Welcome to this Thursday’s edition of Thinking Out Loud, courtesy of Amanda! It is downright cold today, but from I’m enjoying the beauty of winter from the comfort of a warm house.
Today, I’m thinking about calories. More specifically, I’m thinking about how to stop counting calories when society is (somewhat literally) shoving them down our throats.
For the last decade or so, calories have been in the back of my mind, taking center stage over the last two years of disordered eating. Ever since I tried following Weight Watchers at age thirteen, I have believed that I would need to count calories if I were ever to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. I assumed that I would need to learn how to keep track of every single calorie that passed by my lips, a belief stemming from the idea that my body was not like other people’s bodies. Whereas others could eat what they wanted, listen to their bodies, and maintain weights that were healthy for them, it was unfathomable to me that my body could be trusted with such a task.
Although I didn’t start counting calories meticulously until an eating disorder took up residency in my brain, calories have been on my mind since that first Weight Watchers meeting, if not before. Perhaps I didn’t obsess over amounts like I did with anorexia, but I still believed that I was most likely consuming too many calories and I thought that willpower and calorie counting would be my tickets to happiness. I ate diet foods whenever possible out of the assumption that I did not deserve to eat non-diet equivalents. I thought that people who could eat such foods and not become obese were simply fortunate, whereas I was highly unfortunate.
Once an eating disorder began to creep into my life, calorie counts took over my world. I was starving all of the time, and I wanted to make each calorie count. I thought that knowing caloric values made my life easier because they told me what I was and was not allowed to eat, which allowed me to structure my entire day around calories. Becoming obsessed with calories cemented the idea that my body was untrustworthy into my brain once and for all.
In my months of dieting, I never imagined that there would be a day when I would not want to know the caloric value of foods. My past self would be utterly floored to know that that day has come. Although my disorder still delights in knowing caloric values of foods, I now know that this knowledge allows it to wedge its way into my life, telling me what I can and cannot eat. The healthy version of myself does not want to know caloric values anymore, not because I am too ashamed to know how much I’m eating but because I realize that they hinder my ability to truly tune into my body’s needs.
There has been one major roadblock in trying to stop paying attention to calories: I have a database of caloric values in my head the size of The Library of Congress . I still know the calories in fifteen grams of lettuce, in eight baby carrots, in four almonds, in nearly each and every food that I have purchased over the last two years. I don’t know how long those numbers will linger, but they are fresh enough at this point that calories are tallying in my mind for a good part of my day. Although I never add up calories like I used to, the numbers are undeniably there, nagging at me in the back of my brain.
In an effort to challenge myself and challenge my disorder, I have started trying to reduce my exposure to the nutrition information of foods. This has been challenging, however, at a time when such information is more readily available than ever before. Most caloric values are posted on the front of packaging in addition to the back, and many restaurants post calorie contents on menus, as well as online. Because I know that I use calories against myself, and that knowing the caloric contents of foods allows me to restrict them to how much I “should” be eating, I decided that it is time to try something new.
My eyes almost immediately veer toward the nutrition panel when I pick up an item in the store. It’s a habit that I have not yet broken. And, if I’m being honest, calorie contents still influence my food choices. I am still likely to choose a lower-calorie option if one is available, and to find some reassurance and anxiety reduction from such a choice. Although I have not yet trained my eyes to stay entirely away from nutrition panels on foods, I recently realized that there is something I can do to prevent myself from referencing those amounts in the future and using them against myself.
I have taken some of the foods in my house and blacked out the nutritional information on the packaging because, at this point, I think that it is best if I am as ignorant of calories as possible. I know that the numbers are still in my brain, but I am hoping that I will eventually break the habit of looking at nutrition panels when I choose what food to eat. Of course, I could still use the power of the Internet to find out these nutrition facts, but I know that the additional step of having to look them up will allow me a chance to question my actions and choose to remain ignorant.
Buying things in bulk is another opportunity to limit my exposure to calorie contents. Although bulk foods usually have nutritional information posted, I never write them down. In the depths of my disorder, if I bought anything in bulk, I would photograph the nutrition panel for future reference. And if I accidentally deleted the picture of the nutrition facts, I flipped the fuck out. That food was no longer edible as far as I was concerned. I am miles away from that place now, thank God. It is my hope that, by not writing them down and only giving them a cursory glance in the store, the numbers will be entirely out of my mind by the time I prepare whatever I’m buying.
Eating in a restaurant poses another chance to challenge myself. It’s easy for me to decide to cook at home, knowing full well that I am doing so because I know exactly what is going into my meal. It’s a sneaky way for my disorder to stay in charge, and for me to find comfort in controlling my food. Every once in a while, I try to challenge myself by eating something completely new, allowing my body to guide me instead of external ideas of what is and is not acceptable.
This whole trusting my body thing is brand spanking new to me. I haven’t done it since I was very young, most likely. It is taking practice as well as regular, intentional challenges. I have to believe that my body knows how to eat. It has always known how to eat, and if I simply let it share its knowledge with me, I need to have faith that I will not be led astray.