Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facing the Dark Side

I've been turning this post over in my mind for a good four weeks now--since I started using my Fitbit, in fact. It's going to be a hard one.

I have gone over to the dark side. I have let my inner obsessive-compulsive take the upper hand in my life and I am feeling very conflicted.

I am tracking my food consumption. There, I said it.

Probably, compared to hard-core trackers, my tracking is pretty loosey goosey. And I like it that way. In my opinion, to be a hard-core tracker, you have to give up eating a lot of real food because real food doesn't come in packages with numbers (aka calories) on it. Let me give you an example: I make my own salad dressing. It's fantastic, in my humble opinion, and adds oodles of taste to my salads. The dressing is made up of several ingredients and I make it in an old jam jar or sometimes in a jar that once held Dijon mustard. It contains olive oil, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, a splash of maple syrup or a spoonful of honey, lemon juice, freshly crushed garlic, pepper, a small sprinkle of salt and assorted herbs. Calculating the number of calories per spoonful is possible, but it's way harder than pulling out a bottle of ready-made dressing that's full of preservatives, low on real taste...but has a label on the back with the calorie count.

Oh, and how do I calculate the number of calories in my kitchen-sink salads that contain chicken (or tuna), walnuts, apples (or pears), a handful of raisins, and various veg on a bed of salad greens? The time and obsessiveness required to do so would drive me around the bend. So I "eyeball" and sometimes I'm sure I'm too low, while sometimes I might be too high.

I admit to using a kitchen scale at least once a day, often more frequently.

I find that the obsessive-compulsiveness level is already higher than I feel comfortable with. But I've been doing it for about a month now.

When I got the Fitbit, it seductively asked me if I wanted to lose weight. I fell into its trap, though I could have fallen a lot farther. I decided to see what kind of calorie limit it would give me if I aimed to lose 1/2 pound per week. Not surprisingly, due to my small stature and limited mobility, most days the Fitbit doesn't give me all that much to work with, calorie-wise. It's rather cool though, in that it constantly recalculates the number of calories you "can" eat, based on how much energy you've expended up to that point in the day.

Which leads me to admit to a move into even darker waters. Yes, I've been dabbling in the Nightmare on ELMM Street, aka "calories in - calories out".

And the results? I know you're just dying to find out...

Yes, I've lost weight. And it's more than 1/2 pound a week, though I'm not disclosing any numbers. I have a scale which supposedly gives me fat percentages too and so far, the fat number is wobbling around at best. It literally goes up or down a few percentage points after drinking some water or excreting some solid waste (sorry, TMI). I am terribly afraid of losing muscle, as women my age are prone to do, and as people who are very limited in their exercise abilities such as myself are EXTREMELY prone to do. I cannot afford to lose muscle.

So, all in all, I'm feeling very, very conflicted about what I'm doing. I'm trying not to blame myself for doing something that I am philosophically against. I will not tolerate allowing myself to be hungry. I am quite aware of my honest hunger signals and I continue to respect them. If I continue to lose weight, I might ask my doctor how to go about getting an accurate measurement of my body's fat percentage. As I said before, I cannot afford to lose muscle. No one can.

That's my admission of guilt.

And I can hear the wonderful Debra's evil "bwahaha" echoing in my head.


  1. Yes, dear friend, I fear you are riding that slippery slope straight down to Hell. I'm only half joking. It was only a couple of years ago when I was still gung-ho about weighing and measuring my food intake to establish my upper limits on calories while still being able to maintain my lost weight. For a long time I simply denied the evidence that was staring me in the face each day as I compared my body's weight with the number of calories I was providing it for energy. At some point I became unable to lie to myself any longer. I didn't want what was truly the case, to be the actual truth about the quantity of calories I was required to eat to prevent regain. It pains me to reveal that I take in about 1000 calories, on average per day, yet I still weigh about 50 lbs more than the "scientific" research indicates I SHOULD weigh. If I wanted to be THIN, with a BMI, say, of 22 or 23 (right about the weight recommended by almost all experts and health care professionals) then I would have to eat exactly like a person suffering from anorexia. As it is, 1000 calories a day, with a very rare and minor increase now and then for a day, is pretty effing low. Maybe I have adopted an anorexic mindset without realizing it. I'm right on the line between so-called normal and "overweight" yet I eat like a person with an alarming eating disorder--if I don't my weight only goes one direction: UP. The thing is, I've been this way for most of my life, which explains a lot about why I weighed over 300 lbs but didn't eat like the stereotypes we always hear about. I suspect the so-called experts are wrong about calorie requirements, and average calorie consumption, just like they have been wrong about so many other thing related to weight and weight loss.
    I worry that your little contraption will feed you information and ideas and disturbing results that you will be tempted to translate into a perceived defect with your body--where the only defect is not actually IN YOU or in YOUR BODY, but is socially constructed by technological equipment and poor quality research. Please step away from the machine. If only for a few days. Otherwise, it will fill your head with deceptions and distortions of reality, with *YOU SHOULDS*. The other name for that reality is HELL on earth. Love, hopefulandfree

  2. One technique I figured out after trying kilojoule counting and hating it was the following: I buy a bag of apples. Work out the energy value (A), and guess the number of days (B) that they'll last. Divide A by B and that is your estimated kilojoule count. This is ideal for things like salad dressing where you have really complicated ingredients and weighing each squirt of the bottle is a pain.

    As for body fat percentage scales, the results are extremely variable. I needed a 30 day average just to get a line that didn't go up and down. Unless you use a spreadsheet, it's just not worth the hassle.

  3. Sounds like a move to more intuitive eating is in order. But that, of course, necessitates releasing yourself from the scales, the numbers the disordered thoughts.
    Weight change itself is not unethical or something to be philosophically against. That is, if you are being true to your body and its needs. The difficulty, of course, is allowing yourself to truly honor your body when your thoughts are pulling you astray.
    You're at least being honest with yourself--a major step on the slippery slope!
    Do consider the wise advice you'll, no doubt, receive from your experienced readers!

  4. I guess I only think of it as a dark side IF it starts sliding you down into obsessive or self-harming behavior. I believe it's just as incorrect to insist that everyone BMI 25.1+ must monitor their calories as to say that no one should ever do it if they find it helpful.

    But as hopefulandfree notes, it can be a slippery slope. Better make sure you have some good traction on your shoes and scramble off that slope if it's hurting you. Self-awareness is key.

    I only semi-monitor calories, but usually to make sure I am getting enough or to evaluate whether my body wants that much food to be sated and happy but not uncomfortable. eg. if the packaged cookie has enough food for a meal and I'm only "meh" about it, I might pass not to limit myself to an overall number, but because I don't want a meal's worth of cookie at that moment.

    Like you, I find real foods simply impossible to track and blogged about that a while back. I'm not willing to give up throw-together-what-I-have smoothies for packaged foods just to know the numbers.

    My "dark side" I guess is that I weigh daily, but only once, same time, same birthday suit. I do have medical reasons that make it a good idea to know if I suddenly start losing or gaining rapidly, but I find it hard not to get wrapped up in the number. I try to simply observe, as if it were a disobedient puppy.

    I also find it difficult not to "think thin." Most of the world tells me that if I exercise, I will become smaller. I increased my exercise. I am not really any smaller. That's OK, and I know it is normal, but it's still hard not to think that if I just push it more, it'll work like the world tells me it will. Gee, I'd love to weigh what I did when I was 25, skiing five days a week and operating on a severely limited food budget, but gee, I'd also love to not have the varicose veins, faint wrinkles, pre-menopausal symptoms and other obligations I've acquired during that 20 years as well. I know it's not realistic, but it's still hard not to think that way.

  5. The question that comes to my mind - is how do you feel? Deprived? in control? energetic? moody or happy?

  6. Your post sounds very familiar to me. I have tried numerous times to track my food...both with Sparkpeople and with My Fitness Pal. I stayed the longest with Sparkpeople and lost 50 lbs,(which has since returned, of course) but I found that I was getting stressed out worried,angry and almost obsessive about it. I stopped....then started again, then stopped and for similar was just too difficult, time consuming and annoying to figure out the value of everything I ate. I tried the same with MFP.....with the same results,and minimal weight loss. My weight problems have very deep roots that will not be solved by tracking my food and those are what I have to deal with first...a challenge to be sure, but in the end worth it, emotionally and physically.

  7. I realize that less than 4 days have passed, but please! Don't leave us hanging. Are you noticing more compulsive reactions, or behaviors, or not? This is worrisome to me. It's so contrary to your former enthusiasm for mindfulness and a more intuitive approach. I can understand if the whole tracking of data is approached as a kind of experiment, of course. I guess I don't want you to reach for a sense of control, a natural response in stressful times, and later discover that the device and the need for data have begun to take control of you. To me that would be sad. Hugs! Best wishes for peace and serenity--at least for a few moments of every hour.

  8. Hopeful and Free:

    I working on a follow-up...!

  9. May I offer you a million "I'm sorry's" and SHOUT LOUDLY FROM THE ROOF judgement was implied.

    It's just that I know what I would become if I succumbed to the temptations of such a wicked little hunk of technology.

    BWAHAHAHAAHA!!! (Since Debra isn't here--yet--to say it.)

    Love ya!

  10. There's nothing wrong with tracking your food intake in order to gain knowledge of your habits. I did it for a few years and stopped when I had enough knowledge to know how much and what to eat to be in a healthier place. It doesn't have to turn into some sort of compulsion or obsession just because so many people go overboard. Once I stopped tracking, I didn't go back, and I also didn't gain weight.

    The tracking was a tool for finding my footing to a different relationship with food. Without that tool, I never would have had the information I needed to repair my relationship with food. However, once that tool served its purpose, I knew it was time to abandon it.

    I think it's important not to stigmatize or pathologize behaviors merely because those who take them to extremes create an aura of discomfort around such behaviors. Don't blame the tool for the fact that others abuse it, and don't believe that merely because you pick it up and use it that you too will become such an abuser. It is not "the dark side". It is not inevitable that you will become one of those people who operates at an extreme end of a certain spectrum and becomes incredibly obnoxious in the process.

  11. Okay, I'm here (school work on the side burner), and just let me say:


    Much of this, methinks, in your case especially, since you've been thinking about this for a loooong time, is merely "mindfulness" gone extreme. I have often said that "intuitive eating" can become obsession just like any other "diet." All "lifestyles," including "intuitive eating" are . . . diets. They just are. Small d, large D. In western society, the small-d diets can at any time morph into capital-D Diets. Many a HAES proponent has tried to convince me otherwise, and I try to nod at them politely, but my heart won't hear it.

    Since I'm now in seminary, I am trying again to reconcile some of this stuff for my own benefit. Too much time engaged in it does draw us away from the broader issues that we are called to address in this society/world. On the other hand, some attention in this regard is merely "honoring the body." It is, dare I say it, spiritual and holy. Now, where's the stinking line?

    Looking forward to your ruminations.