How We Ate in the 90s (and got fat)

Every January I join my friends–real and virtual–in the time-honored tradition of refining our eating and exercise habits. (January and September if you’re Jewish.) But the truth is I’m tired of renewing my bi-annual pledge to eliminate the white stuff, add more leafy greens, lift weights, stretch, blah, blah, blah.

Instead of berating myself for not always making the best choices, I’m celebrating how far I’ve come since the 90s–the decade when “diet” was my middle name and Step Aerobics was my idea of a good time.

So with great shame and the pictures to prove it (I’m not posting them, sorry) I present: Ten Things I Believed About Food in the 90s–in other words: Why I Weighed 30 Pounds More in High School and College Than I Do Now. (It’s true.)

1. Frozen yogurt is a suitable meal and snack. Hello calcium! And the more sprinkles the better. It’s all fat-free, baby!

2. A SnackWells cookie is the dessert choice of champions. Snack well–get it!? Go ahead, eat the whole box.

3. Gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, jelly beans, candy corn, and licorice are better for you than chocolate.

4. Diet soda. Drink it.

5. A smoothie +  a wrap is the ideal meal. A wrap slathered in ranch or Cesar dressing is even better. Because then it’s like a salad.

6. Fat-free cheese = real food. You won’t miss the concept of cheese that melts.

7. Early 90s: Pasta and bagels are low-fat. Therefore, go to town.

8. Late 90s/early 2000s: Pasta and bagels have ruined us. Fill up on hamburgers but toss the bun.

9. Anything Oprah swears by for weight loss is gold. Buy every book on the subject she endorses and highlight entire passages. Pray Bob Greene will become your trainer. (Actually, I still think Bob Greene is very sensible. I’m just too lazy for that much exercise.)

10. A Dairy Queen Butterfinger Blizzard (17 points) + a bag of popcorn (2 points) + an apple (2 points and never touch a 3-point banana–for shame) = a fantastic day on Weight Watchers.

I know I’m not the only one who frantically slurped down the dieting Kool-Aid in the 90s. What did you eat or do in the name of weight loss back in the days before fish oil, whole grains, and power yoga?



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Nina is a freelance writer with work that has appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, Kveller.com, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Tcjewfolk.com, Writerunboxed.com, and elsewhere. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines. She was thrilled to participate in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother, and she enjoys co-leading the book review site GreatNewBooks.org. Nina lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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37 Responses to How We Ate in the 90s (and got fat)
  1. Jack
    January 18, 2011 | 1:32 am

    I paid no attention to most of this stuff and have continued to ignore it into the 21st century. Well, truth is that in the 90′s I was ripped and worked out hard enough that I could eat anything.

    In the years that have passed my metabolism has betrayed me and I have found myself having “earned” some of the weight that refused to attach itself to me in the 90s. Doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I don’t miss having my six pack because I do.

    But life is too short for me to worry about all of the calories.

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:35 pm

      I always love the male perspective, Jack. I tend to assume guys don’t worry about these things as much, but I know that’s not always true. I’m sure your wife adores you with or without the six pack!

      • Jack
        January 18, 2011 | 8:30 pm

        Children are always good for reminding us of the tiny little details. My daughter likes to look at old pictures and point out all the things that are different. I promised to return the favor at her Bat Mitzvah, but I don’t think that she really gets it yet. ;)

  2. alissa
    January 18, 2011 | 3:26 am

    Great post! In the 90s I assumed all food that was vegetarian and organic was healthy and therefore could disregard the nutritional info on the label. It was also the time of eating with a spoon. Somehow I had convinced myself I was consuming smaLler portions this way (ha!) – even when I repeatedly dunked in the peanut butter or “clenaed”/evened the edges in a serving dish. Finally, there was the snacking phase. This was the classic take-something-good and make-it-bad. I wasn’t eating big meals, but rather snacks… A lot of them at all times of times of day, including late, late night hours.

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:36 pm

      Oh liss- thank you for sharing! Love your additions (cleaning edges, etc). Remember those late night cookie cakes in college??? (not that we thought those were healthy. But what WERE we thinking??)

  3. Andrea
    January 18, 2011 | 4:09 am

    I wasn’t much into this stuff…just as always LOVE to eat good food, but your post was hilarious!!!!!

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:36 pm

      You didn’t miss ANYTHING, Andrea!

  4. Scary Mommy
    January 18, 2011 | 4:33 am

    I love this!!! Oh, college. Where the sprinkles flowed free and whole cookie cakes were a late-night snack. WAH! I miss that.

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:38 pm

      My biggest downfall was the self-serve yogurt machine in Bear’s Den and Center Court with the self-serve toppings right next to it. And Alissa mentioned the cookie cakes, too. Honestly, we were animals. ;)

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scary Mommy. Scary Mommy said: Oh, the good old days! What I Believed About Food in the 90s: http://t.co/9t6B3lA from @NinaBadzin [...]

  6. Tracy Hahn-Burkett
    January 18, 2011 | 6:46 am

    Oh, the SnackWells. I ate those things by the case! Clearly an example of how we can fool ourselves into believing ANYTHING if only we want to believe it badly enough.

    As for diet soda, um, well . . . I’m afraid there’s still a fair amount of Diet Pepsi coursing through my bloodstream . . . .

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:39 pm

      Tracy! At the grocery store in the town were I grew up, you had to put your name on a waiting list to get them and you could only buy a certain number of boxes. People were CRAZY!

  7. Laura Wasserman
    January 18, 2011 | 7:14 am

    So funny Nina! Your blogs always start my day off in a great way! So true about the Snackwells and Frozen Yogurt. :) As well as the 30 # heavier. . .

  8. Amy Sue Nathan
    January 18, 2011 | 7:21 am

    I’ve been on and off Weight Watchers since about 1978, so I’ve always been aware of what was good and what was not-so-good. Didn’t mean I always did the right thing!

    But you still can’t convince me that a ‘sleeve’ of Oreos isn’t one serving.

    • Nina Badzin
      January 18, 2011 | 4:40 pm

      LAURA- thank you! And for putting the post up on Facebook! :)

      AMY- Ditto for a sleeve of Thin Mints. Killers.

  9. Jennifer K
    January 18, 2011 | 8:01 am

    This is HILARIOUS! And Totally true! Isn’t it only when you “stop dieting” do you lose weight….oh wait – I sound like Oprah….Thank you for making me laugh and smile this morning.

  10. Jorie Malk
    January 18, 2011 | 8:24 am

    SO TRUE! You are hilarious!!

  11. liz
    January 18, 2011 | 10:37 am

    I genuinely LOLed at the smoothie and wrap being diet food one. That was SUCH a craze, and ended up being more fat, sugar and calories than some fast food meals.

    • Nina Badzin
      January 19, 2011 | 2:32 pm

      JENNIFER and JORIE- Thank you! :)

      LIZ: A couple of people said they don’t remember that one. It was definitely a major craze where I grew up!

  12. Amanda Hoving
    January 18, 2011 | 11:31 am

    Um, wait a second…are you saying the stuff on the list ISN’T healthy??? Joking. Kind of. I, mean, frozen yogurt with gummy bears on top…how could that be bad?

  13. 30ish Mama
    January 18, 2011 | 3:20 pm

    I shared many if your ideas myself and until 2 years ago I thought that a smoothie from Jamba Juice was a healthy choice for meal replacement!

  14. Theta Mom
    January 18, 2011 | 6:44 pm

    I lived on Fruity Pebbles in college. Need I say more? ;)

    • Nina Badzin
      January 19, 2011 | 2:34 pm

      AMANDA- Frozen yogurt + gummy bears was genius. All fat free!! ;)

      30ish Mama- Ahhh, I went through the Jamba Juice thing too. I tend to relapse with smoothies in the summer. Of course then I’m starving an hour later.

      THETA MOM- I ate more Golden Grahams my freshman year of college then should be legally permitted.

      • Ellen
        March 29, 2011 | 8:49 pm

        Theta Mom’s comment plus yours about Golden Grahams made me flashback to my freshman year of college (admittedly in the mid-80s) where dinner at the dorm – that’s right, I said dinner – was soft-serve ice cream with Cap’n Crunch!

        • Nina Badzin
          March 29, 2011 | 9:14 pm

          Ha! Actually sounds delicious right now. I was so addicted to frozen yogurt.

  15. Jaime
    January 18, 2011 | 8:56 pm

    Don’t forget working in a candy store in high school where we could eat anything that was broken…oooooh that chocolate covered pretzel looks sooooo yummy…oops – it broke!

    • Nina Badzin
      January 19, 2011 | 2:35 pm

      Jamie!!! I’m so happy you commented on here. Those fat-free “chewies” were the beginning of the end for me!!!! I had NO business working in a candy store. NONE! People who say, “Oh, you get sick of it after a while . . .” Well, that never applied to me.

  16. Neil
    January 19, 2011 | 11:38 am

    Frozen yogurt has never left us. There are some parts of both NY and LA where there are three frozen yogurt stores on one block. A large population (and I see many college age women in the stores) think that they are eating something healthy when they enjoy their banana cream-flavored frozen yogurt, especially when the yogurt is slightly tart like in Pinkberry. Good for digestion!

    • Nina Badzin
      January 19, 2011 | 2:36 pm

      NEIL- that’s true. The whole Pinkberry thing isn’t a big fad around Minneapolis (yet). You’re so right about the whole pro-biotic craze!

  17. julie
    January 19, 2011 | 1:36 pm

    I was laughing so hard, I blew coffee on my keyboard reading this.
    I majored in EVERY SINGLE ONE of those myths in college: with particular emphasis on “bagels and pasta are low-fat so go to town.” I too believed non-melting fat-free cheese was a miracle and that 32 ounces of frozen yogurt topped with Butterfinger was a great idea.
    I, too, weighed about 20 pounds more then than I do now. And I eat more. Sometimes, even a hamburger bun.
    Go figure.
    Thanks for sharing and for the laugh. Not so much for the coffee I have to clean up now.

  18. Bekki
    January 19, 2011 | 5:56 pm

    What about the 1998 Chilean diet:
    a) Eating pan (bread) with every single meal because it was freshly purchased and a cultural experience — it would improve our Spanish
    b) Consuming ice cream on a bus doesn’t count
    c) Beer mixed with Fanta orange soda as the drink of champions
    d) Wouldn’t all that walking burn off the calories??

    • Nina Badzin
      January 19, 2011 | 10:23 pm

      JULIE- So glad you loved it. And I’m sorry for you that you know exactly what I’m talking about. It takes a long time to unlearn those bad habits, doesn’t it!?

      BEKS- 1998 was an aberration where the worst of my fat-free philosophies met an anything goes desperation. 1998: make that 40 p0unds more than I weigh now. Dark times, my friend. Dark times. (But I met Bryan months later . . . you know he must really love me!)

  19. Oh, I love this. Somehow, I have a much more laissez-faire attitude toward det these days (and I’m much smaller – go figure). I used to obsess about carbs. I would eat those terrible no carb candies and other fake things that made me feel terrible. I would also eat Tasti-D (a NYC faux dairy concoction) by the gallon. Was lovely when reports came out that it was a total sham… Wonderful post :)

  20. Shell
    January 22, 2011 | 9:13 pm

    I used to go right by calorie count. And if it was in a good range, it didn’t matter if it all came from total junk.

  21. givejonadollar
    January 23, 2011 | 1:03 pm

    Gosh, I really miss Gummy Bears. However, Count Chocula made a return to Wal-mart and they had the boxes marked down to $1.50 a piece.

    Heck ya! :)

  22. Nina Badzin
    January 24, 2011 | 3:24 pm

    AIDAN AND SHELL- exactly! It was basically a junk-only menu.

    GIVEJONADOLLAR- Ha! I used to LOVE chocolate pebbles. Same concept!

  23. [...] person. In high school and college I did STEP classes, roller bladed, and whatever else people loved in the 90s. That said, I was never slim. No matter how many miles I logged on the treadmill or how many Cindy [...]

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