labels. Wow. And although this is a relatively small subset of the population, is this really necessary for anyone?
While calories are a useful unit of measure, we take them too literally. All calories aren’t created equal, and I’ve written this post about that so I won’t get into it too much here. Let me just say that calories are metabolized differently based on their source, our genetics, and probably our gut bacteria. There are plenty of higher-calorie foods that are nourishing.
Calorie labels are often off by 20% each way, and that being said, how about food that has no labels? Do we not need to exercise those off?
Who decides which foods are fit for a PACE label? Are we going to slap that shit on everything, or just pizza, chocolate muffins, and foods that a random someone determines are ‘bad’ for us? How about ‘junk’ foods that are lower in calories but just as ultra-processed?
What seems so cut and dried is suddenly becoming a lot messier.
This seems like a great place to say that just because someone is overweight doesn’t mean they’re sedentary and need to go for a run. Please.
Add all of that to the fact that you shouldn’t be exercising to burn off food, because your body doesn’t work that way. Studies show that exercise alone isn’t really a great tool to lose or maintain weight, although PACE labels suggest that it is.
That line of thinking feeds into one of the biggest mistakes I see people make with exercise: they use it as a tool to burn off their perceived dietary transgressions aka any and all foods that they regret eating.
That fucks up their relationships with food AND their body AND exercise. A three-fer!
It usually happens like this:
We eat something that we think is ‘bad’ for us. For example, that chocolate bar with the PACE label above.
We exercise to ‘burn off’ the calories we’ve eaten in the chocolate bar. If we eat several chocolate bars, we exercise more and more, because CALORIES.
Exercise isn’t fun when you’re using it like that, it’s a punishment. It also becomes a currency with which you pay for eating. Except eating is normal and healthy and doesn’t need to be earned.
When we overcompensate for all of that chocolate by dragging our ass to the gym and exhausting ourselves, we get super hungry, which leads to eating and a lot of times overeating….which leads to exercise, which by now you hate, to shape your body, which isn’t responding to your workouts because of course it isn’t, so you’re pissed off at that too.
Here’s the best tip I got from the incredible SuperfitHero:
Move your body to be healthy, not as a punishment.
Last but not least, FOOD IS NOT CALORIES. FOOD IS FOOD. It’s meant to nourish us, not to be obsessively burned off.
My prediction? People will become blind to the labels and eat whatever they want anyhow. Human nature, and all.
Food shaming people with labels isn’t going to impact obesity.
Changing the system in the many, many ways it requires, might.