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Kelowna News

McDONALD: The Canada Food Guide and how I became a One Percenter

July 20, 2017 - 12:45 PM


I’m a One Percenter and there’s more than a few of my friends and relatives who don’t much seem to like it.

I never lord it over them. I’ve been on the other side, hated it and never want to go back. Still I know some bitterness lingers just under the surface.

I’m always willing to share how I got to here but not a lot of people really want to hear the story. I get it. My success has as much to do with luck as hard work…and the Canada Food Guide.

No I’m not talking about my stratospheric financial success (never happened) but rather how I managed to drop about a third of my body weight and keep it off.

(Unfortunately, less than one per cent of people who lose significant amounts of weight manage to maintain the loss.)

The Canada Food Guide is in the news this week as the iconic and controversial nutritional guide has been revised and updated, the first time since 2007.

That was also happened to be the year I decided I was sick of being fat and determined to do something serious about it.

I had never dieted before so I turned to the Canada Food Guide and its attempt to define portions and nutritional requirements, something I had never considered before (or perhaps subconsciously ignored).

This was not say I wasn’t fit. I did Ironman twice in the 1990s along with a few Olympic distance triathlons and marathons.

However I ran them all as a Clydesdale, for men over 190 lbs. a division in most races that describes heavier athletes, which are at a natural disadvantage during long endurance events.

Still, I thought I was in pretty good shape at six feet tall and my race weight of just under 200 lbs. But in the next few years, my excess weight caught up with me and injuries forced me back onto the couch.

I spent the next decade trying to get back into Ironman shape only to be constantly betrayed by my my feet and lower back. I signed up several times but never managed to get to the startline of another Ironman. 

My feet and lower back were telling me something. I was packing too much weight, which by 2007 had crept up to 230 lbs.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but once I had a target — the Canada Food Guide’s parameters for how much proteins, carbohydrates, dairy products and fruits and vegetables you need to eat in a day — I didn’t have much problem hitting it and the pounds began to drop off.

More importantly, I began to modify my diet toward better proteins and better carbs while also holding back on the helpings. Cutting back on booze didn’t hurt either.

I was used to eating plates of pasta the size of garbage can lids during my Ironman training but now my portions were coming in teacups.

You would think friends and relatives would celebrate your success at what I thought was a universal goal; get in shape, lose weight, climb into your skinny jeans.

That ain't necessarily so.

As the scale numbers dropped, most applauded my success but a sizeable number didn’t see my shrinking waistline the same way — you’re too skinny, it’s healthy to keep on a few pounds, it makes you look older, on it went.

One friend accused me of having “man-orexia." Others I hadn’t seen for a while thought I had the Big C. Even my own mother — always a reliable booster — groused one day that would gain it all back. Whatever the case, by my 50th birthday, I had clawed my weight down to 160 lbs.

Much to her surprise and mine, given how difficult it is, it’s a weight I maintain to this day (which is a much bigger story, at least on a personal level).

The Canada Food Guide was a war measure introduced by the federal government, well aware that the armies fighting in Europe and the Pacific travelled on their stomachs.

But besides feeding soldiers, experts in nutrition of the day advised the federal government they needed to boost the general health of the population they planned to draw their armies from.

The first edition was heavy on the carbs and sugar (an accusation some critics still level at it) but turned healthier as nutritional science improved.

It also turned more political as the decades passed, the accusation being the guide was more influenced by Big Food than nutritional concerns.

Hyperbole reached epic levels in the last few years, with some accusing the government of literally killing Canadians with the guide, rather than helping them live healthier lives.

No shortage exists of critics ready to blast the new version but I’m going to defend the idea of it, however flawed the actual document may turn out to be.

It lead me to a significant change in diet and as with most lifestyle changes, some guide, any guide is better than none.

If the Canada Food Guide in the past has been influenced by industry, it is at least somewhat more impartial than the myriads of lose-weight-quick fads and scams that soak Canadians for billions of dollars each year in mostly futile attempts to lose weight.

Our current obesity crisis is no laughing matter but a serious threat to public health and beyond that, to our productivity and economy as a whole. And no amount of riches can compensate you for lost health.

If the Canada Food Guide can help more Canadians turn into the right kind of One Percenters, then serve it up.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at

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News from © iNFOnews, 2017

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