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I quantified my food most of my life. Since entering adolescence at the age of 10, I have been in a complex routine of mental gymnastics, weighing every choice of food either as "good" or as "bad." This routine is going crazy during the preseason for the New Year. Each year, as January 1 approaches, I commit to another food-measuring system: Weight Watchers, the Ketogenic Diet, the Paleo Diet. These systems have led to a mental index of good and bad foods (broccoli: good, bread: bad) and calorie counts (honeycrisp apples: 1
I met with friends for dinner and enjoyed a rich, spicy Korean rice bowl. Immediately after the bowl was done, panic started. There was no way to determine the exact number of calories in the peel, which means I could not log them into MyFitnessPal, a calorie counting app that I've been using for years. If I could not classify the meal as "good" or "bad," I do not know if I should punish myself or not. (See also: Counting calories may not be the key to losing weight.)
The next day, my therapist pushed a book into my lap: 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder Co-authored by eating disorder expert Carolyn Costin and her former customer Gwen Schubert Grabb. I flipped through the book and landed on a passage that was a conversation between the "healthy self" and the "eating disorder self." In the passage, the eating disorder self panics, desperate for the exact calorie consumption of the day. I saw myself in the passage and realized that my eating disorder self had taken over.
I was an app abuser with chronic calorie counter and I was miserable. Why did I commit to a food classification system that relies on guilt? (See also: I've had three diets in the last 6 years – here's what actually worked.)
James Hargrove in The Journal of Nutrition Calories were added to the US in the late 19th century as an energy fair unit. Shortly thereafter, the USDA Farmers & # 39; started eating calories as a dietary measure, which eventually resulted in the calories standing in the US nutrition charts. Nowadays, calorie counts appear in the menus of chains like Starbucks and Panera Bread. This is partly due to the calorie labeling mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, one study at a time shows that calories are not an effective picture of the quality of our food.
Eating disorder expert Carolyn Costin agrees. "Anytime someone is overly obsessed with numbers and not on the quality of food, this can be a problem," says Costin. Despite the American obsession with quantifying our food, obesity rates have risen steadily. At least 30 million Americans now have an eating disorder.
In our culture it is almost impossible to escape the calorie count.
According to Costin, the counting of calories is not only ineffective, but also dangerous. "Even for people who have not had eating disorders before, obsessive tracking of calories or other numbers through an app can quickly become a problem," says Costin.
That's exactly what happened to me. MyFitnessPal estimated my basal metabolic rate (BMR) and provided me with 1,200 calories a day. That's not a lot of calories. On most days I miss the target and feel terrible. The longer I used MyFitnessPal, the more unpleasant my relationship with food became.
Dropping the app seemed like an obvious solution. Even after deleting MyFitnessPal, it was difficult to escape the system. I memorized the calorie values of most of the foods I consumed on a regular basis, so I still rated my food choices as "good" or "bad." According to Costin, this is because the quantification of food choices is deeply rooted in our culture. Take, for example, the health app that is integrated with Apple products. iPhone users can delete some built-in apps, but the Health app is not one of them. Although the app does not detect calories, users can track fat and sugar usage, which Costin finds problematic for multiple customers. "For people with eating disorders, you can give them any device and they'll figure out how to hurt themselves," says Costin.
This year, I focus on the diet and not on the numbers.
Society's twisted view of nutrition does not seem to go nowhere. That's why Costin encourages their New Year's resolution customers to focus on positive change, not constraints. "I focus on having my clients have long-term intentions that they use for lifelong health – like eating more fruits and vegetables," says Costin. She also encourages clients to work with a nutritionist to develop body awareness and nutritional knowledge. (Related: This woman eats 3,000 calories a day and is in the best shape of her life)
For me deleting MyFitnessPal in 2019 is an important step towards a better relationship with my body. Instead of mentally punishing myself, I listen to my body to find out what it needs. I think I'm starting to eat more honeycrisp apples. You are really the better apple.
Do you struggle with disorderly eating habits? The National Eating Disorder Association offers a variety of resources, including a free screening tool for anyone over the age of 13.
This story was originally published on HelloGiggles.com by Lillian Stone