In response to study, local wellness professionals emphasize healthy relationships with exercise


Zoe Malin/Daily Senior Staffer

Apples from the Evanston Farmers’ Market.

Maia Spoto, Assistant City Editor

Stricter calorie labeling may not help Evanston residents achieve their New Year’s resolutions, according to local experts. 

A December study showed food and beverage labels stating the number of active minutes, or the amount of time an individual would need to exercise to burn off the product, may be associated with lower-calorie choices. Researchers from the United Kingdom stated public health officials should consider incorporating “physical activity calorie equivalent” information in product packaging to educate consumers on caloric density and promote healthy lifestyles. 

Study critics argue the information cannot be generalized to reflect individual metabolisms, while supporters say the plan could ease weight loss efforts and reduce excess energy consumption.

But local Evanston health professionals said “exercise calories” may do more harm than good. 

Claudia Rosen, a therapist and clinical director for the Evanston-based counseling service Connections Health, said the labeling system could spread “a false narrative.” 

“It can make someone afraid of food,” Rosen said. “If you equate the cookie with running for 20 minutes, somebody who’s not that educated might think they have to run, or else… instead of understanding that calories get burned just by sitting, too.” 

Rosen said consumers should not make dietary decisions based only on calorie content, because calories do not provide adequate insight into nutritional content, and calorie-dense options are not always filling or satisfying.

Evanston residents should understand when their eating habits don’t align with their needs, Rosen said. But instead of making dramatic cuts in their diets, she said they should eat a balance of nourishing meals in proportion with food pyramid guidelines, prioritizing appropriate macronutrients while leaving room for their favorite dishes. 

“We are motivated by enjoyment,” Rosen said. 

The exercise labels might lead people to see exercise as a penalty, said personal trainer Izzy Libmann, whose business IzzyFit operates from an Evanston gym. 

Evanston residents are already active, Libmann said, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they run on a treadmill every day. She said movement can count as embarking on a skiing trip or simply taking a walk downtown. 

Instead of exercising to atone for extra calories, she said people should find ways to move that help them feel good. Facilities in Evanston offer adult dance classes, yoga, strength training, beginner gymnastics, barre and other options, Libmann said.

“To achieve your goals, you need (movement) that you feel you can do happily, and something you think you can do very consistently,” Libmann said. “These things take time… The ‘being happy’ part is important. You’re trying to make food your friend, not your enemy.”

Libmann said individuals who worry about their relationships with food and exercise should consult a doctor.

Northwestern University’s registered dietitian, Lisa Carlson, said the study’s results may not even translate to Evanston’s demographics. For one, the authors said the study was conducted in simulated situations, and may not account for confounding variables in real life, such as marketing and price. Also, Carlson said the study’s participants likely do not reflect Evanston’s demographics. 

She said the government needs to conduct more complete research before implementing the exercise labels to ensure nutrition information provides consumers with helpful frames of reference instead of anxiety. 

“I love to promote exercise with the students I work with,” Carlson said. “For energizing reasons. For feeling good. For just feeling more confident and happier, versus just burning up calories.

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