The Plate

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on June 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

It’s the topic of the day (or recent bygone days) at many blogs and websites:  The new US dietary guidelines replacing the old Pyramid, aka “My Plate.”

Knowing full well that I’m howling in the wind, I just blasted off the following missive to the “Contact Us” email address.

Warning to my size acceptance friends, restriction talk, could be triggering.  I also apologize for using the “O” word.  Had to consider my audience, and “fat” wouldn’t fly with them.

No Salutation.  Email address is

Thank you for your hard work to date.  Here are suggestions for the new plate, which is better than the pyramid, but still inaccurate.  I hope you will integrate them into a new improved plate in the future:

1.  Refined grains have no place on the plate, they should be off the placemat in a distant place (that may look like an ice cream stand or some such) called “now and then treats.” 

2.  Replace the “grains” category with “nutritious starches.” Corn, legumes and baked potatoes are better switched out with the whole grains, not with the green leafies, etc.

3. Change the Dairy glass to “Dairy or Alternative” and link to your alternative section.

I’m not an RD, but I am an eight-year radical weight-loss maintainer (27% of my body’s highest established weight), which is probably more rare.  I think most RDs would agree with my adjustments to your plate. The milling and baking industry and dairy farmers might have a bone to pick, but you serve the broader citizenry, yes?

Regarding your weight-loss advice:  it is outdated and based in the cultural mythology that weight loss is routinely permanent.  Empirical science does not support this.  You would do more to promote health if you shared that weight maintenance is noble, challenging and rare enough in itself.  Most adults over 30 gain 1 to 2 pounds per year.  Preventing that would be helpful.  People should live joyfully most of the time, eat healthfully most of the time (following the revised plate I’m suggesting), exercise most days, then treasure the body that happens, regardless of its BMI category. 

If people want to lose weight, they need to be told bluntly that, for the rest of their lives, they will need to eat less than most people of their sex and most people at their newly established BMI.  (In other words, the rules for a weight-reduced person are stricter than the rules for a never-obese person.)  They will need to exercise fairly intensely nearly every day for the rest of their lives.  Furthermore, they will need to cope with strong impulses to eat, originating from their endocrine systems, in perpetuity.  It is not simply balancing energy, and most people cannot do it. (Instead, they yo-yo weight cycle and end up fatter, ultimately, ashamed and unhappy.) 

The government’s role, at most, should be to help people maintain their weight where ever it is, regardless of their BMIs.  Anything beyond that should be between a person and his or her doctor, based on individual co-morbidities and other medical concerns.  The myth of the “healthy lifestyle” leading to permanent, radical weight loss has caused immeasurable pain in our culture. You are in a position to stop it, and I hope you will claim that gift.

Thank you for your attention to this request.  I understand how radical it may sound, given our culture, but I trust you will hear the truth in it.

Debra Sapp-Yarwood

Sometimes, I just gotta howl.

  1. Their weight loss advice…”The secret is learning how to balance your ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ over the long run.”

    The “SECRET?” OMG.

    I KNEW there had to be a deep mysterious truth that someone was keeping from us. Thank god we know it, now, at last! No, thank the USDA! 🙂

    I haven’t stopped laughing since I saw MY PLATE.

    It’s almost a perfect replica of the way I ate for decades…the way I ate while maintaining 125 lbs more than I now weigh. The way I ate when I felt hungry every day, and the way I ate when my blood sugar was alarmingly high and my brain was so starved I couldn’t think straight. Yep, a replica, right down to their exclusion of most dietary fat.

  2. Honestly? I think it’s fine. It reminds me of the old “four food groups.” The way I structure traditional meals isn’t a million miles away, except that I consider dairy a protein. The fact that some fat people eat that way doesn’t make it the wrong way to eat. And (I know this is a radical idea) If some people have different ways of eating that they feel contribute to their weighing less, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those ways of eating are healthier. Good nutrition and weight loss / weight management are not necessarily joined at the hip. WLS is an excellent example of that. People who’ve been through it often can’t eat what any of us would consider a healthy diet, yet they become thinner.

  3. @DeeLeigh: Excellent point re “the fact that some fat people eat that way doesn’t make it the wrong way to eat.” And the fact that some thinner folks can eat that way and stay healthy also doesn’t make it the right way to eat.

    Because there isn’t a universally right way.

    People with higher social status (relatively), more employment (and/or economic) security, better access to health care, lower levels of chronic stress, safer living environments, more secure access to safe/reliable transportation, and better access to food variety and exercise options may suffer fewer negative health risks and attain better health outcomes even though they eat diets that would result in poor health outcomes for people who lack those social privileges. When we look at diet or nutrition without contextualizing those factors (without systemic analysis of multiple socially constructed variables) a diet that looks “fine” for one individual may be completely inadequate for another individual who experiences different social forces at work in her/his day to day existence and decade by decade attempt to survive.

    In my response I had hoped to emphasize that it made me physically sick with increased health risks (high BP, high triglycerides, nerve damage, lowered immunity to specific infections and increased inflammation and deterioration of joints), and made me feel like crap often, and worst of all I didn’t understand that unfortunate connection, especially to gluten-containing whole grains and the lack of adequate dietary fat, because I was following the recommended diets from the ADA, USDA, AMA, AHA, etc. Sure, my portion sizes were larger than I needed but that was because I was so darn hungry on that diet.

    I can enjoy many kinds of carbohydrates–including yams, fruits, corn, and even cane sugar–but listing “grains” instead of starches (or carbs), as Debra suggested, was a decision to support agricultural interests not health outcomes.

    • Oh, I just read “grains” as “carbs” and I was thinking it left a lot of room for variation, but you’re right. Root vegetables are part of the same group. That said, probably 3/4 of the carbs I eat are grains: rice, oats, bread and pasta; sometimes whole grain and sometimes not. I eat so many vegetables that I’m not too worried about eating all whole grains, since the vegetables lower the glycemic index of the meal. On the other hand, I don’t think that my personal nutritional philosophy is any kind of universal truth. Different things work for different people.

  4. I couldn’t live without my grains! Oatmeal particularly.

    Not sure I agree with you that dairy should be switched out – the jury is out on the health implications of alternatives like liquid soy. Soy and rice etc aren’t natural liquids and making them such involves a LOT of heavy processing. This may or may not be benign, but a few more years and a lot more study is needed before we’ll know for sure.

    • I suggested that they say “Dairy or Alternative” because so many people have difficulties with dairy, but I wouldn’t shove it off the placemat for those who tolerate it well. Likewise, many people have difficulties with grains, even whole grains, but get satisfaction from and tolerate other starches. As DeeLeigh suggested, I wanted to clarify that root vegetables are in the same category with grains, not with leafy and cruciferous types of vegetables, the colorful peppers, asparagus, cauliflour and such.

  5. Well, what do you know? I got a response to my howl. Just checked my email. This is what they said:

    Hello Debra,

    Thank you for your postive words and your comments.

    Please know that some website pages, including the weight loss section, are still in the process of being updated.

    I will share your comments and suggestions about weight loss and maintenance with the nutritionists working on development.

    USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
    3101 Park Center Drive Suite 1034
    Alexandria, VA 22301

  6. Just shot off a response to their reply:

    Thank you. Tell your nutritionists that if they desire them, I’d be happy to assemble footnotes for any statements I’ve made. Cultural mythology (created by women’s magazines and reality TV, such as Biggest Loser) is lagging behind evidence-based research. What a battle the USDA has to guide us toward health in such a toxic and wrong-headed environment! Best wishes.



  7. Debra, just back from vacay, battling ‘guilty’ thoughts about some of my food choices, and your statement is a heathy reminder of the way I should be thinking:

    “People should live joyfully most of the time, eat healthfully most of the time, exercise most days, then treasure the body that happens, regardless of its BMI category. ”

    Another frame-worthy comment! Thank you.

    Love that they responded to you. Agree with most of the food suggestions/comments. And like one commenter said–where’s the healthy fats? Of course, I haven’t looked at their guidelines myself.

  8. […] ran across this quote in Debra‘s blog on the first day I came home from my trip.  I love it. People should live joyfully […]

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