“Fattening” is a 4 letter word

beverages“How fattening is your cocktail?” screams the headline.  The implied message is clear: anything “Fattening” is bad.  Why?  Because apparently it makes you gain weight, and obviously being fat is bad.  At least in the mind of whoever thought up this headline.

There are so many things wrong with this attitude I don’t know where to begin.

First, what exactly makes something “fattening”.  Well, according to this story on cocktails, it’s calories.  Calories make foods and drinks “fattening”.  So what is the message?  Don’t consume any calories?  If you do you’ll instantly gain weight?  Or just gain weight from these particular calories, not from the calories in your salad or organic juice smoothie or high protein snack bar?

In other words, are some calories more virtuous and don’t turn into fat if you overeat them?  That’s completely false.

Second, there’s the obvious negative association with “fat”.  Calling foods “fattening” just perpetuates the negativity.  It’s the kind of thing people with eating disorders do: create lists of Good and Bad foods, and the bad foods are inevitably thought of as fattening.  A typical Good Food list runs something like this:

  • water
  • seltzer water
  • dry lettuce leaves
  • unsweetened iced tea
  • diet soft drinks
  • celery

You get the picture.

Technically according to this narrow fear-mongering view of food, everything is “fattening”.  Steak, broccoli, olive oil, apples, salmon, shrimp, oatmeal, cocktails, organic whole wheat bread, ice cream and on and on.  Because if it has calories and you eat too much of it, you could gain weight.  Calories are calories.

If the calories from a cocktail or apple or bowl of oatmeal fit into your daily calorie requirement, then so what.  You won’t magically gain weight from one food but not another.  If you’re very active, you burn off the calories.  Soccer players, tennis players, professional bike racers and distance runners are just a few examples of people who clearly burn off the food they eat.  For those people, nothing is fattening.

So lose the word “fattening”.  It’s disparaging and negative.  What you might say instead is “empty calories” — meaning foods with few nutrients for the calories.  If you’re watching your intake or dieting, you want to make the most of the calories you do eat, by focusing on wholesome nutrient-dense foods.  Cocktails probably don’t fit that description.

Aside from the empty calories, the bigger problem with cocktails (or beer or wine) is that it’s easy to drink too much.  They taste good, you may be socializing and in a good mood, and the alcohol impairs your judgment.  So you have another and maybe another.  Pretty soon the calories — and the alcohol — add up.

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