Dr. Platkin of Hunter College Issues Embarrassing Media Alert

diet-companiesWhen I got an e-mail with the subject line “Media Alert: “Super Bowl” Calorie Costs—in Exercise” I rolled my eyes so hard that I saw my brain. It did not get better in the introductory paragraph (content warning for discussion of trading activity for food, and also terrible staff work.)

Dr. Charles Platkin, executive director of the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College and editor of [ridiculous website I’m not publicizing] demonstrates how much you would need to do to burn off typical “Big Game” snacks. For instance, you would have to run 49 football fields to burn off just two handfuls of potato chips or do “the wave” 6480 times to burn off 6 Buffalo Wild Wings Dipped In Ranch Dressing. Please see below news release.

Later on it uses the reflux-causing phrase “Is it splurge-worthy?” I don’t know why they would spam a fat activism blogger who has written several posts about the ridiculous things that diet companies say in media alerts just like this, but as long as they asked me to write about it, I decided I would.

I’m going to go into the snake oil salesman that I think Charles Platkin is in a moment, but let’s be clear that his credibility was shot the moment he started listing generalities about calories burned.  In truth age, gender, body size, and body composition are a few of the things that effect how many calories one burns during exercise. So if Kacy Catanzaro, Meb Keflezighi, and Shaq all ran 49 football fields, the calories they burned would be quite different. (Not to mention “two handfuls of potato chips?”  Whose hands – The Rock’s or mine?) Charles’ devil-may-care attitude toward accuracy is just the tip of the BS iceburg.

Just so we’re clear, Chuck is NOT a medical doctor.  He received a Ph.D. in Public Health from Florida International University.  He’s also an ACE certified personal trainer, so it’s hard to believe that he doesn’t understand the basics of how calories work. but I’m forced to assume that either he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s betting that we don’t. Regardless, it is unacceptable for him to spread misinformation for profit, though it seems like that may be his specialty.

His website is chock full of cheesy fad diet books (and, oddly, two screenplays) with absolutely no evidence to suggest that they have any better success than any other body size manipulation technique (which is to say, basically none.)

The tips from the media alert are equally ridiculous but this one is far and away my favorite:

The only problem is that, according to The Wall Street Journal, there are only about 11 minutes of actual ball playing in a football game.  That means you need to play more than six games of professional football to burn off 4 Samuel Adams Boston Lager beers at 180 calories per 12 ounces.

Fit Tip: There are some great light beers out there. Do a taste test before the game and see if you can make the event more special with some fancy low calorie beers. Miller 64: 64 calories; Bud Select 55: 55 calories; Michelob Ultra: 95 calories; Natural Light: 95 calories; Miller Lite: 96 calories.

I mean – what the hell? The media alert says “the idea is to use exercise equivalents to provide a frame of reference that is familiar and meaningful… ” Playing professional football is what he considers “familiar and meaningful?”

Even if playing professional football was an option for more than .08% of people who played in high school, there are still problems here. Is he talking about “playing professional football” as a running back? A kicker?  A long snapper? (As a band geek I feel compelled to mention that another tip includes “Performing in a marching band” with no suggestion as to whether he means playing in the pit, or marching with a piccolo – or a sousaphone.  Familiar and meaningful?)

Apparently he knows as much about how calories work as he does about beer since he considers Bud Select, Michelob Ultra, Natty Light, and Miller Lite to be “fancy low calorie beers?” Really? I’ll bet the folks at Stella Artois Light are pretty pissed.

I’m not going to go through all of the “tips”, but suffice it to say that nowhere does he take into account that people actually need food and that the food they eat on Superbowl Sunday might maybe, just maybe, be part of that need. Which leads us to the far more serious point:

On the surface it’s funny that a snake oil selling PhD (and would-be screenwriter?) had this media alert sent to a fat activist blogger. But below the surface it’s less about hilarity and more about gross incompetence.  This guy is the Executive Director of the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College and he is selling books that are no better than a bag of magic weight loss beans, and issuing media alerts that are based on inaccurate information, for which there is no evidence to suggest that they will create health or thinness (which are two separate things.)

Worse – this idea of “trading exercise for food”, or the belief that one must “earn” food, can trigger and perpetuate disordered eating and eating disorders. You can read a heartbreaking first person thread out it here, a piece by an expert from PsychCentral  and another first person piece here. (trigger warning for eating disorder talk.) His website claims : “This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.”

Let’s just say, I’m far less convinced.

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20 thoughts on “Dr. Platkin of Hunter College Issues Embarrassing Media Alert

  1. Well, people like that don’t seem to realize how much food our brain needs. So they probably try to train off everything they eat and their brain just doesn’t get enough calories 🙂 …. would at least explain how they come up with crap like that ….
    Really, all of your points are important, but I always wonder how nowadays people seem to completely forget that we need food even if we do nothing at all

  2. This was another wonderful segment of Ragen talks us through the inaccuracies of general claims made by snake oil salesmen. Thank you so much for the reminder that “a handful of chips” and that “running a football field” are different for everybody.

  3. Oh, sending crap like this to fat people, especially those in FA, is no accident. Here’s the scoop:

    Your reality: you were either born fat or became fat during puberty. For as long as you’ve been fat, people have been giving you unscientific “tips” based on old wives’ tales, superstition, and moral concepts surrounding food (that eating enough to make yourself full is greed, food = sex and eating more than it takes to scrape by a weak and unhealthy demi-existence makes you a wanton slutwhore, etc) that they are sure will make you thin. You do everything they say, if only because you hope being “good” by their standards will stop the day-in, day-out abuse fat people receive from every aspect of mainstream society. You might lose and immediately regain a pound here and there, but you do not become thin. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t eat, or in what combination you do or don’t eat it, or how much exercise you do, or what kind of exercise you do; nothing changes. They then say you must be lying and give you the same “advice” again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And you keep following it, and getting the same (lack of) result. The abuse continues, the advice continues, thinness either never happens or never sticks, and this cycle perpetuates until you either find Fat Acceptance and break it or die, possibly OF your weight loss attempts.

    The fatphobe’s fantasy: You started out thin, but the allure of the cookies and cakes and all the favorite foods they deny themselves for moral purity was just too much for *you* (you greedy slutwhore), so you ate them all and were corrupted into fatness. Nobody ever told you this was wrong or said anything bad to you about your weight, ever, because society coddles fat people so they’ll buy more McDonald’s food, just like in that Morgan Spurlock movie. And one day, as you are sitting on your tower of Big Macs and Hostess food, eating nonstop and watching TV and feeling all sad and lonely… you get THEIR e-mail. The one that tells you it’s just a matter of calories in vs. calories out. The one that tells you to fill up with water before your meal and get up a little hungry. The one that tells you about things called “di-ets” and “ex-cer-cise” which you have never heard of before, ever. Tears drip down your gross fat cheeks as this beautiful, moral, and *totally new* knowledge floods your fat half-functional animal brain. You triumphantly throw your burgers and cake out the window and set off for that brisk ten-minute walk around the neighborhood you could not have possibly ever taken before. In no time, you have become a thin and proper Real Person.

    So the fatphobe fires off that e-mail from their fantasy, we get it in our reality, and summarily dump it in the trash because in our day-in-day-out culture of fat devaluation, it’s just one more deliberate fart to the face. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. It won’t even be the first or the last *that day.*

    1. This is so true, and so painful, but also funny at the same time. This is a sharp shot to the heart of the reality most of us “fatties” live in.

  4. Wow, I just wanted to thank you for linking to that psych central piece. I almost died from anorexia 30 years ago, and I’ve never heard ED described in such accurate terms. Thank you.

    1. That depends. Are you doing flips and a pyramid, or just doing a few kicks?

      If there are no flips and pyramids, it doesn’t really count as exercise, you know.

      Just like if you walk ten miles, rather than run the same ten miles, it doesn’t really count as exercise, because you took too long to go the same distance. Just ask aaaaaallllll the marathon “experts” who commented about Ragen’s marathon.

  5. And on and on and on. If there is truly nothing new under the sun. Then the shade from my fat ass is where these morons come up with this bogus-anti-factual-fear and guilt mongering crappola before during and after every social event or holiday in which they visualize painfully the bad bad fatties eating more than they should and the “on the edge” of becoming fatties are in need of being reminded how not to be come one of “them”. Moral superiority. In this shadow land you are either A: a model of food purity will power, wise eating choices and exercise habits or a lazy, stupid, glutinous fat slob who has never seen the inside of a gym or et anything but junk food all your miserable fat life. Next event must be Mardi Gras and the calories in all those alcoholic beverages and grease bombs at the bar and then…swimsuit season. And so on and so on…

  6. On behalf of snakes everywhere, I am offended by your frequent association of this BS with the oil of the snake. Also, Ragen, you suggested light beer as an alternative drink. Why drink beer at all if you have to drink the so-called “light” version? Oh, well, this is not the place for me air my thoughts about beer. I am not currently drinking anything since at my age I am already lightheaded without it, for free. LOL

    PS–Reading your column is always a delight!

    1. agreed. I like snakes, it’s peoples venom I find so poisonous and painful. Snakes biting is a defense with people, it is like this moron getting upset about some unseen person-consuming these imaginary calories-somewhere some how and he just can’t handle it!

  7. I’m not a scientific person but hasn’t been absolutely, 100% proven beyond a shad of any doubt that calories don’t matter when it comes to weight gain and it’s whats in your genes?

    Why do people still make money off of this? Is this just going to get worse now that we have a non science friendly president?

  8. I’m so, so tired of panic-inducing articles about what effect *one day* of dietary indulgence will have on the nation’s weight. The Super Bowl, Thanksgiving, your birthday, whatever. ONE DAY is going to RUIN EVERYTHING! You mustn’t lose control for ONE SECOND or you will PACK ON THE POUNDS! (Yes gods, I hate that phrase.)

    And the fallacy of *just choosing a lower-calorie option!* That’s all it takes–just nibble lettuce while your friends scarf pizza with abandon! Egg-white omelettes–you won’t notice the difference! Soon skim milk will taste just like whole milk–you’ll see! Mm, fancy light beer! Yecch! The people who earnestly tell me that egg-white omelettes and coffee with skim milk instead of half-and-half taste just the same! have no palette, and I’d rather be fat and able to enjoy a real beer.

    1. Not only does skim milk not taste anything like whole milk, it also does not satisfy you like whole milk, and you wind up consuming more, just trying to achieve the same satisfaction of a smaller serving of whole milk.

      And eggs without yolks are blaaaaaand. That little yolk is where all the flavor is. Yeah, you notice the difference.

      1. But I’m stupid because I’m fat 😉 So I’ll believe there’s no taste difference, and anyway I deserve s bland tedious diet until I expiate my sin of being too big!

  9. Makes me wonder if Dr. Platkin might advocate the chewing of cardboard as a replacement for food. But only for those who need to control their food intake.

    **eye roll**

  10. Hit the nail right in the head! Besides the Super Bowl tailgate food-exercise equivalents, how about those darn mainstream fitspiration memes that equate food to burpees? UUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH! Those memes make me vomit – for a 130 lb person, one has to do 765 burpees to burn a cheeseburger. Other memes equating food to how much of a specific exercise one has to do drives me nuts. Why can’t we just view exercise as it is – a self-appreciation of our body’s movement – and not a punitive means to burn off a brunch come Easter Monday?

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