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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Analyzing every morsel can be too much food for thought

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

They say the average man thinks about sex every three minutes — which is, of course, not true. What men think about all the time is money.

Women are not thinking about sex, either. We are thinking about food.

Thinking about food every three minutes may seem natural when it has to be hunted or gathered. But the kind of thinking we do is a complex process that takes years to learn.

For me, it began with counting calories. As an adolescent, I learned that to be loved meant to lose weight. Fortunately, there was a system for this. Every food had a value; you would consult a pocket guide, add up the values, do some simple arithmetic and lose weight.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. The scale turned into my enemy, and I spent all day plotting how to beat it.

It wasn't until years later that I learned I had been barking up the wrong tree. It wasn't weight I had to lose, but percentage of body fat i which was scientifically measured with a pair of calipers.

The enemy wasn't calories, but fat.

Things grew only more complicated from there. The more I read about it, the less I knew.

It was a question of amino-acid imbalance.

Or of combining the wrong foods.

Protein was out.

Protein was in, but carbs were out.

Now fat is back in.

I don't know where we stand on sugar, but it seems to be more a drug than a food — like coffee —and thus not counted at all.

Ingesting the right combination of fats, protein, carbs, fiber, vitamins and artificial ingredients makes shopping for groceries far more time-consuming than in my parents' day. Packaged food producers griped when they had to start nutritional labeling, but it turned to be a boon for them.

How else could we be persuaded to stop and meditate on the dizzying multiplicity of new products, unless there were an urgent new need for them?

Just when everyone had memorized the fat content of every packaged food, it became essential to consult the carbohydrate count — which is just the lucky break needed to sell such spurious items as "reduced-fat" peanuts or "low-carb" bread.

A supermarket run that should have taken half an hour now drags into slow scrutinizing of labels and contents, cutting seriously into the time one could spend thinking about, say, whether might makes right.

Above all, it seems important to keep a running tally of what I eat all day long —though I can no longer remember why. At least, it makes a convenient mental exit to take when thoughts grow a little sticky:

"Hmmm ... let me see now ... what did I eat today?"

Constantly monitoring my daily intake probably hasn't done a thing for my weight, health or happiness over the years.

But it has made a simple, effective way to stop myself from thinking about anything else.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.