NY Times Well Blog Off the Mark on Small Steps Critique

Yesterday, the New York Times “Well” blog posted a critique of First Lady Michelle Obama’s call for people to make small changes in their diet as part of the recently launched “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity. Specifically, the blog post takes issue with the suggestion that people start by cutting out 100 calories a day, explaining that such a small change in diet wouldn’t lead to any real results or weight loss due to the fact that the body will simply adjust to the slight change in calorie intake.

To me, this misses the point of the First Lady’s encouragement of people to start making big changes by taking small steps. At best, the Times critique points out that more significant changes in ones diet are needed in order to lose weight, at worst, it merely provides fodder for food and beverage companies to undermine such efforts.

It’s unrealistic to assume the First Lady would launch her campaign by demanding that people make radical changes in their diets and the diets of their children. In a country that prides itself on a bigger is better mentality and “don’t tread on me” individualism, telling people that they’re fat and how to eat doesn’t usually go over all that well. Lifestyle changes don’t come easy, especially when dictated to you. The First Lady gets that. She understands that in order to change our food system and the way we eat, you don’t act like the food police. Instead, you start off slow and simple. Baby steps.

The Times critique is right to point out that losing weight loss is more difficult than just cutting out 100 calories a day. However, in order to get people to even take that first step, you need to sell them on it first. As the Obama’s surely know by now, change doesn’t come easy and neither does weight loss. It takes patience, willpower, and most importantly, time. By slowly changing our habits, people can not only learn to eat better and exercise more, they can also learn to live with these changes in their lifestyle. If you start by cutting out 100 calories a day for one week, then  you can up it to 200 calories the next week, and more the week after that. You can sell this type of lifestyle change by making it easy and accessible. That’s the point of the First Lady’s message – it’s simple, everyone can do it.

Others might fault the First Lady’s new initiative for being too simplistic, setting the bar too low, or not taking on the big problems in our food system. Could the Obama administration being doing more? Sure. Is the Let’s Move campaign a cure for childhood obesity? Probably not. But such opining is a waste of time and leaves you where you started – nowhere. It would be irrational to assume that such an initiative would solve all of the problems caused by our food system.  The Let’s Move campaign is a start; and you need to start somewhere, even if it’s only 100 calories.


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