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Plate or Pyramid – Why Nobody Really Cares About Nutrition Guides

Last week, the USDA abandoned its long-favoured and iconic Food Pyramid and replaced it with a plate.

One key motivator, according to the press release, which includes enthusiastic quotes from Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is that a ‘new generation’ icon is needed to better help Americans make healthier food choices.

This new icon is the centrepiece of the new ChoseMyPlate website which,

provides practical information to individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information.

Whether this new icon or even this website will really have anyone paying attention is doubtful – because there is one fundamental problem with all nutrition guides – they focus on nutrition!

The following brief video may explain exactly what I mean (readers may have to visit my site to see it).

In short, if we don’t solve the taste, cost, and convenience problem – no guide will change our eating habits.

Strategies based on trying to educate people to simply “eat-less and move-more” (ELMM) do not work for individuals – they will also not work for populations.

Effective strategies, both for individuals and populations, will unfortunately need to address the ‘real’ reasons why people eat too much and are not moving enough.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Love the video and it is so true and this coming from a nutrient person (an RD) who tries to look at nourishment

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  2. Great points about what should be included in the food guide, however the video gives the impression that people who care about nutrition are in the minority and therefore the guide is worthless. While many people may not care about the guide itself, many people do care about nutrition, it is always in the top reasons why people purchase the foods they do such as vegetables (of course other influences include taste and cost). From boomers who want to maintain their health to parents picking nutritious food for young children, there is no question that nutrition matters to people.

    As a dietitian I use the food guide as a starting point and ask people what foods they enjoy in each food group, and from there we discuss budget, interest level in cooking, how often groceries are purchased, time available for food prep, are they open to making changes etc so that any suggestions from me are customized to what is most realistic for the person. Dietitians always keep in mind that if eating isn’t enjoyable than it won’t last (ie. restrictive diets). Healthy eating has a lot of rewards and true nourishment does not come from eating mainly foods that leave you tired/sluggish etc. Yes the food guide misses many parts of the picture but it does not mean that there is no value or influence in it’s messages.

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  3. What an interesting concept – so much potential for inclusion here. What key elements would you consider to include in a nourishment guide?

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  4. A large problem with obisty is that once an individual admits that he or she is over weight they want to fix the situation NOW! I ran into this situation when I first started the treatment program for my depression–I wanted to be better yesterday. not realizing that since I had been depressed for a goo 20 years by then many of my problem solving skills, social skill, and other behaviors were geared to being depressed and needed to be relearned.I have long term low grade depression which may have even existed in childhood–the program I was in was 16 hours per week for two years with 20 hour sections on anxiety, self-esteem, anger managgement, and self-assertiveness. when an idividual sees that he or she want to change he or she needs to start small and easy if a person new to weight management tryed to start with the type of journaling I have he or she would be totally overwhelmed and give up. So there needs to be several food guides 1. for the way most people eat now. 2. another for those ready to start losing weight. 3. yet another for those who want to maintain weight lose. without the variety there is very little chance of the food guide being of any value–very few people I know have sat down and read an advanced version of the Canada Food Guide, that is probably because many are in the lower educated level and have little interest in government guides or reccommendations and even more difficulty following through due to depression, ADHD, addictions, or some of the above.

    The hurry and fix this needs to be addressed because until it is addressed there are going to be yo-yo dieters, fad dieters who damage there health, and individuals who give up because any weight management seems to challenging

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  5. Eat-less-move-more always struck me as true but unhelpful. I’ve compared it in the past to telling an insomniac that the cure for their illness is just to fall asleep.

    Well, yeesssssssss … but it’s more complicated than that. I’ve never struggled with my weight, but I’ve struggled with sleeplessness, and I still don’t know how I managed to keep from strangling those helpful people who, in all honesty, really thought they were telling me something useful by asking (no, I’m not making this up): “Have you just tried closing your eyes?” o_O

    Eat-less-move-more is like just-fall-asleep. It’s the goal, but it won’t tell you how to get there.

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  6. Right on Dr Sharma. Just add resentments to the list.

    Any recovery program must include a big dose of self evaluation, resulting in a change of life style and thinking with respect to food, eating and all the ritual around weight. Our resentments toward others, and ourselves, must be examined. I have a resentment toward myself for not being able to follow a food program perfectly. OH well, shit happens. We need to look at out delusion, aversions, and attachments to foods and food behaviors as well as all our emotions and feelings. Judith Beck’s book makes a nice start in this direction.

    We also need to have enough biochemistry and physiology to separate the myths about food from the real information. There is to much really wrong crap in the public media.

    Your series on surgery failures suggest that these fail for the same group of reason most diets fail, long term. That is lack of change in our thinking, attitude, intentions, and knowledge. We may need to adjust, our speech, actions and livelihood to adapt to the needed changes in our life to really deal with the food issues. This all will require a fair bit of study, and concentration to go along with the mindful efforts.

    Keep up the struggle as we trudge the road to happy destiny.

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  7. All of the eating and exercise issues have deep-rooted reasons that many people simply can’t resolve.

    Did phys. ed. become so awful that no one wants to exercise as an adult? I was quite athletic and it still seem embarrassing and awful to me. Did family and relatives imply that we couldn’t be athletic no matter how hard we tried? After years of hearing that negative message, it’s not surprising that these people don’t exercise.

    Did family and relatives teach us unhealthy food habits and huge portions for many years of our lives? If we eat more healthily, we are, in a way, bucking against the family values and dissing what our parents taught us. Every time we don’t want to go to a restaurant or a buffet, we are bucking society’s values. We are viewed as “unfun.”

    Certain people who try to change to become healthier feel so isolated during the change. They don’t know how to do anything in the gym. They don’t have any friends at the gym. Family members complain about them “wasting” time to exercise. Family members keep pushing unhealthy food on them. There is refined food all over my pantry right now because some of my family members refuse to eat better.

    That is the mental game that people go through to change their health habits. NONE of this is addressed by the Canadian and US governments. They’d be better off having a actress doing yoga or an actor eating an apple.

    There are ways to make fitness a lot of fun. I used to hate exercising and now love it. I eat healthier than ever, but not because of anything government has done.

    🙂 Marion

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