My 100 Day Experiment: Success
Trigger warning: Discussion of calorie counting in order to eat enough food to meet daily caloric requirements, and subsequent, modest weight loss.
In mid-December I was a wreck. I was exhausted and stressed out and in pain. My whole body crashed by 3:30 or 4:00 every afternoon and I wasn’t able to do even the most basic of day-to-day tasks like laundry or grocery shopping without needing serious recovery time. Despite my fatigue, I had severe insomnia and needed to take an OTC sleep aid several nights a week. I came across a blog called GoKaleo.com and learned about basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), and since I had to do something to try to feel better, I decided to give eating above my BMR a try. I committed to eating at least 2,500 calories and exercising for 10 minutes every day for 100 days.
A couple of things scared me. I was afraid that I’d gain a lot of weight, since I believed that I was eating 1,800 calories most days. I had to tell myself, over and over, that 100 days wasn’t enough time to gain too much weight. That it would be worth it if I felt better, and I could re-evaluate in 100 days if I did find myself gaining like crazy. I was also afraid that having a minimum number of calories to eat a day, without a maximum, would mean that I ate 5,000 calories a day. I’ve never been able to eat intuitively as called for in Health at Every Size® (HAES), even after three years of trying, and I was pretty wrapped up in being a “good fatty” who didn’t overeat most days. Lastly, I was afraid that tracking my calories (I did, every day for 100 days, on My Fitness Pal) would trigger my disordered eating and lead to those 5,000 calories a day.
I’m so happy that I faced those fears. It took a couple of weeks to get to the point where I could eat 2,500 calories a day, every day. I had to train myself to eat breakfast because without it (and without binging) I wasn’t eating enough on a day-to-day basis. I found that my tendency was to undereat several days in a row, followed by a day or two of overeating. Learning to eat about the same amount every day with consistency was maybe the best thing that came out of this experiment. By the end of the first month, my energy was lasting until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. By the end of the second month, I had enough energy that I was actually having trouble going to bed. I had to teach myself to settle down at night when I wasn’t on the verge of collapse.
So, I have more energy. I have far less pain, no more edema, no more insomnia. For the first three weeks, sometimes my 10 minutes of exercise was doing a load of laundry or throwing a tennis ball for my dog. In early January, I went swimming. I was barely able to get through six laps (150 meters) in 12 minutes. This week, I swam 1,200 meters in 40 minutes. This week, I’ll also lift weights three times and walk four times. All in all, I’ve gone from 70 minutes of exercise a week (really, in the beginning, more like just being slightly more active in my daily life, since I didn’t do much actual “exercise” in those first days) to exercising moderately about five hours a week. In 100 days.
It’s hard for me to even articulate how much better I feel. Want to know something that sucks? When your nine-year-old asks if you’ll take her to the park and the idea of doing it makes you want to cry. What to know what rules? When you ask your nine-year-old if she wants to go to the park, because you have the energy to spare, and she gets so excited that she wraps her arms around you and tells you that you’re the best.
On Valentine’s Day, I went to the student health center at my university for a fitness evaluation, as part of a wellness program I’d signed up for. My blood pressure was 129/82, which is just a little bit into pre-hypertension and my heart rate was 93 beats per minute, which is just a little bit above normal (which is 60 to 90). At that point, I’d been swimming for about five weeks and was up to 800 meters. On March 20 (five weeks later), I had another evaluation and my blood pressure was 124/79 (still a tiny bit pre-hypertensive, but better) and my heart rate was 76 beats per minute, which is a big improvement and smack dab in the middle of normal. So now I’m wondering if maybe some of the way I was feeling in December wasn’t due to hypertension. I’ve never had high blood pressure before — it’s always in the 120/80 range — but I was under a lot of stress leading up to December, and it’s possible.
The bottom line is, my heart is healthier because I started eating more consistently which gave me more energy which allowed me to get more exercise. I’m also happier, because I feel better and I’m not hungry or hangry.
This is the closest I’ve ever been to intuitive eating. My fear about eating ALL the food ALL the time was unfounded. Turns out, when I’m never very hungry, I am far less likely to binge. For the first time, I’ve started to understand what Linda Bacon and Wendy Oliver-Pyatt (who wrote a book called Fed Up! that is very HAES-like) mean when they say that allowing yourself to eat what you want, when you want, will ease the obsession with certain foods. About six weeks in, my husband brought home a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — you know, the little mini ones… the ones I could easily sit and eat a whole bag of without even realizing I’d done it. I was upset. Why was he sabotaging me? I hadn’t binged in six weeks, now this? And then I took a breath. I ate a few of those mini bites of heaven, and then I didn’t want anymore. Not “I was able to make myself stop eating” or “I made my husband take the bag out” or “I fed the rest to my kids.” I really just had enough, and I knew I could have more later, so I stopped eating them.
I had a meeting with a registered dietitian today. I was very happy that she understood HAES and intuitive eating. I brought her a five-day eating log, and she didn’t have any problem with what or how much I’ve been eating. She said that because she is anti-diet, she talks with clients about how to eat to their needs and their appetite, versus telling them what they should eat. Her one concern was that tracking is not exactly in line with intuitive eating, and she wanted me to stay aware of the possibility that I’ll become obsessive about it. And she had a point. I am aware that tracking could slip into something I don’t want it to be, and I’m conscious about not letting that happen.
I will track for at least another 100 days because I still feel like I’m learning about my relationship with food and it’s still helping me. For instance, it’s been helpful for me to see that an extra hungry afternoon can almost always be tracked back to a light breakfast and a workout — and never, ever to a lack of willpower or me being a disgusting glutton. Tracking feels like intuitive eating training wheels right now, and I’m not ready to go without them just yet. But I know that I won’t need to track forever. I’m working toward intuitive eating and it’s fantastic. I’m relearning what I knew when I was a kid: what it feels like to be hungry, what it means to eat to satiety, and how to stop eating when I’m full. Tracking is helping me trust myself, which is a major step in overcoming disordered eating.
Nine Things I Learned From My 100 Day Experiment
- There are some people who get very, very angry at the mention of HAES, or god forbid, Fat Acceptance. My posts here have been reposted to reddit, where they were ridiculed and I was made mocked. I spent some time on reddit, trying to understand where the anger came from and trying to clear up misunderstandings about HAES. Not everyone I met was the angry anti-HAESer type. Some people asked questions and there were some good conversations, and I actually enjoyed some of the debate.
- Consistency was the key to feeling better for me. Eating about the same amount every day, and making sure that amount was enough to allow my body to heal and thrive and get stronger — I believe that has literally changed my life. I will never, ever diet again. Not even the “I’m a good fatty who doesn’t overeat” diet. Never. Ever. Again.
- Tracking was scary, but worth the risk.
- It wasn’t my goal, but one result of eating more intuitively, not binging, and exercising more has been a small, slow weight loss that seems to be continuing. I’ve had to do a lot of thinking in the last few weeks about how weight loss fits into HAES and Body Acceptance. I bought (another) copy of Linda Bacon’s book and found this quote: “[T]he best way to win the war against fat is to give up the fight. Turn over control to your body and you will settle at a healthy weight. And regardless of whether you do lose weight, your health and well-being will markedly improve. You will find that biology is much more powerful than willpower.” This is what tracking calories has allowed me to do. It’s let me give up being a good fatty. I wish I could have done it without tracking, but after three years, I realized I needed something to help me.
- When I look at a picture of me in early January and one from this week, the difference I see goes so far beyond that small weight loss. In fact, when I look at these pictures, what I see is strength. I see that I’m standing straighter and I don’t look so exhausted. I look healthier because I am healthier, and that, after all, was my whole goal.
- Even though I am normally very triggered by data (like calorie counting), I found that I had no problem at all shifting my mindset from calorie counting for a maximum (no more than 1,800 calories) to a minimum (at least 2,500 calories). There were days when I ate more and days when I ate a little less, but overall I was able to focus more on my appetite and my hunger signals when I wasn’t worried about staying under a certain number of calories. Today, I am far closer to intuitive eating than I have ever been before.
- Eating enough has allowed me to make huge gains in fitness and strength. In two-and-a-half months, I’ve gone from being able to swim 150 meters to 1,200. In December, I was barely functioning. Since then, I’ve added school, the edits to my second book, my daughter’s soccer practices, four hours a week of exercise, the household things that I’d left up to others because I didn’t have the energy for it — and my energy holds up to all of it.
- I’m done being a good fatty. I won’t ever feel guilty about eating again. I’ve learned so much about how food affects my well-being over the last 100 days. I’ll never go back to worrying about what other people think about how much I eat or what I eat. I convinced myself, over the course of years, that eating 1,800 calories a day most days meant I was being good. At least I could wave my little “I don’t eat like a pig” banner when I felt self-conscious about my weight. Now I know for sure that what I was really doing was restricting to be a good fatty, which triggered disordered eating, which caused binging, and this vicious cycle hurt me. Never again. Ever.
- My body has pretty powerful systems in place to make sure I eat enough. So does yours. I truly believed that I was eating 1,800 calories most days. I didn’t track, so I can’t say for sure, but I believe now that I was eating more than I thought I was. HAES is all about intuitive eating. Another term is mindful eating, and I know now that I did a lot of mindless eating. I ate because I was bored or anxious or upset or happy, and I didn’t even register what I was eating or sometimes even that I was eating. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a place where I can eat completely intuitively, without having to put a lot of thought into it beyond checking in with my hunger signals. I do know, though, that I can eat more mindfully. I can pay attention to how what I eat makes me feel and to how much I need to eat to feel satisfied. I believe it’s okay to eat for reasons other than hunger. Food brings comfort and is a way to celebrate and that’s okay. Eating a whole bag of Reese’s miniature peanut butter cups without even tasting them, or really even realizing that you’re doing it until you’re stomach hurts — not so much.
Today, as I write this, it’s day 100. I did what I set out to do and the results were stunning. Tomorrow, I’ll start another 100 days — the 100 Day Experiment 2.0. Eventually, I’ll be able to eat without putting so much thought and energy into it. I’ll be able to exercise because it feels good, without feeling the need to record every swim and every walk. For now, it’s working for me, and I’m excited to see where the next 100 days will take me. I won’t update here as often, but you can follow along at my blog and I’m sure I’ll post here about it sometimes.
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