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Ontiveros: Star of a new NBC drama? The American diet

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Maybe I’m getting a little too involved with TV, because all I want to do is help Kate, the sister on “This Is Us.”

If you’ve watched the excellent new NBC drama, you know Kate is not happy about her weight. She’s large, but so what? Kate’s beloved (especially by her twin and fun new boyfriend), talented (boy, can she sing) and pretty. But a lifelong – she’s just turned 36 – battle with weight has battered her self-esteem and confidence.

This bugs me because I see a reason – something beyond the character’s control – as to why Kate keeps gaining weight: the year she was born, 1980.


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That’s the year the government started telling us the “right” way to eat through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommendations heavy on carbohydrates/short on fat that have resulted in a nation where two-thirds of us are overweight or obese. A show promo teases that we’ll learn the real reason behind Kate’s weight struggles, but I doubt we’ve come to the same conclusion.

Before 1980, if Kate’s mom noticed her daughter gaining weight faster than her brothers she would have been feeding her along the lines of the popular 1970s “diet plate”: bunless burger patty, lettuce and tomatoes alongside cottage cheese. (That meal was largely protein and fat while limiting carbohydrates.) Instead, in a flashback we see mom serving a dejected Kate half a cantaloupe (carbohydrate rich). The scene fades to the present, where Kate is at the gym and feeling frustrated because – despite exercising and dieting – she is not losing weight. Again.

“Oh, she’s the perfect poster child victim,” says Nina Teicholz when I describe the Kate situation. Teicholz is an investigative journalist and author of the highly-lauded “The Big Fat Surprise.” During nine years working on the book, Teicholz discovered that so much of the research the high carbohydrate/no saturated fat diet was based on was mediocre and often wrong.

Teicholz points out that the food pyramid’s arrival coincided with the start of our country’s obesity problem. Obesity “takes a sharp turn upward,” according to Teicholz. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

What would help the “This Is Us” character – and real-life people – is to accept that one diet does not fit all. Many are carb intolerant, says Teicholz. (Sure seems like Kate is.) When they eat a carbohydrate (even a supposed “good” one such as fruit, yogurt, a whole grain) it is processed into the fat cells. (Also, they dietary fats they avoid and that have been so maligned – cheese, butter, meats – satiate a person, taking away that obsession to overeat.) The one-third of Americans at a healthy weight – individuals like Kate’s two brothers – would burn off those carbs, according to Teicholz.

You don’t have to look any further than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures of how many people in this country have diabetes – more  than 29 million – for proof too many of us can’t tolerate the American diet’s over-reliance on carbohydrates.

How awesome it would be if “This Is Us” showed that a lifetime of following the recommended Dietary Guidelines has played a big role in Kate’s situation.

Instead, so far “This Is Us” is leaning toward the same tired eating advice that’s so obviously failed, along with a snarky dollop of fat shaming. (There’s that unappetizing egg-white “pancake” Kate makes her boyfriend; and mom’s silent but obvious disapproval when Kate turns her nose up at that cantaloupe.)

Do something bold, NBC: let Kate eat a burger. But hold the bun.

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

Follow Sue Ontiveros on Twitter: Follow @Sueontiveros

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