Why is Sally SAD?

The Standard American Diet (SAD) needs an overhaul. We’re all eating what they told us in the ’70s is a healthy diet (no fats, “healthy” grains, no sugar), yet the majority of Americans are considered obese. This is Sally’s story.

The alarm shocked Sally awake at 6:30, as it does every day. She’d just, finally, fallen back to sleep after waking up at 2 am and surfing on the Internet until around 5. She rolled over onto her side, then slowly swung her legs over the side of the bed, placing her feet onto the floor, as the back doctor told her to do. She can’t just leap out of bed any more like she used to. “Boy, I really am feeling my age these days.” Each of her stiff, crackly joints reminds her to take it slowly. “Patience, Spot!” she tells her dog, who is whining to go outside to potty. “You wouldn’t have to hold it if you’d just use the darn dog door I put in for you!” Sally shuffles to the kitchen, puts her coffee cup under the Keurig, puts in a coffee pod, and pushes the brew button. While the coffee is “brewing,” she opens the back door to the let the dog out. An hour of Internet surfing and 2 cups of coffee later, Sally is still not quite awake, but she needs to get ready for work. “No time to cook breakfast. I’ll just have some Honey Nut Cheerios and skim milk. Maybe some toast with margarine, too.” Sally pours herself about 2 cups of cereal and a cup of skim milk, makes a couple pieces of toast, and eats it so fast, she’s burping and hiccupping her way to the shower.

After showering and dressing for work, Sally heads out the door. On the way to work, she stops at the Starbucks drive-through window to get a Skinny Iced Caramel Macchiato and a coffee cake. “Ah, that should start waking me up!” Sally finishes off the coffee cake on the way to work, arrives at work just barely on time, grabs a Diet Coke, pulls up a chair, and starts to work.

Sally doesn’t move from her chair until 10, her usual break time. She’s happy to work at a place that provides free drinks and snacks for employees. Today is Donut Day, so she grabs a lemon-filled Krispy Kreme and a Diet Coke. After a quick “pee” stop, she heads back to her desk and puts her feet on a box. They tend to swell up at the ankles lately.

Finally, it’s lunch time and Sally is starving! She grabs her purse and heads for the McDonald’s drive through. She picks up a Big Mac, super-sized large fries, a super-sized Diet Coke, and an apple pie. Sally takes her lunch back to her desk, where she can read the news of the day while she eats her lunch.

At 3 pm, Sally’s been staring at numbers all day and needs a break. She nibbles on her apple pie and checks email. The apple pie made her thirsty, so she walks to the break room to get another Diet Coke. She makes a quick stop in the bathroom to pee and wonders when was the last time that she had a bowel movement. “Must be at least 3 days.” She wonders if she might need to take something for that.

Back at her desk, she finishes off the apple pie and the Diet Coke, and before she realizes it, it’s time to go home. She stops at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home to pick up dinner: 20-pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and biscuits. Her family of three easily finishes off all 20 pieces of legs and thighs and all of the sides.

After dinner, it’s “family time.” Sally, her husband, and their son sit down to watch a movie and have a bowl of “ice cream” and Diet Coke, and then they all go to bed. As she lies down in the bed, she fights gas and heart burn, and she just can’t seem to relax, as always. She thinks she might need to see the doctor about that. “I know there is a prescription pill to fix that. I should talk to him about my weight, too. I just can’t seem to lose weight anymore.”

Does this story sound all too familiar? Sally is eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) full of simple carbs and processed foods, and rarely gets any exercise. She thinks she’s doing herself favors by drinking Diet Coke and “Skinny” lattes. She sits at a desk all day long, then sits in front of the TV or computer at home until she can no longer keep her eyes open–yet she has trouble falling asleep. (Could it be all of that Diet Coke?) She has stiff, aching joints, she’s chronically constipated (alternating with diarrhea), suffers from insomnia, excessive flatulence, and heartburn, and gaining more and more weight every day. First, let’s examine Sally’s diet:

Food Calories Carbs, g. Sugar, g.
Cheerios, 2 cups




Milk, skim, 1 cup




Toast, 2 pieces, whole wheat




I can’t believe it’s not butter, 2 Tbsp




Starbucks Crumb cake




Starbucks Skinny Iced Caramel Macchiato




Krispy Kreme glazed lemon-filled




Big Mac




Super large fries




Apple pie




4 pieces of chicken




2 servings of mashed potatoes and gravy




2 servings of corn with margarine




2 biscuits




5 Diet Cokes




2 Keurig flavored coffees




Breyers vanilla ice cream, 2 servings








You don’t need a degree in nutrition to see how wrong Sally’s diet is. But here are a few numbers to demonstrate:

  • One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. Even though she was drinking Diet Coke all day, Sally still ate 172 grams of sugar—that’s more than 43 teaspoons of sugar! The American Health Association recommends women get less than 30 grams of sugar per day. Sally had almost 2.5 times the recommended maximum!
  • A 30-year-old, sedentary, not overweight woman should eat around 2,000 calories per day. (Older women and obese women need fewer calories; active women need slightly more.) Sally ate 5,241 calories!
  • In a 2,000-calorie diet, you should eat about 250 grams of carbohydrates (per dietaryguidelines.gov.) Primal/Paleo dieters believe that’s still too many, especially if you want to lose weight, but Sally ate 602 grams of processed carbs! She had more carbs before lunch than she should eat all day.
  • Did you see any fresh fruits or vegetables in her diet? Nope. True, she had mashed potatoes and corn, but corn is actually a grain. A big salad of greens and fresh veggies would have given her diet a needed nutritional boost and she wouldn’t have eaten so much of the other stuff.

What is most shocking is how few nutrients and how many toxins Sally is consuming each day. Even though Diet Coke has very few calories, carbs, or sugar, it also has no nutritional value. What it does have is caramel color, aspartame, acesulfame-K, phosphoric acid, citric acid, and caffeine. Aspartame and acesulfame-K are artificial sweeteners. They trick your body into thinking you’re getting something sweet. When you consume Acesulfame-K, it stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin that you don’t need. (Too much insulin leads to “insulin resistance” which can cause a whole laundry list of problems.) Aspartame contains phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. (Certain groups of people should avoid phenylalanine.) Plenty of websites discuss the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners. In Sally’s case, she may as well drink regular Coke instead of the Diet Coke, but that would increase her already high sugar consumption. She would certainly be better off drinking plain water, mineral water, water with lemon, or herbal tea. (I would suggest black coffee or tea without sweetener, but I can’t do that, either. Blech.) You can buy powdered glucose online or at a health food store. Glucose is a sweetener that your body actually knows what to do with. Stevia is a sweetener made from a leaf that, so far, seems to be a healthy alternative.

Each time Sally has an ache or pain, she immediately heads to the medicine chest or the doctor. Many of Sally’s health complaints would lessen or go away entirely if she fixed her diet. And a little exercise wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • Her joints probably ache not only because of the excess weight she’s putting on them, but the lack of nutrients that she’s feeding them, and the lack of exercise she gives them. The most popular reason for not exercising: “I don’t have time.” Sally stays up late watching TV and stays in bed until the last possible moment, and feels tired from the moment she eases her body off the bed. She sits at a desk all day, and she serves herself and her family processed foods from a drive-through window. Why does she not have time to exercise? She doesn’t make the time. She could take the dog for a walk after dinner, instead of watching TV and eating ice cream. She could try asking for or making a standing desk at work so that she could stand for at least part of the day. At the very least, she should get up from her chair every hour and walk around the office for 5 minutes.
  • The heartburn and constipation tell me that she may not be digesting her food properly. That can be for a variety of reasons. For one, digestion begins in the mouth. Enzymes in saliva and the process of chewing start the breakdown of the food. If Sally is gulping down her food and not taking time to chew it, she’s missing out on part of the digestion process. Also, as we get older, we lose some of our digestive enzymes and she may need to take some in pill form and/or eat fermented foods like sauerkraut to help her get back on track. (Taking antacids will only make the problem worse. We need acid to digest our food.)
  • Her gut bacteria are likely overloaded with all of that sugar and processed carbs. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t have a major Candida infestation. Yogurt with live cultures and probably added probiotics in pill form would help her refresh the good gut bacteria, kill off the bad bacteria (Candida), and maybe even stop her sweet tooth.

The best thing Sally can do if she wants to feel better is fix her diet. I would suggest she have a consultation with a dietician/nutritionist who can provide her with a proper diet, not just for her, but for her husband and son, too. Once she’s in a routine of shopping for, preparing, serving, and eating healthy foods (and getting her husband and son to help with that), then she could look into adding more activity for herself and the family. (Starting both at once might be too overwhelming.) After a month, she’d probably lose at least 10 pounds, if not more. (Removing all of those processed foods would cause her to retain less water.) Her family could dust off their old bicycles in the garage and go for rides on the weekends. Maybe she and her son could do pushups and pullups together in the morning before school. No doubt her dog would also get healthier and lose weight, too. Maybe her son, like many, has been diagnosed with ADHD? That can be improved by eating fewer carbs and other dietary changes. In fact, some (children AND adults) get so much improvement by eliminating carbs and processed foods that they no longer need to be medicated.

Most of all, Sally should put some of her surfing time to good use and do some research into what she’s been eating and what she ought to be eating. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-feed beef, free-range chickens and eggs, cutting out all grains (not just processed grains) and processed foods, and taking the time to move frequently throughout her day would have her feeling like a new person in just a few months.

(In the interest of full disclosure, fixing my diet and exercising more is an issue I struggle with myself. It’s not easy!)