This past year, as a working mom of two with a husband in graduate school, I grabbed takeout more often than I should have. Thankfully, I live fairly close to a Chipotle restaurant, probably the only fast food place I will walk into anymore (though I will cop to a hankering for a Whopper Jr. every once in a while, I drive through and eat guiltily in the parking lot while wondering if I’m eating a downer cow. But damn, that char-broiled fake food taste still gets me every time.). It’s fresh, I can see it made, I can load up on veggies and know that the organization supports my commie pinko leftist food choices with their naturally raised locally sourced foods. Sounds fantastic, right? Load that burrito on up!
Hang on a sec. How many calories am I supposed to be eating a day? According to the USDA (and buried on page 12 of a dietary guideline document, and yet further buried in greater detail in appendix 6 of that doc), I should officially be taking in somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 calories a day. Just checking.
Back to that gorgeous burrito. That guacamole is calling my name. Who cares how many calories? Well, my 20 pound weight gain last year cares. My kids who have a mom who can’t run very well right now care. And I care, because I’d like to not have to buy a new wardrobe, keep the light on in bed with my husband without obsessing about my stretch marks, or worry about dropping dead of a heart attack at age 68 less than three hours after calling my daughter to tell her I wasn’t feeling well (as my mother did). How many calories is that burrito, exactly?
According to Chipotle’s own nutritional information, a whackload. My personal combination of tortilla, rice, black beans, fajita veggies, chicken, mild and medium salsas, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole adds up to 1155 calories. For ONE meal. That’s not counting the chips and extra guac I sometimes bought. That left me with 645-845 calories for the rest of the day. I can tell you that my caffeine habit was supported by chai lattes at that time, which land at 300 calories. I’m not sure what else I ate on those days but I can tell you it was probably more than 545 calories. And you wonder why people in this country are obese? Enormous portions in restaurants are the norm. If you put it in front of someone, they’ll eat it. Don’t even get me started on places like the Cheesecake Factory, where some single-serve entrees are reported to be over 2000 calories.
So common sense needs to come into play. But people are busy, and frazzled, or poor, and unable to access the food they need to be healthy. What happens if no one taught you was a normal portion size was, or told you to aim for 2000 calories a day, or that restaurants are required to provide nutrition information, but mostly hide it or throw it up on the internet where no one looks before they buy a burrito, or a hamburger, or a sandwich where the bread is actually fried chicken? Come on, USDA. Think a little more about substantive recommendations like the SIZE of the plate instead of “avoid oversized portions” when normal isn’t normal anymore.
As for me, when my fat jeans didn’t even fit, I reassessed. I eat out of the fridge more and grab stuff out of the takeout line less. And when I do visit Chipotle these days (because their food is fantastic, regardless of size), I go for this combo: a salad with romaine lettuce, black beans, fajita veggies, chicken, mild and medium salsas, sour cream, and guacamole. That huge pile of food is only 645 calories. And I’m mindful of the vinaigrette, which can add another 260 calories, but I never use the whole thing.
As for you, #myplate, I have more to say about you. But that’s for another day.*