Thursday, January 28, 2010

What You Know Can’t Hurt You

They say that knowledge is power, but for me, it turns out that knowledge is will power.

I used to enjoy stopping in at Starbucks from time to time and treating myself to a gooey sweet frothy beverage. Even the six-dollar price tag didn't slow me down. Just listen to that name: “Caramel Machiato”; it just rolls off your tongue like a mouthful of goodness.

But then my wife Anita clued me in that my favorite delicacy was apparently loaded with roughly 300 calories worth of fat, sugar and empty, no-good-for-you nothingness.

“That can’t be right,” I exclaimed. “It’s coffee.”

So, on my next visit, I ordered my sweet treat with skim milk. I grimaced when I placed my order, and once I got my cup, I may have bragged a little to Anita.

“Did you get ‘em to leave off the whipped cream?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as she sipped on her herbal tea. “That’s about 60 to 110 calories and 6 to 11 grams of fat.”


So the next time, I got a no-fat, no-whip Caramel Machiato, and winked at Anita.

“Did you get the regular vanilla syrup in it?” she asked. “Two pumps of syrup adds on 40 calories and 10 grams of sugar.”


The next time I went to Starbucks, I just ordered a hot tea.

Here’s the thing: once you really understand exactly what’s in the food and drinks you love, it’s difficult to find the same blind enjoyment in them that you once did.

Here’s some other tidbits that wrung the love out of my favorite foods:
  • Just because you’re eating a salad doesn’t mean you’re God’s gift to dieting. A scant tablespoon of a full-fat dressing can pack 50 calories onto your meal. At a salad per day, that tablespoon of dressing on each salad equals roughly 5 pounds a year.

  • Energy bars are well-known for being full of healthful vitamins and minerals. However, that little bar is also packed with calories, a lot of them coming in at 200 or more. That’s appropriate for an athlete who needs to maintain fuel without a lot of bulk, but as a snack, that’s a heap of calories.

  • I used to down a lot of sports drinks when playing basketball, but lately have learned that drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade typically contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas and more sodium to boot. The same holds true for sweetened waters such as VitaminWater and SoBe Life Water. I’ve transitioned to this new drink I’ve discovered: water.

  • A year ago, I was drinking a buttload of Diet Cokes. Come to find out that caffeine increases your insulin level which has the end result of slowing down your fat-burning system. The lack of calories in diet sodas, teas and coffee are truly deceiving. Restrict your caffeine intake for faster weight loss.

  • Ever wondered why restaurant soup tastes better than what you make at home? Roughly 90% of restaurant's soups are simply loaded with fat, salt and cholesterol. In fact, a bowl of Quiznos's Mushroom Bisque has 18 grams of fat per cup. Be aware that substituting soup for a salad is not always the healthier choice.

  • You ran out of the house without breakfast, so what’s wrong with picking up a muffin? The fact is, the lowfat muffins at Starbucks contain 380 calories each. Yes, that's the lowfat one. The regular muffins clock in at about 475 calories each, and many of them come sprinkled with even more sugar on top.

  • We all know that soda is bad for us; what many of us don’t realize is just how much of it we drink. Most restaurants provide free refills to convince you it’s a good deal, and you keep drinking because… hey, free soda! But empty calories are just empty calories; plan on having no more than one glass because it adds up to too many calories, too quickly. Think about it: you don't get back from a restaurant and exclaim " Wow, that was some really delicious soda!"

  • Let’s face it: fast food isn’t what it was in the good ol’ days. Today, an average fast food meal consists of a burger with 6 ounces of meat and a drink that can be from a quart to a half-gallon (32 to 64 ounces). In the 1950's, a fast food meal consisted of a burger with only 1 ounce of meat and the drink was only a cup (8 ounces).
There’s a guy whose weight-loss journey I follow mostly because it’s one of the most unique approaches I’ve run across. Eric at The Fattest Person Ever is attempting to lose weight by eating virtually every meal at a restaurant (albeit just in smaller portions). It simply flies in the face of everything I think I know about this business, and just about every one of my comments there is me sh*tting on his parade.

For instance, he was touting Starbuck’s spinach & feta wraps, giving it mad props for its great taste and the fact that it only has 240 calories. In my comment, I pointed out the fact that the sammich comes in at 48% of the DV for sodium (he had two of them), and the ingredients list is something straight out of a food chemistry textbook. I also told him to keep in mind that it's coming out now that restaurants are notoriously underreporting calorie counts. Why? Because they can and there's no reason not to...

While it’s true that we have never been in an age where we’ve been bombarded by so many food choices, larger-than-life portions and eating opportunities, we’ve also never been in an age where nutritional information is more easily or readily accessible.

Open your eyes, and you just might shut your mouth.


  1. The important thing is that we care about what goes into our mouths. I never use to and to me that's a huge thing.

    I have had my eyes opened to alot of things and so greatful for the knowledge that at one point I didn't even give a second thought to.

    So right on the starbucks, your wife is a very smart women :-)

  2. Exactly. There are some things I just can't eat anymore because I KNOW exactly what's in them. My whole family is more careful about that nowadays. :)

    Also, yay for drinking water.

  3. I just wrote a blog last week about me and a group of my coworkers going to eat at Chilis. Even the stuff on their "guiltless grill" isn't great in terms of sodium. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that 99% of our eating needs to be done at home with food that we have prepared. The other 1% we try to do the best we can wherever we are.

  4. Starbuck's skinny decaf cinammon dolce latte! Check it out:) And Powerade Zero!

  5. Great post Jack. When it comes to liquids I've settled on water, milk, some fruit juices and seltzer myself after a life of drinking all the crap you described. I've even weaned my kids off those sports drinks. I just posted an article on Dangers of Diet Soda if you're interested.


  6. Jack, I save a Lot of money and calories by drinking various flavored hot teas at work with Splenda. Zero calories, almost immediate gratification (microwave style, not sexual) and about 12 cents a cup!


  7. Conscious and diligent, that's what this dieting thing calls for. It's tough, tough, tough. Even when we know and try to do well, we're often shooting ourselves in the gut.

  8. One thing a lot of people forget with those protien bars, is that for most of us, it's a MEAL REPLACEMENT BAR not a snack bar.

    My daughter got really bored last night while I went through the nutrition aisle and was comparing calories per gram of protein per gram of sugars. I ended up buying nothing, beucase they didn't have the flavors I wanted in a decent low sugar low calories per protien ratio.

  9. So what you are saying here is that ignorance is bliss.............


  10. Great post and it touches on one my hill-to-die-on subjects, the "food industry machine." While I am ALL FOR personal responsibility and being educated, I realize that most people have a blind trust in the "food industry machine." And why not? In the history of the world, we haven't had any reason to not trust food until very recently (relatively speaking). We're hard-wired to trust those who feed us, right? But we can't and we must continue to educate ourselves...this goes for everyone, overweight or not. I highly recommend the book "The End of Overeating" by Dr. David Kessler for a real eye-opener on restaurant foods...

  11. How does one eat or drink something when you know its bad for you...I no longer drink soda's or pizza due to calories etc that is hidden in them.
    Now this is what I was *saying* in my entry that anon gave me such a hard time...I am making changes and my hubby is not on the same page as me, why should he be, he's not on the same journey I'm on...and it makes it harder for me this situation...

  12. Thanks Jack. This gives me some hope. These are all the things I have been looking at in my food choices. It reminds me I am on the right path, it is just a little slower going. I read labels and not just for the calories. I check the fat, the sodium, etc.
    Carmel Machiato and Carmel Frap-a-hoopies use to be my drink of choice.
    I struggle constantly with my WW program as I am trying to eat unprocessed not just un caloried. But I continue to go because the support keeps me muddling through.
    I like your more serious posts as u put it just as much as the hilarious ones. It helps me learn.
    thank u

  13. Caffeine and insulin.
    The debate continues.
    Over on the LC blogs it is still raging on.

  14. Jack, I always have heard that it's all about calories in and calories out, but I've always thought it's got to be FAR more complicated than that. I've been doing all I can to reduce sodium, for instance, and choose less processed foods. Will it make a difference? Not sure yet, but after reading your post - I'd have to think so. Good stuff!

  15. That is so true about actually knowing the nutritional value of the foods you eat! I am just re-staring this calorie counting/dieting/healthy eating thing and it is a real eye-opener! I shudder to think how what I was consuming prior to paying attention to my food! It was tasty then...but now it just doesn't have the same appeal knowing what is in it!

  16. Great post Jack. I have had that whole coffee scenario myself. "Yes, can I have a nonfat, sugar free, decaffeinated vanilla latte, please? Or, perhaps just some boiled" Portion sizes are out of control, and we all need to be aware of just what we poke in our mouth and consider not only fat, calories and sugars, but all the hidden crap they like to put in there. :)

  17. I'm glad you are making your readers aware of the hidden- sugar, salt, etc. It's those little things that really add up! Sometimes it is just better to get the hot tea. :)


  18. GREAT POST JACK! I meet friends at Starbucks weekly and some of them are on Weight Watchers with me and get those HUGE carmel covered drinks. YIKES! I printed out a list of TALL drinks under 200 calories and put it on the table last week. I also figured out one of my friends drinks 6 points. 6 points is MORE than my daily lunch!!! I'm not sure she will ever speak to me again but I had to TRY to open her eyes. lol

  19. "Open your eyes, and you just might shut your mouth."


  20. I love this post. I have noticed since I stopped drinking diet I have more energy and no migraines. This world is to focused on fast and the things we are willing to put in our mouth is sad. I love the Starbucks story. By the time you make it half way decent for you why bother. Water is better for you anyway!

  21. Thanks for the tips! I'm a bit of a diet pepsi addict and I've been considering cutting that habit out. Maybe this is the reminder and push I needed.

  22. Great post, very helpful tips! The bit about the caffeine boosting your insulin levels is interesting. I used to be a diet Coke junkie, but recently cut that out because of the artificial sweeteners. Although I still drink quite a bit of coffee, so I've still got the caffeine intake problem.

    Another similar tip - my wife drinks a lot of milk, because it's good for you, right? With all that calcium and all. But even drinking skim milk, we calculated the other day that she's probably drinking in an extra 500-600 calories a day. She's decided to cut way back. Turns out milk doesn't always do a body good.

  23. Shut up and you'll see things for what they are. Great advice. We can't talk our way around bad eating.

    I've found that what we find delicious about prepared, processed foods is really the sodium and fat and who knows what else. Knowing what I was really tasting helped turned things around. Now, that sh*t just doesn't taste the same. In fact, it tastes foreign, and not unlike garbage.

  24. But alas, some of us cannot give up our starbucks addictions - so we make better choices. Non-fat lattes, or on a day when a real treat is in order - non fat, half sweet caramel machiatto. Do they put whip cream on your machiato's in the states? Whip cream is not offered here - so no whip!

    It is true though, you have to know what you are eating/drinking as those drinks/muffins can be deceiving!

  25. P.S.

    I commend you for trying to reach out to Eric. It's natural to reach out to others who are struggling or faltering and explain that it's not impossible and not even as difficult as they think. Sometimes words of blind support just don't cut it, and will even be an unhealthy form of enabling. But sometimes people want that unconditional support. They don't want to hear what you're saying, or are a bit put off by others telling them what to do. Sometimes, they know what they are doing is wrong but just don't have the will or whatever to change. I know, I've tried it, too, and have been met with hostility.

    Your persistence and honesty is refreshing. Just don't get frustrated too much when you find that some people can't--or won't--change for the long-term.

  26. I love Starbucks too much to stop cold turkey.

  27. I'm going to have to check into the caffeine vs insulin debate. As an insulin dependant diabetic I'd love to know more about how this affects my management. I'm not a huge diet cola drinker (maybe one a day) but I do love my coffee (still not overly excessive)....

    And I do believe there is no quicker way to steal the joy out of eating than to be diagnosed with diabetes and experience fullon the effects of food choices....

  28. Haha...I am actually drinking a (skim with sugar free vanilla syrup) iced caramel macchiato as I type this!

    I used to be the WORST Starbucks offender, I would get a caramel frappucino (the more whipped cream the better!) almost every day!

    Now I stick to iced coffee with sugar free syrup and a little cream or half and half. Much more reasonable at about 50-75 calories.

    Of course every now and then (like today!) I splurge on an iced caramel helped that I had a Starbucks giftcard so the price tag didn't enter into my decision much!

  29. Very true post. The statement you made about salads rings true. It is amazing the fat and calories found in most salad dressing. I don't know to many people who measure out the 2 tblspn. serving size either, most just pour it on.

    Starbucks annoys me. Just needed to vent that random fact.

  30. So true! Open your eyes, then open them some more! It's amazing the amount of fat and calories and sodium there is in restaurant and take-out food!
    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for McDonalds. You could get a burger, fries, drink, cherry pie for 94 cents. The burger was small, the fries were small and the drink was small. This was considered a treat. Not a daily treat and not even a weekly treat. Something families would do occasionally.
    Funny how we are seduced into super-sizing everything cause it's the best deal!
    Funny how we are now super-sizing ourselves!
    Thanks for the reminder!

  31. Good advice but please don't tell me about the caffeine. *sticks fingers in ears and sips on Rock Star* :)

    No one can argue with your advice. Just look at your results!!! Watch out. I'm joining you soon in Onederland. I'm sick of Two-ston.

  32. Good point about the Energy Bars, they're off the grocery list!


  34. Not sure if I buy the caffeine argument, but the rest of it is sound.

    You can lose weight eating restaurant food only; it's just going to be a lot harder to do and a lot riskier.

  35. You're breaking my heart with the diet coke news, Jack.

    On the whole, though, this post was very on point. It's so important to be aware of what we're eating, and you just can't get that with restaurant and processed foods.

  36. Your blog is awesome! Love the advice and humor. Keep up the good work. I also discovered one of your secrets many years ago...water. Eating the right foods and drinking water, along with weightloss can also help with many diseases like asthma, diabetes, heart problems...I even think the studies where food is linked to helping Eating out at restaurants is a little risky and hurts the pocketbook.

  37. When I gave up diet soda, I felt so much better. My blood pressure is lower due to less sodium intake, and I don't have a caffeine addiction anymore, so I sleep better most of the time. Plus, I think it's just a good idea to keep those chemicals out of your body.

  38. Great post! I learned something, read a lot i already knew being the parent of kids with food allergies and being an avid label reader and I totally agree on the prefabricated, sodium laden foods.

    I had a fish burrito from taco del mar (fast food chain)last night and was glad for the 15 min walk and the online menu with calroies suggested and healthy alternatives offered. On their website they spelled out how much more protien and less calories the black beans were than the refried pintos. Wheat vs White flour tortilla etc... Logically I KNEW this info but armed with it in print, my teen daughters also made some better choices for themselves when ordering. The knowledge changed all of our choices.

  39. When I visit Starbucks, I switched my white chocolate mocha (I KNOW!) to a venti filter coffee with sugar-free caramel syrup. :o) How bloody virtuous is that?!

  40. Soda was the hardest for me...I still struggle with it sometimes actually. I knew that artificial sweeteners could act as a placebo also slowing down weight loss, but I did not know that caffeine could.

    It is actually kinda scary that restaurants lie about nutrition information...Thanks for that bit of info.

  41. Hey Jack,
    I buy starbucks french roast ground coffee and brew it at home.
    I too used to like grande white mochas with whip.
    In fact, the day my flip switched I was sucking one down...all 450 calories worth.
    I still drink coffee and the occasional diet coke. Beats the heck out of the pot of coffee and regular soda I used to drink. I have lost about 82 lbs in 8 months...and one week. So right on track for me. I eat out about once a month. I eat stuff I shouldn't occasionally. Just not near as much, I exercise almost daily.
    for me it's become a balance, between enjoying food and enjoying life and sometimes enjoying life by enjoying food. Just not alot of food.
    I think it's interesting what that dude is doing with the restaurants, if for no other reason then to find out WHAT he is eating, so that when I drive cross country next year to visit family, I will know what to buy. lol.
    my own human guinea pig.
    Have a great day,
    A deliberate life

  42. Good real information in this post man. SOO many people are especially blinded by the whole diet soda thing. In all reality, it's really not any better for weight loss than regular soda because of the change in glycemic index that it causes and how the sweet taste can give you cravings for other sweet treats. Good work!

  43. The more I learned about what went into foods the more I made my own from scratch. There are definitely foods that are 100% off limits for me now.

  44. Excellent, excellent post. Very informative. I just discovered caramel macchiatos for the first time on the day after Christmas. I have two names for it. Sex in a cup (because it's just that damn good), and Evil. I try to concentrate on the latter name so I'll leave that sinful stuff alone. BTW, let me know when you want to have that showdown on the elliptical ;)

  45. As someone with insulin resistance, I have to disagree with your caffeine comment.

    Studies have shown that caffeine alone will mess with your insulin; however, the antioxidents in tea & coffee create enough balance that subjects showed no change in their insulin levels compared to those taking caffeine capsules who did.

    Just wanted to share because I researched this quite a bit (the study is from JAMA BTW) before {happily} realizing I did not have to give up my coffee. ;)

    Otherwise - spot on Jack!
    BTW - International Delight has a new Skinny Caramel Macchiato creamer. 30 calories a tbs ... no where as good as Starbucks but if you squinch your eyes & pretend...pretty good. lol

  46. You said it Jack...I've been trying to help Eric out periodically. He is trying my collective patience even though I'm sure he has made great changes from where he was. I'm just not sure how much of a train wreck I've really been watching and trying to prevent.

  47. I don't drink coffee or tea, so the only caffeine I was getting was from the HUGE amounts of Coke I was drinking. When I cut out Coke and started drinking Diet Coke, I lost more weight. And as I get further in my quest to cut out soda altogether, it's coming off even faster.

    We can't afford to eat out really, so that's saved me...but I do know that restaurants are bad for that stuff. I prefer to eat at home anyway.

    Great post!!

  48. Jack.. Fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You know I could go on and on and on with a reply on this but let's just say: READ LABELS PEOPLE & there is plenty of info online too!


  49. Extremely informative post, Jack. Thanks!

  50. Jack, we are twins sepatated at birth, I think. :)

    Ok...I have not done the latte thing in over 10 days because I am ditching dairy till I get to my goal weight. But....I learned how to order the carmel macchiato. Skim milk, 1/2 pump of vanilla and just a quick tiny drizzel of the carmel. No whipped cream. It still tastes VERY sweet that way..but only has 100-150 calories. And...a little protein from the skim milk.

    But...still...not really something that ought to make it into the daily line-up! A once in a while special treat. For I can perhaps enjoy again in pounds or so. (Laser

  51. Nice post Jack. I kept waiting for the punch line or smart as joke, but then I realized the entire post was a wake up call. Thanks for the tips. I've recently started watching my sodium intake. It's unbelievable how much sodium is in the frozen meals and such.

  52. Okay, Debbie Downer....Of course you are right, but how un-fun!

    I do have to take issue with the caffeine thing. Some studies go the other way with weight loss etc., and when it comes to antioxidants, coffee rules! Ain't no way I will ever give it up!

    Totally agree about the diet soda - I have not had one in nearly 5 months. But not because of the sodium - its the excessive fake sugar that freaks me out. And the studies showing that people who drink diet soda are fatter.

    Also....Take it easy on Eric. The guy is a former "binge addict", as he explains, and to go from 10,000 calorie binges to eating just part of every meal is HUGE progress. I don't think any of us can know what that is like unless we've been there. And he is losing weight. Maybe he will work out the sodium/sugar/fat thing later on down the road, but for now just cutting his portions is working for him. I see a bunch of people over there giving him sh*t, and that is sort of uncool. But I know you are just trying to help the guy out, which is admirable.

    Can you tell I like your humorous posts better? ;)

  53. Loved this post, Jack. It's true that there is a lot of calorie-shock with the food we eat nowadays, especially at restaurants. Since portion sizes are so outrageous, a lot of times when I'm at a fast food place I order a kid's meal. It seems silly, but it's a great portion for me, and those usually don't have too many calories as long as you don't have soda with them. By the way, it's ridiculous how people *expect* huge portions nowadays. At McDonald's, the large size cup is 32 oz and I've had many people look at it and say "THIS is a large?" Uh, yeah. I think a quart is plenty for you. But even when I make good choices eating out (as that blogger you mentioned is trying to do) I still notice a significant difference in my body when I'm eating most of my meals at home than when I'm eating out most of the time. Plus, cooking is fun!

  54. Hey Funny Man, I gave you the Happy Award on my blog today. =) You don't have to do anything with it, just wanted to know you and your blog make me happy!

  55. I haven't been into a starbucks since learning the same things you have. My drink of choice was the caramel machiato as well.

  56. Here via Fat Daddy:

    Thanks for the tip on diet drinks. I'll be dropping back to caffeine-free ASAP. Since I used the diet drinks as craving-fulfillers, I was drinking 4-6 a day.
    You're in my RSS now!

  57. "The next time I went to Starbucks, I ordered hot tea." truely made me LOL. The kittehs read the nutrition facts on low fat, sugar free, vanilla lattes at Mc Donalds. It sounded like such a treat. Let me just say.... Mc Donald employees do not appreciate detailed instructions. After causing a huge delay in the drive through and getting a stern glare from the server .... the next time we "needed" a drink from Mc Donalds, we just ordered Diet Cokes!

  58. Two things that annoy the crap out of me: 1) being told there is a "right" way to lose weight that everyone should adhere to, and 2) unsolicited weight loss advice.

    I've lost 150 pounds (from 286 to 135) and no, I didn't stop going to Starbucks. I even have ::gasp:: pizza or a burger a few times a week. And Doc says I'm as healthy as anyone she knows.

  59. Oh man...I am totally on board with all of this and am aleady heeding this advice...until I need to limit my coffee. I've already gone to one diet coke per day...but my coffee???

    I know I should try it for a week. Just not this week!

    Oh crap. That's not a good response. I will try it this week - one coffee; one diet soda. Damn motivating bloggers...

  60. When I finally decided to live healthier, I started reading food and beverage labels. Boy, those things are a nightmare. I now stay away from processed food whenever I can. (Except hotdogs and corned beef. I can't break the habit. O.o) Knowing is just one thing. But having the will to say no and stay away from unhealthy food is another thing.



Related Posts with Thumbnails