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.