February 14, 2008

Vending machine dilemma

On my team, I’ve become known pretty quickly as the healthy one. I feel like it shouldn’t be that apparent – I make smart choices when I go out, but it’s more the result of me doing research before I leave the office to plan what I want before I get there. I’m never asking for calorie info at restaurants, and I also almost never get just a salad. I guess being healthy is such a big part of my lifestyle that it’s just obvious, which I guess is good.

What’s interesting is, my team is ostensibly all about eating healthy too. However, they’re not into actually taking the time to learn about health/fitness – they fall for a lot of silly tricks that I learned about a long time ago. A few examples:

  • Thinking that everything at Subway is healthy, even if you add mayonnaise and cheese
  • Thinking that everything at KnowFat Lifestyle Grille is nonfat, even the fries and the burgers
  • Thinking that calorie counts on exercise machines are 100% accurate, so if you want a 400 calorie cookie all you have to do is about 10 minutes on the elliptical until it says 400 calories burned
  • Not realizing that drinks (coffee, alcohol, etc) have a TON of calories and can be just as bad as the meal if you have a few
  • Ordering a large Caesar salad (with cheese and croutons and creamy dressing) for dinner, and thinking that’s really healthy
  • Eating three rolls with butter (one person) before the appetizers get there

I’ve been trying to help them break these and other bad habits, but I’m trying not to be pushy about it, so I’m dishing my advice out a little at a time. As a result, my team has started consulting me about everything they eat. Last night at our fancy team dinner, they actually started quizzing me at the table on calorie counts of different foods. I felt kind of weird about it, but I went with it. They were impressed when I knew that your average banana was 121 calories (not 120 or 122), and than an apple is 70 (they guessed 10).

Unfortunately, I think they still have a long way to go. Take this morning. I went to go fill up my water bottle in the break room, and ran into one of my colleagues in there. He was staring at the vending machine, trying to figure out what to get for breakfast because he hadn’t had time to stop and get something healthier on the way. His question to me: what has the least calories in this machine? Well, I looked, and saw chips… candy bars… pretzels… gum…

I knew the gum would have the least calories, but my team is having a hard time grasping the calorie counting concept so I didn’t want to confuse him yet with the idea that some calories are “better” than others. (That is, 1/4 of a candy bar and a plain grilled chicken breast may have about the same amount of calories, but it’s a heck of a lot healthier to eat the chicken breast, and a lot more filling too).

Before answering, I offered him some oatmeal that I keep in my bag for emergencies such as this. I even had three different kinds to offer: Kashi Vanilla, Trader Joe’s Cranberry, and Trader Joe’s Apples and Cinnamon. However, he declined and kept eyeing the vending machine. With a sigh, I started scanning it as well. I asked myself, if I were forced at gunpoint to eat breakfast from this machine, what would I choose?

I first looked for raisins or trail mix (yes, I know salted nuts suck, but they’re better than Doritos)… no dice. The first thing I saw that seemed remotely okay was the cinnamon Pop Tarts. People eat those for breakfast, right? I know they’re full of sugar and tons of crap, but they’re meant as a breakfast food so maybe Kellogg’s puts in vitamins and stuff? At any rate, it seemed better than a bag of Funyun’s. (According to DailyPlate, one Brown Sugar Cinnamon Poptart has 210 calories and provides only 10% of most vitamins – that’s pretty terrible considering it’s a common breakfast choice).

However, I then saw the Fig Newtons and knew that would have to be my best pick. Still lots of sugar, but relatively low calorie (at least compared to some of the junk in that machine), and figs at have fiber and I think some protein. (According to DailyPlate, I was right, but they were actually still crappier for you then I expected. 200 calories, only 2g of protein and 3g of fiber. However, 4g fat isn’t bad.) So I made my final recommendation.

My colleague responded, “what about those? Are those healthy?” As I followed his finger point, I found myself looking at a package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. Really? You look for healthy and you pick cookies? Interesting. I vetoed that choice, but was surprised when I started writing this post to discover that the Milanos aren’t that much worse than the Fig Newtons: 230 cals, 1g fiber, 3g protein, and 13g fat. The fat is much higher, but from a fiber/protein/vitamins perspective, the Fig Newtons aren’t much better.

In the end, I went back to my desk to learn that maybe I have some more to learn about making smart food choices, and not necessarily vetoing cookies just because they’re cookies (or at least, remembering that Fig Newtons are cookies too). However, the real lesson I learned is to always bring my oatmeal and never go near that vending machine.

As for my colleague? He chose the Pop Tarts (oops), but ignored my recommendation to eat just one of the two in the package. And he paired it with a can of Pepsi (at least he skipped the diet soda after our discussion yesterday on artificial sweeteners). So his breakfast in sum: 570 calories, 16g fat, 0g fiber, 67g sugar, 4g protein. Yum yum!


2 thoughts on “Vending machine dilemma”

  1. OMG I love oatmeal, I would have like knocked you down to get it out of your bag. It’s very strange what people “think” or choose to think is healthy.

  2. I love oatmeal. I eat it every morning for breakfast – with one of the five bananas I bring into work every Monday (healthy, and visual countdown of my weekdays!)

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