At the beginning of November, I made a commitment to stop tracking my macros for the entire month. I wanted to see what exactly would happen if I, someone who has previously been obese but lost a lot of weight via tracking, stopped tracking those macros. It is now December, so it is time to report on those results. To really capture the breadth of the results, I’m going to break this down into a few categories.
1 – The Mental Impact
To be completely honest, it took me a couple of weeks to really fully let go. For the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t using MyFitnessPal or weighing/measuring my food, but I was still “tracking in my head” using “guesstimates.” The first phase was highly stressful; I was hungry and wanting to eat more food, but I was so scared to do so.
Somewhere around the midpoint, my nutritionist challenged me to really let go and just eat to my hunger and see what would happen. I realized that the only way I’m going to really know if this works for me is to force myself to “just do it” even while my fear and anxiety kicked and screamed in my head.
So, I began specifically challenging myself: I bought foods for which I could not guesstimate nutrition information; I swapped my low-calorie bread for regular bread; I drank a little eggnog…and even a little alcohol; I had snacks that went over my previously assumed “safe calorie limit.” The more that I did these things and seen nothing terrible happen, the easier it got.
Thanksgiving was great – I trusted my hunger even on that day, which meant eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus snacks and not just hoarding calories for some big huge meal. I still struggled emotionally over the leftovers and had lots of reflection over how I used to binge and be stuffed for weeks on Thanksgiving leftovers in the past. The thing is, I now cook turkey and potatoes, etc. all year long, so there is really no desire to gorge on these things. I can and do have them whenever I want them. In fact, on Thanksgiving itself, I wound up mostly eating shrimp cocktail and veggies with dip because it was what I wanted more than turkey, which I eat all the time.
Then…last week, I had to have minor surgery, which meant I had to take a break from exercise.
Holy anxiety hell.
First, I had to fast for the surgery, which was hugely difficult for me after all of this unrestricted eating. Second, I had to eat without exercising, which just was really scary. Thank god I had a meeting with my nutritionist a couple of days after surgery so she could help me screw my head back on straight. I realized that eating to my hunger has to mean eating to my hunger no matter what other circumstances are going on. And…that the only way I can know if I can trust my body AND my hunger is to listen to it even when my routines have to change.
Damn that ED and its ability to create new rules with literally anything! Breaking routines — ALL routines — and working on my flexibility is an area I still need to work on.
The good news is – I did it. I ate even when not exercising. I ate carbs, cheese, ice cream, peanut butter… Aside from one or two instances, I did not hold back and force myself to be hungry. I did wimp out and avoid eating out, I admit, but I will get there.
Obviously, the mental aspect of all of this is the area that needs the most work.
2 – The Social Impact
I cannot tell you how many times I have avoided, dreaded, or cancelled social gatherings/outings because of food and calories. The absolute best part of letting go of tracking is being able to let go of this need to “reserve calories” for social situations.
Probably the best thing that’s starting to come back is my desire and ability to go out to eat with coworkers. My entire team went out to eat at a local restaurant I’d been dying to try, and I thoroughly enjoyed having some appetizers, a main dish, AND a dessert. It was a really great outing — something I really miss doing.
Another event I got to attend and may previously have avoided because of the ED is taking my daughter to a breakfast with Santa! Yes, they had donuts and fast food as the only options. But did I die? Nope. And, we had a great time!
3 – The Physical Impact
Ultimately, my weight actually went down a tiny bit and then remained steady for the entire month of November. Honestly, scale-wise, if I really look at it – I am exactly the same weight I was months and months ago…before ever starting exercising. I don’t look exactly the same, because my body composition has changed, but a standard scale reads the same number.
My performance did increase some! I finally broke 30 minutes on my 5k and joked that it was the Thanksgiving stuffing having finally made it to my glycogen stores 😉 Overall, I have felt better, stronger, more energized, and even warmer (I am usually freezing all the time, but my cold tolerance is much better than it’s ever been).
Ultimate Takeaways and Next Steps
Something that this has all definitely shown me is that I have wasted SO much time agonizing over tiny food decisions when my body can clearly handle so much more than I thought. I used to beat myself up so hard over an extra piece of bread or a few extra bites of ice cream, because that is what Weight Watchers taught me was the “slippery slope” that had made me obese to begin with.
But, I realize now that I wasn’t listening to my hunger any better when I was obese than I am/was when I was too thin. I’m also realizing that maybe I really can trust my body to tell me what it needs. That hunger isn’t something to fight against or embrace or fear: hunger is my body telling me it needs food, and it is OK to listen to that. My body and my hunger know a little something about what they are doing. Also, apparently my body can handle (or maybe even needs) a whole lot more food than I thought… so, there’s that.
So, it is now December, and I am still not tracking and have no intention of returning to doing so. For December, I plan to fully embrace following my hunger to again see what happens and where my hunger will lead me.
I also need to push myself to challenge ALL of my food and even exercise routines: rigidity is my ED’s thing, and it does not benefit my life, mind, or body.
With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I’ve been reflecting a lot about past holidays. I remember sitting in Weight Watchers meetings around this time of year hearing the leaders talk about how to portion out your plate and comparing the different Points values for each of the traditional side dishes. If I remember correctly, Weight Watchers even had an interactive web page where you could build a Thanksgiving plate of food and see how many Points you would be using. Most of us hoarded our “extra weekly points” for this meal, and there was a lot of anxiety over leftovers as well.
I also remember always worrying about what my family would think of however I might look that year. I’ve been a lot of shapes and sizes, and I almost never look the same from one Thanksgiving to the next (and this year is no exception). I’d change outfits a half a dozen times trying to find the right combination of flattering and comfortable.
During my binge eating days, I remember sneaking a lot of food during and around the meal when I thought people were not looking. I remember eating until I was in pain and then doing it again and again with leftovers in the days that would follow Thanksgiving. I felt out of control around those leftovers and, to this day, Thanksgiving leftovers cause me a lot of anxiety, which is why I have always tried to “forget” my leftovers box when we leave my mother’s house (hi, mom! I know you’re reading…)
During my restrictive days, I have some pretty dark memories of how I handled the food during holidays – the details of which I’m too ashamed to share. There was also one Thanksgiving during which I used veganism to avoid eating pretty much anything. Instead, I brought along my own box of “safe” foods so that I could at least appear to be eating something.
Reflecting back on all of these holiday memories really makes me sad: why are so many of my holiday memories about food and weight anxieties? I LOVE the holidays…or, at least, I thought I did.
This Thanksgiving is going to be different. This Thanksgiving, I will not be tracking my food or calories; I will not be weighing or measuring my food; I won’t even be weighing myself. There’s not a single food I will avoid; in fact, if the little voice in my head says to avoid a certain food, I’m challenging myself to eat the thing its telling me not to eat — even if it’s just one bite.
This Thanksgiving, I will not starve all day to “reserve calories” for this one meal. I will eat when I am hungry, and I will eat until I am full. I will trust my body AND my hunger to guide me in how much I should consume. This is the challenge my nutritionist and I have agreed upon: I am to follow my hunger so that we can see what happens. So far, nothing catastrophic.
This Thanksgiving, I will happily and, with gratitude, take those leftovers home and actually eat them. Yes, even the stuffing and pecan pie.
And, when Christmas comes, I will have Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, Christmas Eve AND Christmas dinners. I might eat past fullness — overeat, you might say. I might gain a little weight. The world will not end.
I’m talking as if this is all easy; it isn’t. But, I’m setting the intention anyways. I’m tired of worrying about calories during the holidays (and every other day too); I’m tired of centering my life around food and body shape. I thought that my life would no longer be all about food when I finally got thinner, but the opposite was actually true.
Food, diets, weightloss, “lifestyle changes” to be thinner, eating disorders, whatever you want to call it…have robbed me of enough time. They are not welcome at my holiday celebrations this year.
I’ve been bouncing around the idea of trying out intuitive eating (or at least not tracking my food) for some time now. I’m not sure I can convey the anxiety this concept causes me, but let me try:
Imagine everything in your life that matters to you: everyone you love, everyone who loves you, all you have accomplished, all of your hopes and dreams for yourself and your loved ones.
Now, imagine all of those things only exist in your life for as long as you remain in firm control of your caloric intake, body shape, and the number on the scale.
If you’ve been able to conjure up the feeling of life-ending anxiety and pressure that entails, then you now know what every single moment of my life feels like for me. And, you’ll understand a little better the magnitude of this decision.
I am doing this for a few reasons:
1. I’m honestly curious what will happen. Can someone who was previously obese, lost the weight, and maintained that loss for years actually give up tracking food and NOT gain everything back? I don’t know. And, I don’t know how else to find out except to experiment.
2. There’s some scary shit beneath the surface of this eating disorder. If I’m not obsessing over calories and macros, what is going to come up? What will fill my mind? I want to tackle the deeper layer now. I can only do that if I am not numbing myself with restriction and food obsession.
3. I realized recently that both mine and my family’s diets are rather limited. I do all of the cooking, and I tend to cook the same “safe foods” repeatedly. I also often eat something entirely different from the rest of my family. This is not how I want to raise my daughter. Also, it’s not how I want to live. I LOVE cooking…or, at least, I used to…
So, here we go.
There’s no other way to do this but to just do it — and it needs to be for long enough that I can really truly see “what happens.” We’ll start with a month.
My whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.
That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.
After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.
It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”
Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.
I am so tired of being hungry.
Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.
For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?
And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.
I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.
And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.
There is an entirely different world out there.
There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.
There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.
But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”
At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”
What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.
That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”
And, so I am.
Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.
I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.
And, it’s working.
I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)
If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.
I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”
Yes, even for you.
It has been 3 weeks since I last stepped on a scale; I have no idea what I weigh right now. Not only that, but for the last 3 weeks, I have eaten the number of calories that somebody else has set as my target number of calories. It is higher than I would choose to eat on my own.
I’m anxious, but that is OK.
I am anxious, but I am doing it anyways.
I’ve been relatively quiet on here about what exactly I’m doing right now, because I was honestly not sure that it would last. I was afraid to tell you all and then to fail…not unlike how I failed to give up tracking my food. But, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it now; if I fail, you’ll get to see it, but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey.
Nearly 3 months ago, I joined a small local gym and began exercising regularly for the first time ever under the guidance of group personal trainers. I expected to burn out on it quickly, but, actually…I think I kind of love it.
I quickly noticed that, in order to perform well, I needed to eat. But, of course, the eating disorder part of my brain panics about that. So, I was caught between a rock and a hard place: one part of me wanting to perform well in the gym; one part just wanting to lose weight.
I am choosing performance.
Right now, I am taking part in a challenge at my gym during which I have made some commitments:
- To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
- To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
- To eat enough protein — (I am still tracking my food; but, I am eating more than I would typically eat. And, in fact, my goal is to be eating even more in time)
- To not weigh myself except for those weigh-ins required by the challenge (one at the 4-week mark; one at the 8-week mark both on a body composition scale – because scale weight is a crappy tool for measuring anything worthwhile)
I am also working with my eating disorder nutritionist to challenge my eating disorder; it is becoming a lot easier to distinguish that ED voice from my own, because while I am focused on performance, the ED is not.
Right now, I am at this stage where pretty much everything I’m doing makes me (and/or the eating disorder) anxious:
- lifting weights = stalling out on the scale
- eating more food = fear of weight gain
- not weighing myself = feeling out of control
- eating fear foods = feeling like I am completely losing control of myself and am a bad person
I’m doing it anyways. All of it. Because enough is enough. Because life is too short for this bullshit. Because I want to actually be happy and live life and not sit on the sidelines terrified that a plate of pasta is going to mean that nobody loves me.
My nutritionist told me that if I continue to “do it anyways” (listen to the other trusted professionals who have told me what it is I should be doing rather than listening to my eating disorder (previously thought of as “myself,” but I prefer now to think that I am not my eating disorder)) that one of two things will happen: either the anxiety will fade or I will be able to say “I am anxious about this thing, but I am doing it anyways,” and that will be OK. I’ve already seen this starting to happen.
I don’t want to make this blog too long, but I do update my Instagram regularly now; you can find me @saladflambe
I’ve been posting a mixture of “What I Eat in a Day,” race and lifting videos and photos, eating disorder challenge posts, plus pics of my daughter and my cats 🙂
I am 3 weeks into my gym’s 8-week challenge, and I am already thinking about what I will be doing next. I discussed it with my nutritionist this week, but I’m not quite ready to “commit to it” here. So, stay tuned… If I can work up the courage, it’s going to be big (for me), and it’s going to be terrifying (but, in a good way). Good thing I’ve got these guns to keep me safe now 😉
“We must look at the lens through we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”
When I was a little girl, I came up with the following description for a person’s soul: “Our eyes can see,” I said, “but something has to want to look out. That something is a person’s soul.”
I might rephrase this today as an adult, but only slightly: the eyes can see, but something has to want to look out; that something is the self.
Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that: the eyes can see, but it’s the brain (the mind) that interprets. And, those interpretations are influenced by a person’s core beliefs and experiences. No two people’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences are the same. Thus, each of us see the world through a different lens. Multiple lenses, actually; you may have quite a few.
I have an eating disorder lens.
When I look at the world through my eating disorder lens, it is a dangerous and terrifying place in which I can only find safety by being as completely in control as possible.
It is a place where safety is found in numbers — in making numbers continually smaller.
It is a place where strength is found in being so in control of one’s self that not even natural urges like hunger so bad that you are shaking can make you break your control. Even while food is right in front of you, or in your hand, or even in your mouth.
When I look in the mirror through my eating disorder lens, I see something disgusting, something that will never be enough, something weak, something unlovable, someTHING, not someONE.
When I look at a plate of food through my eating disorder lens, each bite might as well be inscribed with some important, crucial need that I will be giving up should I eat that bite of food. It’s like being shown one of those “One Must Go Forever!” Memes, only it’s real life, and your choice feels real and permanent.
Which do you choose?
Go on… it’s not that hard! Just eat! Just choose.
It took time to craft this eating disorder lens. It took time to fit it to my eye so fastly. It took time and reinforcement, experience after experience after experience.
And now, I’m in therapy. And, I’m working on a new lens.
A lens through which I can see that food is, maybe, not so closely tied to my most vital emotional need for connection.
That, maybe, I am enough, have always been enough…
And, yes, that’s a terrifying thing to confront — because, if I’ve always been good enough, have always been worthy of love and acceptance, then what does that mean about certain events in my life? About certain people from my life?
If I glance through this lens…and, right now, that’s all I can do…the world is still scary and unsafe.
And that’s just how the world is: unsafe.
Looking through this lens forces me to confront my lack of control, my inability to keep bad things from happening, people from leaving, my own daughter from getting hurt someday by this unsafe world that is, ultimately, out of my control. No matter how strong I may be.
A new lens.
The new lens slowly becomes an option — I can choose, in this moment, to look at the world through the eating disorder lens or through the recovery lens. I can choose, I have to choose, over and over and over.
Because, that eating disorder lens…it’s still there. And, it’s pretty damn comfortable… with its promises of possible ways to achieve safety in this world.
I think the goal, ultimately, is that the new lens becomes the more comfortable one: my default lens. That it will fit my eye more and more securely as I continue to shape it and make it more clear through therapy and practice. (It’s still pretty foggy and rough.)
I don’t know what the end result will look like, and that is hard for someone who strives for perfection and control. I am one of those people who, once I know the goal, will leap over steps to achieve the outcome as quickly as possible.
But, recovery doesn’t work that way. It took me 31 years to create the lenses through which I interpret and understand the world; crafting a new one… it’s going to take time.
Fortunately, I have that.