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Nina In New York: New Nutrition Facts For The Modern Overeater

Two new Nutrition Facts labels offered by the FDA in its proposal. (credit: CBS 2/FDA)

Two new Nutrition Facts labels offered by the FDA in its proposal. (credit: CBS 2/FDA)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

Like so many health-conscious, tormented yo-yo dieters, I am obsessed with nutrition labels. At times in my life, I’ve been able to rattle off the stats on various foods without even looking. I’ve been so well-versed that I could also accurately estimate the facts for foods whose labels I hadn’t committed to memory. These abilities directly correspond to my skinny periods. There have also been bouts during which I’m practically allergic to looking at labels. They make me feel terrible. They make me feel uncomfortable feelings like guilt and shame when all I want to do is eat an entire giant bag of Easter jellybeans and pretend it’s fine because the bag says they’re naturally fat free or some bag nearby in the candy aisle said that or something. Whatever! Jellybeans and I need to be alone. Naturally, those are the moments when I am mostly wearing my “fat clothes.”

What I’m saying is, they work. Knowing—and understanding—the fat and calorie content of what you put in your mouth generally keeps you from eating copious amounts of terribly unhealthy food. Generally. But they’re far from perfect. How many times have you picked up a box of pasta and actually eaten a serving size? Do you even know what a “serving” of pasta looks like? It looks like the amount that falls out of the strainer and into the drain. It’s the amuse bouche that comes before the appetizer. Do not make me laugh with your puny teacup full of noodles. So I ignore the label, portion out the amount I want, and pretend it’s roughly a serving. The tangled web I weave is made of spaghetti.

Now, the FDA is working on a revamp of the old nutrition label that will address the modern-day portion size. Instead of providing information based on smaller portions that our trim little forebears from the 1970s  and ’80s consumed, the new label will reflect current American eating habits with an eye towards keeping us more honest. As the FDA points out, instead of eating half a carton of Ben & Jerry’s and thinking you’ve eaten a 200-calorie serving, you’ll see that what you’ve just eaten double that and be forced to confront your gluttonous, delicious deeds.

Similarly, no more guzzling an entire large bottle of soda and disregarding the fact that there are actually two-and-a-half servings therein. Now, more packages will be considered single-serving, because that’s how we do. And packages that hold between two and four servings will feature a double column which displays nutrition information for both the serving size and for the entire package. Basically, unless you are the type to eat eight servings of something in one sitting, you’ll never have to do any quick calculations in your head to figure out what you’ve just eaten. And by doing quick calculations, I mean pretending to sit and do math before giving up and calling it close enough.

As much as I’d prefer to remain in blissful ignorance with my giant box of Triscuits and tub of hummus, I look forward to these updates. Our country has a big problem, literally. The sooner we all get more realistic, the better. Of course, the people who have never read a nutrition label in their lives will continue to do so, and I wish them luck and good health and a family history that staves off Type II Diabetes for as long as possible. But for the rest of us, this new system will help to keep us honest and genuinely informed. Sure, the shame spiral will go deeper, and I’m going to have to do some serious soul searching every time I’m faced with a frozen pizza, but they’re being cruel to be kind. It’s tough love, and I’m ready for it. Bring on a healthy dose of reality. Then double it, and tell me how much I just ate.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!