Friday, July 15, 2011

Mrs Obama: Let's Move to Shake Shack

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Michelle Obama aka FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States though perhaps I am the only person who didn’t know this acronym) paid a visit to the new Washington D.C. Shake Shack. I learned of this through twitter and the sentiment among my colleagues, many of whom are nutritionists, was generally supportive. “She’s human.” “She doesn’t eat that way all the time” and my personal fingernails-on-a chalkboard expression “everything in moderation” were just a few of the reactions I recall.  The Independent even ran a story “Michelle Obama eats burger nutritionists approve.” Wait a minute, I'm a nutritionist and I don't approve.

Let’s Move!
Michelle Obama’s major initiative is childhood obesity. Her campaign Let’s Move!  Is about helping children and families live healthier lives. In their own words they’re:
Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active.
What about Shake Shack is in line with this mission? If her platform was smoking, would we be ok with her having a cigarette once in a while?  As President Obama focuses on the economy many articles have pointed fingers at his spending.

I asked a couple of my favorite nutritionists a few questions about this (mostly to see if I was overreacting). Keri Glassman said “this was overindulging in a very public manner when she is spending the majority of her time in public promoting good health!" Andy Bellatti admitted “frankly, I’m much more concerned with the policies Michelle Obama supports than what she puts in her mouth. That said, I don’t see why her Shake Shack visit needs to be applauded. It reeks of “oh don’t worry folks, she’s not one of those ‘tofu’ crazies. See, she loves burgers and fries just like you.”
You don’t see burgers and fries on the Let’s Move food and nutrition page, you see this

One of the tweeters told me repeatedly that healthy eating was all about BVM. BVM, BVM- what was he talking about? BMW? No, BVM. This, it seems, stands for Balance, Variety and Moderation.  I’m sorry; Mrs. Obama had a ShackBurger, fries, a chocolate shake and Diet Coke to wash it all down. Over 1500 calories or a day’s worth. My verdict? Immoderate. Keri Glassman said it well “A home made, perhaps grass-fed burger – fine. Even a "bite" of someone’s fast food is fine. But a total no holds barred indulgence in fast food - not fine! Andy added, “just like “natural” there is no tangible definition of “moderation.”

Trust Me, I’m not Perfect (but I am a snob)
In the course of the twitter “debate” one in the “BVM” camp said to me “we can’t eat perfectly all the time, #FLOTUS showed us all foods fit.” I don’t think Americans or obese children need a FLOTUS path paved to fast food, they are “fitting” it in just fine.  How about this- all foods don’t need to fit. I know it’s a nutty suggestion but what about suggesting a month without fast food and soda? Or if that’s unrealistic, have Michelle Obama go to a fast food restaurant and order small fries (her favorite) and a salad? Or post a recipe on the White House website for baked French fries.

I don’t eat fast food because I think about where my food comes from and how it’s made. I documented my last experience with fast food, in a blizzard on the Interstate with 2 screaming children. It wasn’t pretty and I’m still shocked we weren’t pursued by Alka- Seltzer for a commercial-yuck.
For the record Keri said “I do not eat fast food and do not bring my kids.” Andy, when asked if he eats fast food, replied “every day! It takes me 45 seconds to make a smoothie, 60 seconds to make a green juice, 15 seconds to grab a handful of almonds and about 2 minutes to toast bread and top it with avocado, arugula, balsamic and lemon juice.”

I can only imagine the number of hits the Shake Shack website received and the number of Shackburgers sold after Ms. Obama’s visit. I wish she had “moved” in a healthier direction.
Are you supportive of, disappointed by or indifferent to Ms. Obama’s burger? Do you feel experts should practice what they preach? Do you eat fast food? Do you believe in Moderation?


  1. I have to say, I don't agree with you here. She certainly has the right to go to a burger shack. I go to restaurants and buy beer and wings sometimes, and I'm not embarrassed. That's part of what I "preach". It's not healthy to eat so healthy all the time. Now, I certainly don't agree with going to a burger shake and buying a burger, and fries, and a shake, that's too much, but is that what she ordered?? I am sick of our society thinking we are so strict about food rules that we won't allow people to indulge once in a while. I applaud Mrs. Obama. Heck, isn't this the first time she's done this in her almost four years of being a spokeswomen? Not bad if you ask me.

  2. Thanks for comment Gina.That is what she ordered and she has every "right". I have heard her mention how fun french fries are in almost every interview about food. She almost sounds apologetic that she's endorsing healthy changes. I don't think our "society' is strict enough about rules. We're not talking about 30-something dieters we're talking about obese children and the majority of the country who doesn't need the most powerful woman in the world (or one of them) giving a day's worth of calories at one mean a thumbs up "some of the time."

  3. I'm 50/50 here. I agree with Gina, that she has a right to eat a burger at Shake Shack and it is ok to indulge once in a while. However, I do feel as though she overindulged and I do not think it was a press-worthy event. Everything in moderation sure but, it doesn't need a follow up piece in the Washington Post. Additionally, it would've been nice if there were some comments from Michelle as well, not necessarily justifying her eating frenzy but, possibly putting it into context

  4. Shari, that's the problem. This wasn't just Michelle going to have a burger. This was the statement it makes and a PR event. What a coup for Shake Shack. There were better ways she could've been patriotic enough to eat a burger that would send a better message.

  5. I'm torn. While I agree with everyone's right to eat what they want and as you know, get so frustrated that our society is so focused on calories and weight, we do have a significant obesity problem in this country and FLOTUS (this is new to me too) chose to fight it as her cause. Her actions not only contradict her message, but was great PR for Shake Shack which is a glorified fast food chain and sends the wrong message.

    Since I've never eaten fast food (seriously, no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys,etc...), I don't understand why people love it and I'm pretty sure it's not a necessary part of one's diet. But apparently most of America doesn't agree. So if she was going to eat there, she could have used it as an opportunity to teach folks how to make healthy choices at even the unhealthiest restaurants, ordering a salad, eating only a portion of her burger, drinking water or something other than a shake.

  6. Erica, thanks for comment. It's funny one of the nutritionists was floored when I said I don't eat fast food. You realize that not everyone likes whole foods, quality food regardless of a degree. Mrs Obama couldn't used this as an opportunity. I know not every meal is her Blue Hill experience in NYC but exactly, let's find a better path at fast food. For the record she chose a chain that has no salads and few healthy options interestingly.

  7. Okay, you've read my post about this and you know where I stand but I want to say that I DO see your point in your piece on this topic.

    However, as someone who has suffered from an ED in the past,in order to get better, I needed to see that it was OKAY to eat whatever I wanted with no repercussions. That I Would not gain weight over night, etc. from having a few fries. On my blog, I want other females suffering from ED's to see the same thing. That being healthy doesn't mean deprivation, starvation, or monotany.

    I honestly and truly do not eat fast food. The closest I come is Subway and Chipotle (maaaaaaaaybe once a month?). I wrote a follow up post to my obama piece about my own indulgences and it DOES include a grass fed burger from a little bar in hawaii that was absolutely amazing. I almost never eat that way but how many times are you in hawaii, on the beach, at a bar, watching the ocean, and just want to kick back with a beer and a burger? I'm a non-fat female that eats well, works out, and yes...also teaches about nutrition. But I use balance. I feel like that is setting the example for those suffering from ED's. I can EAT a burger, not feel guilty, and that makes me REALLY proud. In years past I would have felt nothing but guilt, shame, and then went and worked out til I dropped.

    Demonstrating that it IS okay to eat and not be so restrictive is important to me, which is why I feel the need to support Michelle in this instance.
    However, there ARE plenty of Americans out there that DO eat like crap 90% of the time, do not have an ED, and DO need a healthy eating role model. I can definitely see your perspective from that standpoint and in which case feel like maybe michelle could have made wiser choices. You don't have to go ALL out. The shake and fries could have been omitted and replaced with a side slad (like you said).

    It's a tough topic, I see both sides, but I steer closer to the BVM side. Sorry Lauren.

  8. I disagree with you here. I think showing that a healthy diet with some indulgences every now and then is a much more realistic and attainable way of eating rather than all healthy all the time. You can't expect fast food eaters of our country to just drop the burgers and eat quinoa salads every day. Quinoa salads five days a week with a burger here and there - now that's much more approachable and realistic for anyone. On a personal level, I find myself eating healthfully most of the time and doing the Shake Shak-type meal (greasy pizza, usually) maybe once a week. Sure, I'm not a public figure people aspire to be like, but I think this all healthy all the time thing will scare people away from changing their dietary habits.

  9. I am with you, Lauren. I think you make a great analogy, "If her platform was smoking, would we be ok with her having a cigarette once in a while?" And the answer would be a resounding "HECK NO!"

    I am truly mystified as to why fast food doesn't carry the same stigma as cigarettes. From what I have read and from what I understand, obesity is going to take over as the number one PREVENTABLE killer of Americans. 65% of us are overweight or obese. I don't think fast food fits in anywhere in a healthy diet and it is discouraging to hear (of all people) RD's and nutritionists say it is.

    Lets all focus on getting our society at least to a moderate weight and then we can talk about where a 1500 calorie meal "fits in" to a healthy lifestyle.

    I think secretly the majority of Americans wish they could eat fast food daily and so seeing the FLOTUS *new to me!* aka, Mrs. "just say no to being a fat kid" indulge gives them permission to do the same.

    Lastly, I was on a run in my park Tuesday. There is a gigantic public pool here and it was about 7pm so all the kids were leaving in droves. I am NOT exaggerating, I think I saw 3 (out of hundreds) normal sized/weight children. The obesity epidemic is real.

  10. did ms. obama eat it ALL or was it all just in front of her? i do understand what you say about healthy eating being her platform, but still...let the woman have a burger and fries every once in awhile...the only thing i would have loved to have seen was her skipping the shake and diet coke and having a beer instead. :-)

  11. I am going to disagree with you here, Lauren. I applaud people who have never eaten or stay away from fast food. Yes, it is bad for you but like most food that is bad for you, it tastes really good. And that is the reason so many American kids (note I say American kids) choose to have a burger over a lettuce salad. The way to get those kids to choose a lettuce salad is not to force them to eliminate fast foods completely. I actually think that is unhealthy and can engender disordered eating. I'm a firm believer in moderation. Encourage kids to eat their greens and indulge occasionally.

    I love burgers and Shake Shack is my favorite burger. Having said that I have had a burger twice in the last year (both Shake Shack!) and so for me it is an infrequent indulgence, and I would not want anyone controlling what I can and cannot eat. I may be veering off topic here since the subject is FLOTUS (yup, aware of this term). I don't think it's as big a deal as it being made out to be (certainly not press-worthy). She is obviously not eating greens all day so why should she have to keep up a facade in public. I do like your idea of providing healthier options on the White House menu.

    Coming to the 'American kid' point. Why is it that that American kids are so obese? Fast food is available in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and kids are not so obese there. Is there another factor at play? Just throwing it out there.

  12. I guess I just don't think it's so dangerous if Mrs Obama had come out with an anti fast food message. Mrs Obama doesn't need to publicly have fast food to show people it's ok. If that were the case, she could show them in a better manner. I am not against indulgences but obese children aren't the same as ED women. I don't think Americans are any where near never treating themselves. If Michael Pollan or Dr Weil or Kathy Freston were at Shake shack would it be different? Mrs Obama wears a dress, it sells out and people flock to the designer in droves. She goes to shake shack and let's see...The woman is entitled to a burger or fries (or both) but the millions of burgers sold that she "sold" is what I'm worried about.

  13. This is a great topic Lauren. I love how Andy Bellatti put it:
    “frankly, I’m much more concerned with the policies Michelle Obama supports than what she puts in her mouth....”
    And this issues has me torn as well.
    On one hand I could care less about what she is eating and she can eat how ever she wants too.

    On the other hand she is a public role model for healthful eating and should be considerate of that position that she chose for herself. We are dealing with a obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic so teaching people how to eat well is more important than ever!! You can go out to eat and still make healthful choices. Like a burger, with a side salad and glass of water.
    I don't think that teaching how to make healthful choices while eating out is going to spark an ED in anyone.

  14. I think Lauren said it best with her comment "I can only imagine how many burgers shake shack sold after Ms. Obama's visit." That's the point. It's not that a burger or an indulgence of any kind is the end of the world if you are a health advocate. I indulged in fries last night actually... It's the fact that Ms. Obama's indulgence (aside from the fact that it was more of an overindulgence) is in a position where a burger is not just a burger. It's a statement.

  15. Sorry Lauren doing too many things at once - last sentence of my post were two separate thoughts! I think you get it though! :)

  16. Lauren, thanks for posting this today. I think that you made some great points but as you know already, I don't agree with you. It was many of my tweets (and BVM) that you referenced in your post so I felt compelled to comment.

    You are right that there is no tangible definition of moderation but that is why that approach is so great. Food is personal and there is not a one-size fits all approach. Speaking as someone who has struggled with their weight for most of their adult life, moderation is something that keeps me focused and from going to far in one direction.

    What works for Mrs. Obama, you and me might be completely different but it works. Yes she is in the spotlight and carries an unbelievable amount of public influence, but if it works for her, who are we to judge.

    Thanks for allowing me to comment and for the continued great discussion!

  17. Aaron I do see what you're saying and believe their definitely are many paths to healthy eating. I don't see Ms Obamas meal as a solely personal manner. Look at all of us talking about it. The gesture will encourage emulation. I also don't think BVM teaches people how to eat.

  18. I can definitely see both sides of the topic. Is it ok that she had fast food..I think so. But did she need to go crazy and order all of that...maybe not. If she is truly promoting health and moderation, perhaps she should have ordered something a bit on the healthier side..or maybe a small fry, no shake, etc.
    Great pos! Gets ya thinkng.

  19. If you were to speak to MANY American voters in the language of "Quinoa, arugula with balsamic and lemon juice" I am sure the response would sound much like a field of crickets... because they have never been exposed to this before, EVER.

    If you were used to taking the bus to get most of your groceries at the local 7/11 because it is the only store within miles where you can find food for your family, then Michelle Obama trying to "speak your language" by eating a burger, but introducing you to what the rich white folk get to eat "grass fed" might feel a bit like a slap in the face--but she's gotta start somewhere, right?

    She is in a super tough place here--how to you speak to an entire nation about nutrition when only 10% - 20% of this nation can really afford to eat the way you and your blog readers (including myself) strive to eat?

    This First Lady has GOT to get down and dirty with the voters, and how do you do it? Well you roll up your damn sleeves, suck down a milk shake, shove a burger in your face, throw a few fries in there and wash it all down with a good old fashioned DC! Get everyone on this bandwagon by playing in their sandbox and hopefully a message of what you should be eating (but we have withheld from you) won't sound like such a different language.

    Lauren, this was a GREAT post, got me thinking! (Not a fan of the Shake Shack at all! Their burgers are so boring)

  20. Katherine StanfillJuly 15, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    I'm totally shocked at your response to Michelle's lunch.

    Frankly- how is this anyones business? I understand holding people accountable to "practice what they preach" but the reality is that NOBODY is perfect. Not you. Not me. NOBODY.
    What is the point of criticizing someone for having a one time indulgence? Someone who spends hours and hours of her time promoting good? If we hold everyone to "perfect" standards we will soon be left with none willing to lead.
    We have NO IDEA how much of that meal she ate. What if she only had half the burger, a couple of fries and a some of the shake? Would that not have been exactly what you are promoting with BVM? I should hope so.
    As someone who struggles with weight it is not encouraging to see so many nutritionists being critical. Why try if I can never measure up?
    I think you should think about the overall message you are sending when you call someone out for making one tiny "miss-step". How is this any different than that personal trainer on Bravo yelling at her client for eating a couple of Oreo's? It doesn't solve the overall problem and it really isn't the point.
    The POINT is that we have a First Lady who is making great strides in public health and truly is an example of health and good character.

  21. Welcome Katherine. Thanks for joining the debate. I think the variety of responses here show this is of interest and perhaps more than a single person's choice for 1 meal. Just as it is the public's business if the Obamas fly in air force 1 for a personal trip (or to look at their spending) I think we can look at Ms. Obamas eating due to her platform and her call to Americans to make changes. I don't think of this as a 1 time indulgence. I think about the children, like those mentioned above, at NYC pools who are obese and unhealthy. Point well taken that she may not have finished her meal and may have been moderate in portion.
    I suggested some ways I felt fast food could be moderate as well. To clarify, BVM wasn't my message. This was not a post about criticizing someone's food choices. I have never yelled at a client and if my client came in with this meal on their food journal I would talk to them about how they felt, ways the meal could be slightly more healthy etc. The first lady is making strides and I hope this doesn't tarnish it. This wasn't a personal attack toward readers or Michelle Obama. I find the kernel of interest to be how much do "experts" personal choices matter and why everyone seemed so pleased with her splurge. That's all.

  22. Carrie- just read your comment. I think you nailed it with "playing in their sandbox" first. This was calculated and not just Ms Obama walking down the street and going to Danny Meyers brand new restaurant. Question and yes, this is tough, do you have to eat the sand/throw sand just to "be friends"?

  23. Great topic and I've really enjoyed reading everyone's comments and perspective on your post. I have to say I'm with the "moderates"here. I don't have a problem with the First Lady eating what she did at Shake Shack {never heard of it before} while at the same time being a role model for healthy eating. Your point about the cigarettes threw me for a loop initially, but I don't think eating the occasional fast food can be compared to smoking in terms of it's impact on health. I was speaking w/ a friend last night about her teenage daughter's friends who have eating disorders. She mentioned that for the most part, these girls are the ones who have parents who forbid them from any kind of "junk food" what so ever. As nutrition professionals, I do think we need to find a way to teach our clients how to practice the "M" word {Moderation}. BTW-I really liked Andy's quote about eating "fast food" {smoothies/avocado toast/green juice} everyday. Well said!

  24. wow interesting discussion and thats your strong point on here, but I say why not eat fast food occasionally I do and I am obese being too strict is also not the answer

  25. I came over here per Rebecca's recommendation. I haven't read all the comments, but what a great discussion.

    My take is that is is So not news that the woman went and ate a burger w/all the fixin's. And the fact that she did, though, could mean that some folks get to keep their jobs.

    We all need to and should eat healthy foods most of the time, but honestly, if everyone jumped on the raw/organic/vegetarian/vegan train (or any other train outside the SAD), a ton of folks would lose their jobs.

    The fact that she eats healthy most of the time and indulges in a burger every once in awhile is more realistic for folks who are trying to transition from the SAD to something more healthy. And meanwhile, all those folks working at fast food places and convenience stores get to keep their jobs.

    Ideally, even in those types of places, management will see fit to start transitioning to healthier food there, too.

    I'm not saying that I'm going to McDonald's once a day or once a week because I don't want the workers to lose their jobs, but I am saying that as the FLOTUS, it has to be one of her considerations, especially as our economic crisis spins on and on.

  26. I haven't eaten fast food in at least 5 years and I can't imagine doing it ever again. But I can't really judge Mrs. Obama or anyone else that does because if they saw some of the stuff I might be healthy but my God it's pretty disgusting looking. To each his own in my opinion.

    Plus, I wonder how much of her visit there was to make her seem like an average person? I bet it was more of a publicity stunt than anything - but then again I am quite jaded when it comes to political moves...

    In any case, I have never heard of Shake Shack I just ignorant?

  27. Thanks EA and Rebecca. A few things come to mind. First, why all the assumptions this is an occasional treat, would it be different if Ms Obama ate burgers/fries/shakes regularly? Second, I don't know why suggesting a meal over 1550 calories isn't ideal bring up fears of "being too strict", eating disorders and food imprisonment. I grew up in a junk free house (see where it comes from) but didn't even know it. My mom cooked and I was surrounded by delicious food. I think it is how it is framed.

  28. I think being a politician or a politician's life must be pretty rough....shaking hands, kissing babies...eating fast food...all sorts of health hazards. But seriously,my first job was at a Wendy's in high school. Even before I became a dietitian in my 30's I wouldn't have "splurged" on a hamburger, shake and would have been sushi or maybe some handmade truffles. Splurging is "indulging in a luxury"...burgers, fries and a shake are not a luxury because I know that afterwards I'd feel sluggish, bloated and full...more like a punishment.

  29. I agree! Fast food prison. You raise a good point, aside from politics or ingredients used I don't like the way fast food tastes or makes me feel. Where's the "treat" there?

  30. Wow, what a great debate. I find it interesting that so many people have referenced Eating Disorders. While they are certainly serious and important to consider, they affect a small % of the population compared to obesity, which as we all know affects the majority of this country. I wouldn't think twice about Mrs. Obama eating fast food if she didn't create such a strong platform on promoting healthy eating and reducing obesity, but that is what she has come to stand for. I think the term moderation is a nice idea in theory and I don't doubt that all of us commenting on this blog know what that means, but for most people it just doesn't work. Our obesity crisis makes that clear. We are a country of excess in many ways. My worry is that most people will see Mrs. Obama and say "hey see she promotes health and eats fast food like me so I can continue to eat it." The problem is she is eating it once a year maybe and the rest of the population could be eating it daily or weekly. Maybe Mrs. Obama eating fast food didn't have an impact on anyone, but I tend to think if it did it was unfortunately a negative one.

  31. Good pont Melissa. Many of us (myself included) viewed Mrs Obamas burgers in light of their lives and how they eat. Some pointed out that being restrictive is bad. We have to look at this through the lens of obese children.

  32. Im in between on this one. Part of what I preach is moderation and balance. I am a RD and people often say to me 'ohhh my gosh cant believe you ate that you are a dietitian'. I always want to say why cant I have this with out judgement?!? I think michelle obama can do the moderation and balance thing with out calling out every unhealthy food she loves!

  33. Mrs. Obama's meal made me think of this grear cartoon ...

  34. At first, reading this, I disagreed with you completely - after all, as far as fast food goes, shake shack is better than most. The burgers contain more actual veggies than most, some nice fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion, etc. And it's all fresh and a little less processed than at Burger King, etc. But then I got further down and realized that she had a buger, and fries, and a shake, plus a diet coke. She could have eaten (as I usually do on the rare occasions that I go) a single burger, shared the fries, and an iced tea. No need for the shake, and the fries are plenty big enough to share. That would have been a nice small indulgence. Indulgences are a good thing, when they are done in moderation. 1500 calories at a time is not moderation, even for an indulgence, and I would not think that's the example she would want to set. It was a good idea that was executed poorly.

  35. Jen, agree with the "executed poorly" though I don't think Shake Shack is really that much better. There is no salad or vegetable (other than lettuce you mentioned) on the menu and still "fast food" it may taste better though. Thanks for commenting.

  36. I'm not a fan of Michelle Obama, but this article just makes the Daily Caller look petty. Your attempt to point out hypocrisy unfortunately is based on a faulty premise: Being healthy isn't about what you eat at a single meal. Besides, as conservatives point out when forced to deal with a fellow conservative's peccadilloes, if you have high standards, sometimes you won't meet them--better than no standards at all.