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Eating the Food: Four Weeks

January 15, 2014

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseEating DisordersMy Boring-Ass LifeDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of diet and weight loss, as well as diet-related behaviors like food journaling.

I’m writing this on day 28 of my 100 day Eat the Food adventure.

me on food

In case you’re just tuning in, four weeks ago I decided to start eating 2,500 calories a day, which is a couple hundred more than my base metabolic rate plus whatever I burn on days I work out. My goal is to finally give up dieting, to sleep better, to have more energy, and to really live a Health at Every Size® (HAES) lifestyle.

I’ve been blogging daily about my adventure on my Tumblr.

Like I did with my two week update, I’m going to address some things that have come up in comments here, on reddit, and in person, and I’m going to talk about how things are going after four weeks.

Someone made a comment on reddit to the effect that my Eat the Food adventure seems “wildly unhealthy” and expressed her concern that I haven’t talked to a doctor about what I’m doing. This comment really struck a nerve with me because at the time my personal Facebook feed was full of people (smart people, people I care about) talking about starting very restrictive diets for the New Year (everything from Paleo to extreme fasts and cleanses). There was not one comment on any of these threads expressing concern about cutting calories so deeply or going without food at all for up to ten days. No outrage that a doctor wasn’t involved.

If you’re concerned about your health, feel free to see a doctor, of course. But eating enough calories to meet your body’s needs isn’t something that requires medical intervention. I understand that if you’ve been restricting a long time (like I had), the idea of eating 2,500 calories or more a day can be shocking. But do the research. Figure out what your body needs. For me and my big body, 2,500 calories is only 200 calories beyond the bare necessities for functioning. It’s a significant deficit from the number of calories my body needs to maintain my weight (if my metabolism is working properly and I’m not starving myself, which significantly lowers that number of calories).

Someone else asked for clarification about BMR and TDEE. BMR is basal metabolic rate. It’s the number of calories your body needs to function at rest. It’s the number of calories a doctor would feed you if you were lying in a hospital bed. Your organs need these calories to operate optimally. TDEE is total daily energy expenditure. This is the number of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight, taking into consideration your current calorie output. In other words, TDEE is your BMR plus what you need to account for daily activity and exercise.

I live in a country that is obsessed with restricting calories, while I live on the planet Earth where millions of humans don’t get enough to eat without paying the diet industry for the privilege. Obviously, as a species we can survive on fewer than optimum calories. But have you heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? During WWII, an experiment on the effects of starvation was performed on a group of 36 men. They were put on a diet of 1,570 calories.

Beyond the gaunt appearance of the men, there were significant decreases in their strength and stamina, body temperature, heart rate and sex drive. The psychological effects were significant as well. Hunger made the men obsessed with food. They would dream and fantasize about food, read and talk about food and savor the two meals a day they were given. They reported fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy. Interestingly, the men also reported decreases in mental ability, although mental testing of the men did not support this belief.

Sound familiar? It does to me. That was my life for a long time. Except I never got gaunt. I starved myself to the point of obsession, fatigue, irritability, depression, and apathy, even though I never lost significant weight. I did that to myself on the hope that I would shrink, even though for 30 years it never happened.

Someone brought up the question to me of whether or not it’s okay for someone to want to lose weight. I’m going to admit something to you right now. If my fairy godmother came to me right now and said, pick a weight and you’ll be able to stay there forever without starving or hurting yourself or going crazy, I would say “150, please.” I don’t have a fairy godmother, though, and 30 years of concentrated effort has only helped me gain 200 pounds since high school.

What I’m trying to say is that there is a difference between choosing the HAES path and wanting to be fat. I personally think that you can both want to give up the weight loss roller coaster and want to lose weight at the same time. Even Linda Bacon says that following HAES might cause your body to come to a natural weight for you, which may be lower than what you weigh now. I just don’t think it’s easy and I think that it takes a lot of work to get to that place.

Instead, ask yourself these questions: Are you eating enough? Are you exercising in a way that’s fun, rather than punishing? Can you look at yourself without dysmorphic thoughts? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exhibiting the Minnosota Experiment effects in your efforts to lose weight? How upset are you going to be if your body’s natural weight isn’t the ideal weight you have in your head? This is Ellyn Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs:Enough food is the bottom. Enough food is stability. Not getting enough food is one of the primary reasons people who have a long history of food restriction followed by binging. It’s why poor people who live with food instability eat food that gives them the highest density of calories for the money that they do have (a one dollar McDonald’s hamburger versus one dollar worth of organic broccoli, for instance). You can read more about it here.

Like lots of people who have a history of food restriction, I was in the kind of weird position of having access to enough food, but still not eating it. In other words, I had the ability to be food stable, but chose not to be. Getting through these stages, for me and anyone else who is starting at the bottom of this pyramid for reasons other than poverty, is a matter of choice. Choosing to eat to my body’s needs, choosing to let myself eat food that I like, rather than food that let’s me keep feeling like a “good fatty.” Choosing to enjoy food. Choosing to eat new foods for the novelty of it.

Does it surprise you that choosing to eat food that is instrumental to your health is way up at the tippy top of this pyramid? It’s nearly impossible to leap frog over the other steps. Going straight from not getting enough food to eating a strict clean or Paleo or whatever diet is pretty much designed to fail.

Four weeks into this Eating the Food experiment, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. My sleeping has improved immensely. I’ve used a sleep aide only twice in the last three weeks, as opposed to four or five times a week. One thing that’s happened that is a really nice surprise is that I’m sleeping deeply enough now that I don’t wake up when my husband (who works nights) comes to bed at 3 or 4 in the morning. My sleep is better, too. I’m waking up more rested.

My energy level has improved as well. When I started this adventure, I was crashing at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Now that’s happening closer to 8 or 9. I’ve been able to do more in a day, too. I can workout and shop and do the laundry all in the same day, now. That’s what I call freedom.

Four weeks ago I was in a lot of pain. My shoulders and neck hurt all the time. I hold a lot of stress there. My back hurt — lower back all the time and my middle back, between my shoulder blades, due to lifting weights at the gym. My legs hurt. My head hurt. I took pain killers daily. My pain level has reduced to the point where I don’t need pain medication anymore. At all. My theory is that eating enough has left my body enough energy for recovery. I’m also working on reducing my personal tendency to push myself to the point of injury when I workout, which helps.

For the duration of this project, I’m tracking my food intake at My Fitness Pal. I want to make sure I’m eating enough. This, in combination with keeping a daily journal, has had the side effect of letting me see the connection between what I eat and how I feel. Lower energy days correspond with lower protein days, for instance. I feel better over all when I eat a solid breakfast and lunch.

I’m not going to talk about my weight until after the 100 days are over, but suffice it to say my clothes still fit.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2014 11:09 pm

    I was going to mention this in your last post, but one thing I thought I’d say now — since I myself started eating above my BMR and near my TDEE — A couple of years afterward… I (in a profession where I come into high contact with germs) rarely get sick. I went from needing to take 1-2 days off per semester to choosing to take off 2-4 hours (due to impending illness) per year. Not that I never catch what’s going around — I do, at least occasionally — but very often, when I do… I seem to experience the given illness with less severity and shorter recovery time.

  2. January 16, 2014 2:21 pm

    I was totally thinking about this yesterday. I always get at least one terrible cold/flu every winter and I haven’t this year. *knock on wood*

  3. Nof permalink
    January 16, 2014 2:49 pm

    I’ve been considering trying this. Thanks to medication changes and hormonal problems, my appetite is hovering around “nonexistant”, and I think the lack of eating is ramping up the other problems in a lovely little vicious circle.

    • LittleBigGirl permalink
      January 20, 2014 1:04 pm

      I’m struggling with the same thing. I have no appetite and food doesn’t taste good to me. I have zero energy and all I want to do is sleep. 😦

  4. Mich permalink
    January 20, 2014 7:42 pm

    Interesting about the pain. Same thing happened with me! When I started eating more than once every 2 days, and adding salt, the cramps disappeared!!!

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