A friendly note: I talk about calorie counting, dieting and my own disordered eating habits here. If you’ve struggled (or are currently struggling) with disordered eating and feel this might be triggering for you, I urge you to click away. If you’re struggling with disordered eating and haven’t yet reached out, I also urge you to reach out and seek help. You are beautiful and you are worthy.
A friend of mine posted this post on Facebook (evil, evil Facebook) the other day.
If you haven’t read the post 1200 Calories yet, please, click over and read it; you won’t regret it.
Okay, you’ve read it? Super.
So, let’s talk about dieting and calorie counting…
About nine years ago I had massively disordered eating. I’m not sure how it came about, but I was on the 1200 calorie bandwagon. Not only that, I was fueling myself with fake foods during the week and then would binge eat on the weekends. A typical day looked like this
– Coffee. Yup. Coffee. Usually a venti because I was freaking tired. Probably because I wasn’t eating enough and my body was exhausted, so I decided to fuel with coffee.
– Pepperoni stick and cheese. My blood sugar would normally plummet around 10am (due to the lack of breakfast) so to prevent myself from passing out, I needed the protein and fats.
– Grapes. Because grapes are delicious.
– Cup of instant soup. I’d scour the aisles of the grocery store looking for instant soup. If anything was over 120 calories I’d put it back because that was “too many” calories for me to eat. Yeah……..
– Frozen chicken breast and corn. I was working from 2pm-10pm during this time (going to school from 8am-1pm) so I’d bring chicken and corn and heat it up. No matter how hungry I was, I never had an option for more food.
Let’s not attempt to count those calories. It’s far below 1200 calories. I never logged my food, but believed being hungry was good for me, so I kept my body in a hungry and semi-starved state during the week and followed it up by eating everything in sight on the weekends. Okay, just on Sunday because I worked on Saturday and was able to keep my food intake to a minimum on Saturday as well.
During this time I broke my left elbow when leaving work. Due to the break and the time of year I was in the hospital from Wednesday (when I broke it) to Saturday (when it was set). As I was “on-call” for surgery I wasn’t allowed to eat I was actually glad I wasn’t allowed to eat because I was able to make sure I didn’t gain weight because I was just chillin’ at the hospital. That should give you an idea of the extent of how disordered my eating was. I was in the hospital with a broken elbow and I was concerned about my weight. During the day I’d do laps of the floor with my IV pole and was thankful the morphine took away any appetite I might have.
Although I trained as a swimmer throughout my youth (competitive swimming from 7-19 and competitive synchronized swimming from 11-16) and never had any body image issues during that time, as soon as I moved out I experienced a bout of depression and that lead into a downward spiral of self loathing and controlling myself with food.
As a result of my disordered eating past, counting calories is a very fine line for me. Very fine.
Two years ago I logged everything I ate in MyFitnessPal. If I had a day where I was within my calorie goals it was a good day and I was a good person. If I had calorie room that was even better. I flip-flopped between praising myself on my calorie deficit and binge eating because I had room. If I had a day where I was over my goal, even by very few calories, it was a bad day; I was a bad person and had no self-control. If I was able, I’d go to the gym and work them off; if not, I’d shame myself.
I am so, so thankful I am no longer in this place.
To compare that stage in my life to now: I am roughly 15 pounds heavier now that I was then. I am also one million times happier now than I was then. My weight does not (nor will it ever) dictate my happiness or worth. Never again.
At this point, I will periodically log my calories to make sure I’m eating in an appropriate range for my metabolism; especially with my marathon training. I know I should consume roughly 1600 calories for my height and weight and will eat more on the days where I have long runs, usually. I do my best to eat intuitively: if I want a hamburger/fries/whatever, I will eat them. If I’m not hungry, I won’t eat. There are some days where I’ll run for 90 minutes and won’t experience a lot of hunger – I always refuel with a protein shake (Vega Performance Protein in Vanilla) and then use my hunger cues for the remainder of the day.
So, with all that said – calorie counting is not for me.
However, I do believe calorie counting can be beneficial for some people.
As a result of being highly involved in swimming during my teenage years and then picking up running at 18, I’ve always had a basic idea of what healthy looks like. While I wasn’t a fan of always eating healthy growing up (dinner always involved a vegetable, protein and carb) I recognize it was easy for me to take this and apply it to my life when I started living on my own. Sure, there were times I ate junk because I could I also wanted to eat the healthy stuff. I knew protein and veggies were good for me and cookies and sugar and McDonald’s wasn’t.
I don’t believe logging meals every day is sustainable, and I feel it can also result in feeling shame. There were times I wouldn’t log something because I felt shame over having eaten something unhealthy. Yeah, let’s just go ahead and agree that’s not a good habit.
So, with all that said, I feel calorie counting can be a beneficial tool when starting to move towards a more healthy lifestyle. In the end, diets don’t work. They don’t. Sorry. “Diet” implies something will be sort term, whereas a healthy lifestyle is something to be maintained for the long run. Once I moved out of my diet mindset and into a sustainable healthy lifestyle, I was able to rid myself of shameful thoughts over food and eating and am consistently able to make better choices regarding what I choose to eat.
I know what 1600 calories of food in a day looks like. I know when I likely go over my calories because I listen to my body. I no longer have a running commentary of how many calories are in item A, B, or C. For someone who doesn’t know what 1600 calories looks like, calorie counting can be a helpful tool, just to establish portion and serving sizes to be used when moving forward with a more healthy lifestyle. This could involve weighing and measuring out food for months, or even a year, but I believe (and this is my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth – not much) in order to truly maintain a healthy lifestyle (I’m talking about more than just the number on the scale here) it’s important to move away from the measuring and weighing. (Now saying that, I always measure my trail mix. Every morning 1/4 cup. Why? Because 1/4 cup isn’t much and trail mix is good, yo!)
The key takeaway (and what I spent a long-ass time trying to get at) is counting calories is not necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing is getting caught in the cycle of I can only eat 1200 calories a day and putting your body into starvation mode and, really, causing potentially irreparable damage to your metabolism.
Whew. That was long-winded and rambley, wasn’t it?