Last Thursday, a New York Times story went somewhat viral because a Harvard professor called French fries unhealthy "starch bombs," that "can be turned into a weapon of dietary destruction," as the writer said.
Eric Rimm, professor in the departments of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, then offered this solution to the Times: "I think it would be nice if your meal came with a side salad and six French fries." That's nice, but no thank you.
French fry-lovers obviously came for Rimm on social media to defend their carb of choice. And so, on Twitter, Rimm clarified that he was really just suggesting that restaurants serve smaller portions of fries, "as a tantalizing option to satisfy those with a taste for fries but who don’t want the starch bomb."
As entertaining as this fry feud might be in the moment, we're all kind of missing the point. For starters, French fries might not be the most nutrient-dense foods out there (although, potatoes are high in potassium, FWIW), but they are delicious and can have a place a balanced diet. Demonizing French fries doesn't really help anyone, and it can cause lots of undue stress and fear around food. Intuitive eating experts and registered dietitians say that when you attach "morality" to foods, it implies that people should feel ashamed if they eat something "bad."
The solution to this seeming nutritional conundrum is not to just eat six French fries — in fact, that strategy would likely backfire big time. When we restrict a food, it makes the food feel more valuable or like we have to have it immediately. These intense cravings often lead to bingeing and overeating, and may leave you feeling riddled with guilt. (Some registered dietitians refer to this as the "restrict, rebel, repent cycle.")
So, wouldn't just eating the French fries — without stressing about the number of fries you eat — and stopping when you're full and satisfied make this whole process feel a lot less stressful?
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.