Soda Ban: Why It’s Bad

Featured Article, Weight Loss
on September 19, 2012

Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: What do you think about the ban on super-size soft drinks in New York City?—Heather

DEAR HEATHER: Thanks SO much for asking, because ever since this proposal came up a couple of months ago, I’ve been DYING to put in my two cents. For those of you not in-the-know, here are the facts: The New York City Board of Health, at the urging of mayor Michael Bloomberg, just last week approved a measure to bar the sale of many (but not all) sweetened drinks over 16 ounces. The move is clearly aimed at Big Gulp-sized sodas: fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, alcoholic beverages and no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected.

Now, I’ve said many, many times before that it’s better to CHEW your calories than to suck them down through a straw, for a number of reasons. First, research suggests that calories delivered in liquid form do not satisfy your appetite like the calories that come from solid foods. When you’re trying to get to or maintain a healthy weight, getting the maximum satisfaction from the calories you do consume is completely key to stave off hunger and cravings that drive you to overeat. What do you think would be more satisfying: the 240 calories in a 20 oz. Coke, or a turkey-and-Swiss on whole wheat, which costs you about the same number of calories?

Even though fruit juices can be more virtuous than soda—at least those that contain 100% juice (which means there’s no added sugar or corn syrup)—they’re not all that, either. They’re still high in the same kind of stealthy liquid calories that add up quickly without your knowing it. And while they do deliver some nutrients, you’re much better off eating whole fruit because of the fiber and other nutrients you get through the skin and pulp.

But that said, I’m not a fan of NYC’s ban. Not at all. For one thing, it makes little sense to exempt milkshakes and coffee drinks (if, indeed, Frappuccinos are affected—Starbucks is still trying to figure that one out). My big problem with it, though, is that we all need to learn to make choices and to live within our calorie “budget.” Most people don’t even know they HAVE a budget—I didn’t, before I started my journey. We have to understand that we have a limited number of calories to “spend” a day, and from there, figure out how to use them in the healthiest way. Think about it this way: When you get your paycheck each month (or every two weeks), you’ve got a bunch of bills to pay—your mortgage or rent, your utilities, food, etc. The “musts.” Anything left over goes to the fun stuff: movies, dinners out, that new pair of fall boots. And, maybe, you save a little bit for a rainy day.

RELATED: Why Diet Soda May Be Sabotaging Your Diet 

You can apply this scenario to your daily diet. The “bills,” the “musts,” are the five to nine servings of fruits and veggies you need a day, the low-fat dairy, the lean protein, the whole grains—the foods that deliver important nutrients to keep you healthy, vital, energetic, ALIVE. After “spending” your calories on the basics, THEN you can have your sodas, your shakes, your mini ice-cream sandwiches (MY current fave treat). And if you’re trying to lose weight, maybe you do without that treat most days, so you can bank a few calories. (For the purposes of this discussion, I’m leaving out talk of exercise—you already know how I feel about that.)

Of course, in this little story, there are no credit cards, no forwarding balances … but there ARE interest and penalties to pay if you exceed that daily calorie allotment, or if you sacrifice the “musts” in order to spend your stash on treats. Interest and penalties the form of sluggishness and fatigue, lack of sleep, colds and sniffles, other more serious conditions and diseases that come from poor nutrition over time—and extra pounds.

This all might sound daunting. But you can figure out how many calories you need based on your height, gender, activity level and other factors—plus get an estimated number of servings per food group—with the help of the USDA’s My Plate Daily Food Plan calculator.

That’s the kind of government investment we need—not a Bandaid soda ban. We need to take responsibility for the dietary choices we make, to recognize that we can’t keep “spending” our calories willy-nilly on whatever we want whenever we want. And not only should we not have to rely on a government body to set limits on what we can consume—those types of actions teach us NOTHING. It’s the same thing as having a nagging husband or friend or mom asking, “Are you SURE you want that?” when reach for the piece of dark chocolate you’ve carefully “budgeted” for that day. I don’t know about you, but all that makes me want to do is REBEL.

I AM in favor of information and education, though, so I do love the fact that fast food restaurants are posting calorie counts on their menus and at the drive through. That move, to me, will only help us make the choices and tradeoffs we need to make in order to get to a healthier place as individuals and as a country. Our goal should be just that—to make sure we have the information we need to make better choices. The rest, I believe, should be left up to us.

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Ask her your question here.