The comments in this article and the subsequent social media postings have been illuminating, to say the least. I mean, it was one thing to have Jillian Michaels herself proclaim that the research was “bullshit”—I believe her exact phrase was that the results were simply “an excuse for falling off the wagon”—but it was another thing, entirely, for me to read the plethora of “eat less, move more. It’s that simple” comments left behind.

Oy.

What does that even mean?

I’ll tell you what it means. But first, a little history.

I love the story of George McGovern, a US Senator whom we have to thank for the creation of WIC and would have to thank for a governmental food pyramid—and subsequent agricultural policy reflecting—if it weren’t for, well, the food industry’s undue influence.

“By the ‘70s, the food industry found a more profitable way to use “excess” corn, converting it to high fructose corn syrup — the cheap sweetener that is in large part responsible for the subsequent obesity crisis. McGovern was early in seeing that problem too: he was chairman of  the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which initially advised Americans in 1977 to eat less meat and fewer dairy products for the sake of health. To the chagrin of agribusiness, sales of meat, dairy and eggs dropped.

Intense lobbying followed, and the dietary goals were soon revised to say that consumers should “Choose meats, poultry, and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.” (This was not the only battle McGovern lost, of course.) Note the shift of emphasis from food (“eat less meat”) to nutrients (“eat less saturated fat”), an unnecessary muddling of the issues that has benefited industry at the expense of health and the environment. [source]

From this point forward, the food industry and all its various sub-components learned an important lesson: the government has “too much power” to influence the public’s buying habits, and they needed to ensure that their industries were well represented in any conversations intended to impact the way Americans buy their food.

This is why, when you want to look at who’s fighting legislation to advance food policy in this country, just look at the companies that would be most impacted, then look at the states where they and their factories are located, then look for the senators and congresspeople for that state. (If you’ve ever wondered why “tomato paste is a vegetable,” just look to the congressional representatives and senators from the state of Minnesota, where a major food manufacturer produces pizzas for the food system as well as widely-known brands like Red Baron and Freschetta.

So, as food policy evolved in the new millennium, virtually every public hearing involving nutrition includes figureheads from industry trade associations—American Beverage Association, Dairy Council, and so on—as well as directors of public relations for major food corporations. The general understanding is that whenever the government decides to present information essential to protecting public health, we’re supposed to consider the way it will impact corporations. Remember: corporations are people, too.

Politicians, learning that the food industry was willing to put them out of office with their endless funds, played right along. Consider the clips from the documentary Food Inc., of the Bush Administration discussing nutrition policy with representatives from various food conglomerates. Over and over again, you heard the phrase “eat less, move more.” (Keep in mind its kissing cousin, “everything in moderation.”)

It was intended to serve as a way around telling people to simply not buy certain things. Instead of telling people don’t buy sodapop or snack foods or any other number of nutritionally-lacking foods, just tell people to reduce the amount of it they consume. There’s no consideration for the fact that people often eat as much as they do of certain foods because the only way for those particular items to fill them up is for them to eat that large quantity.

“Eat less, move more” is a manipulation of the same phrase we’ve been hearing for years, now: “calories in, calories out.” “Weight loss is calories in, calories out.” “Laws of thermodynamics, obvi.” The reality, however, is that some kinds of calories are more filling than others. Hell, not even all sources of carbs are equally filling, because some contain protein and fiber and healthful dietary fat in ways that other kinds do not.

What’s more, if a person’s metabolism is greatly impacted by having lean muscle, it’s widely known that a body subsisting on majority carbs simply cannot build or keep lean muscle mass, therefore negatively impacting and reducing a person’s metabolism.

Quite frankly, all three phrases—“eat less, move more;” “calories in, calories out;” and “everything in moderation”—are all crocks of shit.

“Eat less, move more” was never intended to benefit the public—it was intended to protect industry. It’s not about teaching you how to eat, how to lose weight, or how to live healthier. One of the most major pieces of information I tell people is to consider why you eat as much of a given item as you do; the answer is almost always “I’m not full unless I eat this much.” Telling someone to simply eat less of something they’ve always eaten in larger quantities, so that the food’s manufacturer doesn’t lose the customer, means they’ll be unfulfilled and will quite frankly wind up going back and eating their usual quantity. That’s why successful weight loss, for many, has to include changing what you eat.

The honest phrasing isn’t “eat less, move more.” If I had my way, it’d be “eat differently, move more.” Changing what you eat often means you’re eating far more than you ever did before—more in quantity, far less in calories. Who wouldn’t want that?

Photo credit: Flickr/frankieleon