Food is such an integral part of life, and yet it is fraught with so many emotions. Some food can bring back childhood memories. Others are associated with healthy and vitality. Still other are associated with guilt and depression. The last option there seems to be such a big part of a dieter’s life. Having a good relationship with food is so important. In our culture where such an emphasis is placed on looking like the ideal it is difficult, especially from women. We are barraged with unrealistic images of thin, perfect looking models. Magazines and movies set the beauty expectations. Girls begin to think “If only I could look like her I would be happy.” All of which leads to guilt about what we eat.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of counting calories. Does this mean that I think counting calories is bad? No, certainly not. It can be a very useful tool if you’re unsure about portion sizes or caloric values of food. Calories in vs calories burned is certainly important when losing weight. But, for me, it comes down to quality instead of quantity. Can you lose weight eating a packet of flavored oatmeal for breakfast, a 100 calorie snack pack for a snack, lean cuisine for lunch, and some other form of frozen meal for dinner? Absolutely. Are you going to be satisfied with your diet? No.
For me, counting calories turned food into an unhealthy obsession.
I ate 400 calories for breakfast so that means I can have 100 calories for a snack, and my lunch should only be 500 calories.. Maybe if I eat a small dinner I can have a treat later.
I was hungry all the time and constantly thinking about when the next time I was allowed to eat. I counted calories and exercised, and the results were minimal. Did I feel better from exercising? Sure, but the numbers refusing to budge on the scale meant that the improvement I felt in my fitness was unsatisfying. What I could eat, and when I could eat it consumed my thoughts. Even as I was eating, I was thinking about the next time that I would be able to eat. This mentality unsurprisingly leads to the qualification of foods as “good” and “bad.” It also associates the consumer with being “good” and “bad.”
Oh, I was “good” all week. I can be bad and have a burger and fries for dinner on Friday... I was “good” all day, it’s okay for me to be “bad” and eat this brownie.
Associating comfort foods and foods that aren’t necessarily healthy for you as “bad” is detrimental to one’s relationship with food. You’re not “bad” for eating a package of M&M’s. You wanted some chocolate and that’s OK. Have grilled chicken and veggies for dinner and don’t worry about it. Go ahead and have a slice or two of pizza… along with a big side salad to help fill you up without all the calories.
When I finally decided to stop counting calories, it was freeing. I stopped thinking about when the next time I would be allowed to eat was. I stopped obsessing about if I ate too few or too many calories for a meal. Just today I had a banana and yogurt for breakfast, and that was fine. I had a handful of nuts as a snack and I was OK until lunch. If I was counting calories, I would have seen the 100 calorie banana and 150 calorie yogurt as a small breakfast and I would have needed a snack, rather than just grazing on one because I felt a little peckish. I would have analyzed how many calories were in the snack and see if that equaled the amount of calories I was supposed to have for breakfast, and maybe I could afford an afternoon snack too.
My categories of food shifted from “bad” and “good” to “less” and “more.” More healthy stuff, less junk. It’s that simple. And I certainly don’t beat myself up for eating junk if I’m craving it, either. Have I lost more weight since then? Yes. And it’s been a very slow process. I’m also confident that I could speed things up if I made a consolidated effort to.
What about you? What is your relationship with food like?