12.07.2012

Fitness Friday: What If Dieting Doesn't Work?


This week, while reading my regular news sites, I came across an article that really did stop me in my tracks. 

Every morning, I wake up, take a shower, get dressed, and avoid making direct eye contact with my scale. Two weeks ago, I lost three pounds and was ecstatic. This week, I've gained back too and feel worse about myself than I ever have before. I'm starving. I feel like I've been working my butt off and yet, my butt is still firmly attached to my body and just as jiggly as before. What gives, body? Why do you like this so much? After successfully avoiding the scale, I make myself a breakfast smoothie -- half a banana, 1/2 cup of strawberries, 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt, a packet of Emergen-C, my daily vitamin, a huge amount of spinach, and water -- and then pack my lunch. As I do so, I add everything I pack to LoseIt -- my calorie counting app -- in advance, so I know what I can eat and stay under calories and then I can decide what to eat for dinner. 

The whole process has become exhausting. The smoothies still taste delicious and help me get tons of nutrients, but throughout the day I find myself wanting to binge. I am starving. 

Which is why the article I read really made me question what I'm doing. The gist of the article is this: weight loss programs, of all varieties, are damaging. Weight Watchers is the focus of the article, but ultimately, Weight Watchers is just a carbon copy of other diet programs and at the heart of those programs is this: you should eat less calories than you burn. Which sort of make sense, but it also doesn't because it actually totally sucks. The focus on calories -- and ultimately, on numbers, be it numbers on scales or the numbers on the inside of your clothes -- is soul-sucking, draining, and rarely leads to long-term success. The details of women in Weight Watchers meetings -- sobbing hysterically and telling stories of pretty severe disordered eating -- is kind of messed up on a monumental scale, but instead of focusing on improving those women's mental and emotional conditions, programs like Weight Watchers just encourage them to keep on keeping on. I mean, you'll be happy when you've lost another five pounds, right? 

...Right? 

Or maybe not. As the writer of the article says, when she was in Weight Watchers, she ate their 1-point gummy candies nonstop. Which, okay, she was below her calories, but how healthy is it, really, to be eating that many gummy candies, packed full of fake sugar substitutes and weird chemicals? Probably not. But Weight Watchers doesn't really claim to be about being healthy. They suggest that, but ultimately, they are called Weight Watchers, not Health Watchers. For them, and for members, it's about losing weight, not about getting healthy, even if they tell them that on the outside. 

On Sunday, I had, for the first time in a few weeks, one of those moments where I try something on -- this time, it was a pair of work pants that used to be very loose and looked awesome, only when I put them on that time, they were super tight, almost like a girdle, which isn't super comfortable -- and then shut down. I felt so bad, like my closet was full of clothes that were too small and looked horrible. "Everything I own looks horrendous on me," I whispered to myself, curling up in a ball on my bed. Danny tried to comfort me. He even pulled Remus onto the bed. Remus love didn't help. I was sad. I was depressed. I felt horrible about myself and my body and my wardrobe and everything. Eventually, I pulled myself together and put on some jeggings; I didn't "move on". I felt sad about it. I made myself wear those pants to work on Monday and I felt sad about it all day. What kind of bizarre torture is this and why am I doing it to myself again? What am I trying to prove? 

There is anecdotal evidence on both sides. Counting calories changed my life, I learned to eat healthier! is contrasted against Counting calories made me neurotic and miserable and I was starving the whole time. When you count calories, you don't change your previous eating behaviors -- you just, you know, eat less. Which sucks, as I've said over and over. But instead of trying to love eating eggplant and veggies on a regular basis, I find myself counting calories instead and becoming hungrier and hungrier, and thus more prone to randomly binging on all the things I miss, that I'm "not supposed to eat." I'm exhausted all the time -- the minute I wake up in the morning, I'm tired -- and I have absolutely no motivation. I'm depressed, exhausted, frustrated, and hungry. This isn't a good combination. And do I really think losing 5 pounds will help? 

I've started thinking lately that maybe dating isn't helping. Maybe instead of focusing on counting calories and driving myself mad I should follow the mantra of getting healthier, of realizing what my body can do at its current state and enjoying that. On a daily basis, my body gets me back and forth to work, it takes all of my crazy abuse (including drinking way too much tea with milk), and it sometimes takes me to the gym as well. 

This has been a thought that's been stewing in my head. I recently started talking about a Healthy Living Blog on Twitter -- it's a relatively popular one, but unfortunately, the girl who runs it obviously has a severe eating disorder, she just doesn't say it. Tons of people read her site and follow her recipes like they are totally normal, but they are all crazy -- like, using low-cal sugar-free powdered Jello and chemical sweetener on everything instead of, you know, things that actually taste good. I mentioned how people my age and her age should be enjoying life right now -- going out to dinner with friends, going shopping, going to parties, having fun. Not stressing about food. Not being terrified of grabbing a Starbucks with friends because it will mean you can't eat two snacks later. It's totally and completely crazy that in one breath I will talk about how unhealthy I think she is, and then wait an anxious twenty minutes before wolfing down my teeny tiny bag of tortilla chips that I've been daydreaming about. I mean, that's crazy. And not healthy. It's hypocritical and exhausting. 

The point I'm getting at is this: dieting hasn't worked for me. In the past week, I've started doing research -- serious research -- and I've realized that no matter how much we think we know, ultimately, our bodies are so unique, it's impossible to truly "diet." If someone were to gain a ton of weight, they could lose it from dieting. But someone like me -- who only needs to lose 10 pounds, tops -- is going to struggle and end up falling into a binge-and-starve cycle that is destructive and horrible. And ineffective. 

One random fact I learned was that two people can be the exact same height and body type, but have vastly different metabolic rates. An example was two men who were the same height, weight, and body type, but one man's BMR was massive higher... so he could literally sit around on his butt eating Cheetos all day, while the other man would have to run about 7 hours a day to achieve the same number of calories burned. Guys, that is astonishing. This means that: it's impossible for a calorie count website -- like CalorieCount.com, MyFitnessPal or LoseIt -- to accurately set your BMR because, well, it's so variable and they really have no idea because clearly it has nothing to do with your generic height and weight. And all those articles claiming 1200 calories to be the "magic number" for everyone are probably all wrong. Partly because 1200 is a minuscule number of calories (seriously, I've been surviving on that amount everyday for four months and I am about ready to throw myself off a bridge) and partly because, for some people (even small people!) that could be about half of what they burn everyday, which would basically mean starving themselves. 

This isn't me "giving up" on dieting. I've come to the conclusion, ultimately, that diet doesn't make sense in my life, or in anyone's life. So I'm not doing it anymore. Plain and simple, I'm tired of making myself exhausting, of wasting valuable time in the morning tracking calories instead of playing with Remus or spending time with Danny. I'm tired of hating myself, of guilt tripping myself, of hating my closet. Overall, I'm just very tired. Losing weight is supposed to be hard, but it shouldn't have to be torture. It's very easy to say, "Well, I'll just learn to like my body as it is right now." I know that will be hard too, but jeez, at least I'll be able to eat some chips and salsa! 

From this point on, I'm done with calorie counting. I'll still be posting Fitness Friday posts intermittently with an increased emphasis on healthy recipes and workout routines. 

Are you tired of calorie counting too? Are you ready for a revolution? Let me know in the comments!


1 comment:

  1. Calorie counting NEVER worked for me, it made me totally neurotic as well. What totally changed my outlook was the Raw Food Detox Diet book, which focuses on eating whole, natural foods in virtually any quantity that you want. The idea is that if you're eating natural things, your body will know when it's full and you'll be satisfied! I don't follow this book to the T anymore, but it has vastly changed my outlook and I'm 40 pounds lighter than I was 4 years ago.

    I should also mention that 3 years ago I went vegan, which also helped me. I know that's not for everyone though :)

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xo Michelle

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