Eating the Food: Eight Weeks
Trigger warning: Discussion of calorie counting in order to eat enough food to meet daily caloric requirements.
As I write this, it’s day 56 of my 100 day Eat the Food experiment. This is my eight-week follow-up.
Just as a reminder, I decided eight weeks ago to eat above my base metabolic rate (BMR) for 100 days. BMR is calculated based on gender, age, weight, and height. It’s the number of calories your body needs to keep your organs functioning if you lay in bed all day. Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the number of calories your body needs to maintain your weight, taking your daily activities into consideration. My TDEE is 3,100 calories.
For 100 days, I’m eating AT LEAST 2,500 calories. That’s the minimum not the maximum. And that’s net, which means that I eat back the calories I burn through exercise. I’m blogging about my experiment daily.
Today I’ll answer some questions that I’ve been asked and let you guys know how it’s going otherwise.
One comment I’ve had several times lately is surprise at how high a person’s BMR and TDEE are. If you’ve been indoctrinated to believe you “should” eat 1,200 or 1,600 or even 1,800 calories a day, the idea of a fat woman eating 2,500 calories a day ON PURPOSE might seem shocking. Even if you want to eat above your BMR, it might not seem possible if you’ve been eating 1,000 or more calories less for a long time. In that situation, my advice is to add slowly.
Yes, it is a lot of food. I eat three solid meals a day and a couple of snacks. I don’t skip a meal if I can help it. I allow myself fatty foods that in the past were foods I restricted, like avocados and peanut butter and olive oil and full-fat dairy products. I eat dessert most days. I might make a post someday, a picture post about what 2,500 calories looks like. It took a while for me to get used to eating so much. Eating breakfast was particularly hard. Eventually, my body got used to it.
If you’ve been eating far below your BMR, your experience might be different than mine. This post and this post at GoKaleo.com have lots of good information about what to expect when you start to eat more. I have three years of experience studying and working toward Health at Every Size® (HAES) and intuitive eating. I think I would have had a different experience three years ago. Patience and being kind to yourself are very important.
Eating enough is largely about consistency — not 1,800 calories as a goal, but in reality eating 1,000 some days and 4,000 or more on binge days. Just 2,500 to 3,000 or so (depending on my exercise, my hunger, my mood, whether or not I’m about to start my period, etc.) every single day.
Another question I’ve been asked is whether or not I’m thinking about what I eat as well as how much. For me, decriminalizing food is very important. I can’t have good food and bad food. For me, food has to be just food, and I try to think about what I really want to eat before I eat most of the time. Sometimes, I just eat what’s available, but usually, I have choices. I do keep an eye on two nutrients. I try to eat at least 100 grams of protein a day, since this keeps my blood sugar even and makes me feel good physically. And I try to get 25 grams of fiber a day because I’m prone to tummy troubles that are kept mostly at bay when I eat enough fiber. Otherwise, I eat what I want.
I haven’t talked a lot about my weight over the course of the last eight weeks. That isn’t my focus, and I don’t want it to be anyone’s focus. I started this experiment in the hopes of improving my sleep, reducing pain and edema, and overcoming some lingering food hangups (mainly restriction and binging.) I was prepared to gain some weight if that was what happened. Lots of people do, at first, when they stop restricting completely.
I still don’t want to focus on my weight, but I think maybe I should talk about it. It’s starting to feel like the elephant in the room. Instead of talking about pounds, though, let me show you some pictures. (Click to make them bigger.)
It’s clear from these pictures that I haven’t gained weight eating at least 2,500 net calories a day. I do see some big differences, though, when I look at these two pictures. I took the picture on the left just after Christmas, or about 10 days into my experiment. I took the picture on the right on February 7. The visual difference in my face and neck is startling to me. The edema in my feet and legs is gone to the point that I had to buy smaller shoes. In fact, the edema had already reduced a lot when I took the first picture. I wasn’t able to wear these shoes on Thanksgiving because they were too small.
What I notice most when I look at those two pictures, though, is how much happier and brighter and less tired I look eight weeks after eating above my BMR. The only other change I’ve made is that I’ve slowly gone from nearly no exercise to about 30 minutes a day of moderate-effort swimming most days. I can see the strength I’m building, especially in my arms and shoulders. My posture has improved, even, mostly because I’m not in so much pain.
I’m sleeping better than I have my entire adult life. I used to just think I was a light sleeper. Any little thing would wake me up and then I’d be up for sometimes hours before drifting back to poor sleep. I used to crash at 3:30 or 4:00 everyday. I mean, I’d literally shut down. I’ve had to walk out of a grocery store without my groceries because all of the sudden I didn’t have it in me to finish. Eight weeks in, I have energy to last through the day, until I’m ready to go to bed.
Even now that school’s started again for me, I have the energy to do everything I need to do in a day. That’s huge. In the past, I’ve had to give up exercise when I was in school because I didn’t have it in me to do both. I just finished my third week of school and I haven’t had any problem continuing to swim.
I still have some pain. Sciatica pain in my left leg sometimes and stiffness in my shoulders. The difference is that instead of feeling a general, all over, constant moderate-level pain all the time, I feel those things. And because they are specific, I can deal with them. I haven’t taken pain medication or a sleep aide in at least a month.
I’m re-reading Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon for the first time in a long time. She talks about eating intuitively and allowing the body, with its strong systems designed for the job, to manage your weight on its own. I have never been able to eat intuitively, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I couldn’t turn off the calorie calculator in my head or the voice that constantly insisted that I need to be a good fatty and that good fatties don’t eat a lot.
I took a class about Native Americans a few years ago, and learned that ancient North American societies that had access to plentiful food were able to build more advanced cultures that included things beyond finding food, like art and politics. So, Native Americans in the Northeast, who had access to fish and plentiful vegetation, made totem poles and had complicated social systems. Native Americans of the Great Basin, where I live in the high desert, had to work very hard every day just to have enough to eat. Their art was utilitarian — mainly baskets — and they lived in family groups. That’s how important food is to human beings. Maybe our bodies are something like that. If you eat enough, your body has the the resources to put to things like healing and exercise and … doing anything you can think of beyond survival.
I had a silly online argument with a troll this week where she insisted that no one NEEDS 2,500 calories, or even 1,800 calories, a day. That I wasn’t going to die if I ate below my BMR, which is only so high because I’m fat anyway. I’m kind of grateful for that exchange, because it made me really see that I don’t want to just survive. I want to thrive. Eating enough every single day so that my body doesn’t have to do parlor tricks in order to keep all my systems working properly is allowing me to thrive.
Being a rebel takes energy. That’s what I think every time I log into my tracking program and see my 2,500 calories sitting there waiting for me to enjoy them. I am done being a good fatty. I’m the fatty who doesn’t give a shit who sees me in my bathing suit every day. I’m the fatty who eats like she means it. And I’m the fatty who is healing and getting stronger every day.