Eating right: When did it go so wrong?

What's for dinner?

It used to be such a simple question, whether posed in a crowded supermarket aisle or by a hungry child coming home after a long game of basketball with the neighborhood kids.

Now with mad cow disease, the no-carb revolution, mercury-laden fish and deadly pesticides on fruits and vegetables ­­-- the pickings are slim.

But Americans still aren't.

Despite the growing popularity of no-carb or low-carb diets, Americans still can't seem to keep off the pounds. As the Atkins and South Beach diets practically become part of our pop culture, Americans claim carbs are public enemy number one.

But are we fighting the wrong enemy here, folks?

With the exception of certain hereditary diseases, obesity doesn't just sneak up on us unsuspectingly. It develops over a long period of time from fattening, pre-packaged foods and a sedentary lifestyle.

Maybe a few corn chips aren't so bad for you. But eating a whole bag of corn chips while watching the "Queer Eye" marathon will probably add to your waistline.

And what would the Fab Five have to say about that? Undoubtedly, they wouldn't advise you to go fry up some bacon.

But Dr. Atkins would.

As one of my friends has been experimenting with the Atkins diet, I've had the pleasure of experiencing this fad firsthand.

I watched as she fried bacon in a vat of grease, the fat popping and whizzing past her face like an Iraqi air strike. On the other burner, two eggs sizzled with their yellow yokes staring up at her like a warning light.

This is your brain on Atkins.

Fatty meats aren't your thing, you say? You're in luck -- the South Beach Diet, though similar to Atkins, only suggests leaner meats, poultry and fish.

The name, however, is misleading. As a native Floridian, I've been to South Beach and I've seen what they eat.

When I first heard about the South Beach Diet, I assumed it meant conch fritters, fried plantains and a margarita.

Hardly the breakfast of champions.

Maybe I'm a skeptic. Maybe I love food too much to cut out an entire food group. I like my food pyramid the way it is -- resting on a large foundation of whole grains and starches.

Apparently, other folks don't agree. Every time I turn on the television, I see another commercial for low-carb snacks and for restaurants which offer Atkins-friendly menus.

In fact, the low point of my week was Ben & Jerry's introduction of a new line of Carb-Karma flavors. From Chocolate to Vanilla Swiss Almond, you too can enjoy the delights of Ben & Jerry's without packing in the carbs.

The idea sounds Half Baked to me. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

I would rather have one spoonful of Chunky Monkey and spend a week in the gym working it off, than suffer through a pint of low-carb ice cream.

Not everyone shares my sentiment. It's easier to point your finger at a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta than it is to reevaluate your lifestyle.

Do Americans eat too may potato chips, crackers and potatoes? Sure. But are low-carb diets overlooking the fact that losing weight and being healthy requires more than throwing away a box of Wheat Thins?

We're a society given to extremes, so it's no surprise that we diet in extreme ways. Rather than make a commitment to walk three times a week instead of taking the bus, we decide we won't eat carbohydrates.

Instead of walking past the smoothie shop in the Aquatic & Fitness Center and actually making it inside the gym, we decide we'll give up the outing altogether.

But we saved on the extra calories of the smoothie, right?

I've always been told that "diet" meant putting a few more carrots and a few less French fries on your plate. It meant running, biking or swimming rather than spending that hour watching TV each day.

While it may help you lose weight, cutting out an entire food group doesn't necessarily make you healthy.

Nor does frying up bacon and eggs as an afternoon snack.

In all the hysteria created by Atkins-mania, I can't help but ask again: Are we fighting the wrong enemy?

Maybe we should take a look at take-out. How many times have you prepared a meal in the last week rather than sailing underneath the Golden Arches on your way home?

When is the last time you signed up for a spinning class or walked around Grounds on a nice day?

Well, since we haven't had a warm day since September, I'll let that one slide.

As students, we're pretty fortunate that our lifestyle demands we walk to and from class everyday. And with Charlottesville being the traffic capital of the South (move over, Atlanta), it's often easier to walk to the store than it is to drive.

But after college, how often will we reach for our running shoes instead of our car keys?

If you take a long look at these fad diets, you'll see that we have bigger fish to fry ... as soon as we can get the bacon out of the frying pan.

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