Good morning! It’s Wednesday, which means another linkup with Peas and Crayons to share yesterday’s food choices with you. And, because just showing you mediocre iPhone pictures would make for a rather uninteresting post, I am also talking a little bit about calories. I know that I’ve talked about calories before, and I know that everybody talks about calories these days (I’m looking at you, US government), but I cannot overemphasize how significant not counting them has been to my recovery. Over the last few of days, I have been reminded of its significance once more.
You see, I have been struggling over the last week or two to keep myself from counting calories. It all began when I had a few especially hungry days and I found myself in a panic. I was hungry, and I knew that I was hungry. Yet I was not willing to give myself permission to eat something. I longed for the days when I “knew” how much I had eaten, and therefore knew whether or not I was allowed to eat more. These are old, disordered thoughts, but they eased their way back into my mind relatively undetected. My disorder beckoned to me, reminding me that I could know how much I had eaten that day. I still have the nutritional data of nearly every food on the planet in my head, after all. All I would need to do to know for sure whether I could eat something would be to tally them up and ensure that I was allowed to eat something else.
So I did it. I added up my day’s calories. I know. Cue the red flags, the alarm bells, and the eye rolling. Never mind the fact that I now know that calories are arbitrary. Never mind the fact that I know there is absolutely know way of knowing exactly how many calories our bodies are burning and consuming without careful scientific analysis. Never mind the fact that I haven’t used my food scale in months, so even my best guess would be far from exact. Never mind any of that. I relied on the old, false comfort of my disorder to tell me whether I could eat or not. Even though I knew that the numbers were almost entirely made up, I found comfort in calorie counting because it gave me permission to eat when I was hungry, something I could not give to myself.
For perhaps a day, the calorie counting was mildly helpful from a recovery standpoint. I realized that I was, in fact, eating a fair bit less than I thought I was. While I should have known this from my level of hunger, which had been high, I found comfort in the validation of numbers. It didn’t take long, however, for the counting of calories to spiral me into full-blown diet-mode. I felt less free around food. After all, there’s no sense counting one calorie if you aren’t going to count all calories. Because I didn’t want to have to think about a pecan here or there, an extra piece of carrot or cucumber, or a chocolate chip or two, I cut these foods out altogether. Thus, before long, I was back to counting calories nearly as rigidly as I had months ago, sticking only to my list of “safe” foods, eaten at “safe” times.
What do you think happened as a result of this day or two of calorie counting? It may come as no surprise, but I became much more obsessive. I became less inclined to listen to my body. When I got hungry, all that I thought about was what I had already eaten and what I would be able to eat later. I was reminded once again of why it is not possible to recover on a diet. I need to believe that I, as a person in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, can never again choose to casually count calories, or just diet “a little bit”. It may start out casually, but “normal” dieting is a slippery slope for me. Somewhere along the line, something got tripped in my brain and I am no longer able to count calories without it being massively triggering.
In some ways, I grieve the loss of calorie counting. It may sound silly, but knowing that I had not eaten “too much” was validating to me. Relying on outside information to tell me whether I could eat or not felt comforting. But I can’t simply rewind to a time in my weight-loss efforts before anorexia completely took over. I can’t settle for that in-between, all too common, girl-on-a-diet identity. I have gone too far and, honestly, thank God that I have. Although some things may be easier in the short term if I could just diet again, I know that it is not what I want for my life. When I embarked on a diet, I did so out of fear and self-loathing. When that diet turned into anorexia, it was for the same reasons. Recovery was sought out of a love for life and its potential, and there is no room for a diet in a life worth living.
Yesterday, I struggled to fully give up calorie counting. I had acknowledged that it was leading me down a path that I do not want to go down, but I held onto it just a little bit. Throughout the day, I tried to mix up my food choices a bit more than usual to discourage myself from counting calories, which increased my anxiety, but gave me some good challenges…
…except at breakfast, which was the same as always. And it was great.
At work, I incorporated my first challenge of the day. I saw these protein bars on clearance the other day, and I instinctively scanned the nutritional panel. Too many calories, I thought, and I put them back on the shelf. I caught myself actively restricting foods based on calories, though, and I threw those damn protein bars in my basket. So, yesterday morning, I decided to have one for my morning snack. I had to give a tour of the roasting facility to some customers, so I was damn hungry by the time that I ate. I’m glad I took a chance on the bars – they were good! And cheap! Win-win!
When it was time for my lunch, I was rather hungry once again. I brought some potato soup that my mom made and ate it with these incredible gorgonzola crackers from Trader Joe’s. If you haven’t tried them and you have access to a Trader Joe’s, get your ass in gear and buy a box. Unless you don’t like blue cheese, in which case you can stop reading my blog right this minute. Just kidding…kind of.
I also had a spinach salad consisting of spinach and some sliced grapes and apples. After I had finished my soup, I started panicking about unknown calories. I called on my anxiety-reduction skills, did some deep breathing, and reassured myself that I could trust my body over any number. It was still far from easy, but these techniques helped.
After a little time back at work, I realized that I was still hungry. My body was telling me that I had not eaten enough, regardless of what the numbers may have told me. I ate a tasty apple and some carrots with hummus.
We are having a sale on these chocolate bars at work, so my coworker and I sampled out a bar in the afternoon for customers to try. I had never tasted this variety, and I thought that it sounded good. I was also nearing the end of my shift and starting to feel hungry for an afternoon snack, so I nibbled on a little chocolate before I left for the day.
On the drive home from work, I ate a couple of almonds to hold me over, but I was most certainly hungry by the time I got to my residence. I ate one of my favorite afternoon snacks: cereal and yogurt with some cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I also strategically placed an Annie’s Bunny Graham in the yogurt to increase the cuteness factor of my snack. Awwe.
I wrote in my journal for some time and did a bit of yoga before deciding that I was hungry for dinner. I haven’t made curry in a while and I had some coconut milk, so I made a sauce out of that, garlic, curry paste, fish sauce, lime, and chili paste. My curry included some chicken, a bunch of vegetables, rice, and chili lime cashews. I usually struggle with making curries flavorful enough, but this one was pretty fantastic. Fish sauce may smell disgusting, but it is truly the secret to decent Asian cuisine.
At dinner, I decided not to have a salad. In all honesty, I do love salads, but I have become aware of the fact that I often make myself eat them when I’m hungry for something else, in place of more calorically dense choices. For example, I would often make a big salad alongside my dinner instead of having a little more meat or cooking with a little more fat. And, let’s be real, I definitely get enough servings of vegetables in a day even without a big-ass dinner salad. So, I’m trying to challenge myself by cutting back on the salads and being more honest with myself about what my body truly wants.
After dinner, I whipped up a couple of birthday treats to take into work for Birthday Wednesday. While the treats were baking, I started cleaning out the closet in my bedroom. You see, I spent most of my childhood and teenage years cramming anything and everything that I did not feel like dealing with into my closet, as well as the attic attached to it. This has resulted in a plethora of crap that needs to be sorted through before I leave for Chicago. I am trying to work on it in baby steps so as not to overwhelm myself, and last night was step one. I sorted through high school papers and binders and was able to recycle a whole lot of homework assignments that I was keeping for reasons unbeknownst to me.
Feeling accomplished, I took a bath and did some reading before cleaning up the kitchen and starting my process of winding down for the night. I watched a little TV and lounged for a bit before getting hungry for a snack and eating some toast before bed.
That wraps up my Tuesday’s eats! This week had tough moments as I reconciled my inability to fall back on dieting ever again if I want to live a happy and healthy life. We are so often told explicitly and implicitly that learning to diet will bring us happiness, and sometimes it’s easy to fall for those lies. I know with absolute certainty that dieting did not bring me happiness. It brought me the inability to sleep, hair loss, anxiety, obsessiveness, exhaustion, and physical pain. Even in the easier days of counting calories, I was not able to listen to my body or fully engage with the people around me. A life without calorie counting is a life worth living, and I need to keep reminding myself of that until I firmly believe it.