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Eating the Food: Eight Weeks

February 10, 2014

Diet TalkWeight LossFat HealthFat ScienceExerciseEating DisordersMy Boring-Ass Life

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.

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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.)

six weeks

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.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2014 10:02 am

    So happy for you that you’re feeling better!

  2. Amy permalink
    February 10, 2014 10:14 am

    This is so awesome. So many of us go through life just surviving.

  3. Elana permalink
    February 10, 2014 11:21 am

    This post reads like it could have been written by me! I am going through much of the same things you are and I am amazed at how my body has responded. Once I started eating the “right” foods (more of the good stuff and less of the processed stuff), I found I had to eat more to get through my day. Breakfast is still a struggle, but I find I am able to survive on mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks with healthy lunches and dinners, plus a wee snack before bed. Everything else you mentioned – energy level, aches and pains disappearing, etc – I am right there with you. Thanks so much for sharing this with us…it’s nice to see I’m not alone 🙂

  4. Laura Anderson permalink
    February 10, 2014 11:59 am

    So happy for you, Shaunta. When I was in college many years ago, in full blown diet mode, eating well below my BMR, I was just surviving, barely. It hurts sometimes to think of what I could have accomplished if I had been more focused on my studies and on life instead of weight and appearance. Eventually I grew up, stopped dieting, and now I’m healthier and more satisfied with my life than I’ve ever been. That is something some people who know me just can’t understand. They think I was “healthier” (read: more acceptable) when I was thin and miserable.

  5. Tiffany Dryburgh permalink
    February 10, 2014 5:21 pm

    Wow! I love this story! I am so happy to hear how well you feel and how much energy you have and I have to say it really does show in your “after” photo. You look like you could take on the world. Brilliant!

  6. LittleBigGirl permalink
    February 11, 2014 3:33 pm

    I really love the word “thrive.” I’m going to make it one of my new mantras. 🙂

    I definitely want to make sure I am giving my body enough, and enough of what it needs…but I am positively loathe to count calories. Intuitive eating doesn’t work for me these days because my medication makes my appetite non-existent. Essentially, my intuition is saying ‘ugh, food bleh’ while my stomach is cramping in hunger and I’m feeling lightheaded. 😦

    Does anyone have any advice?

    • Neeva permalink
      February 12, 2014 1:26 pm

      If intuition doesn’t work you could try structure. Decide on a number of meals to have every day and roughly the time and amounts. Maybe set yourself an alarm. As always start slow, maybe one meal a day.
      Michelle from TheFatNutrionist has a row of great posts about meals and structure:
      http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/lesson-two-meals-as-love/

      • February 17, 2014 11:18 am

        I agree with Neeva. If you aren’t comfortable counting calories, I think that doing some research and really learning what 2500 calories (or however many is above your BMR) looks like is an option. Just Google 2500 (or whatever) calorie menu and see what comes up. The USDA’s My Plate website has a very basic broken down menu plan for calorie counts up to 3200 that looks like: breakfast: 2 cups grain, 1 cup dairy, 1 cup fruit etc. without telling you what to eat. That might help?

  7. DessertFirst permalink
    February 18, 2014 9:27 pm

    Thank you for this series — it’s very inspirational to me, as a recovering dieter. One thing I notice: when I click on either of your two photos to see them up close, both close-ups seem to be of the picture on the left. Anyway, great series, and I wish you continued success. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to do the same.

  8. jackie permalink
    July 12, 2015 10:54 am

    This is an older post..but I am thrilled to have seen it and hopee you are doing well! I restricted for a year due to gastro problems.I could not wrap my head around needing 2500 calories,I lost 25 pounds in a month but then stayed the same for months,despite eating way under 1000 calories a day and I am considered overweight by BMI.My digestion was bad,I was depressed and exhausted…..within two days of upping my calories,I am feeling better.I have seen multiple doctors but because I was not skinny,not one addressed nutrition…and I told them how little I was eating…finally found help on the internet…..good luck to everyone and just eat the darn food!

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