Well that’s interesting…2 weeks in, and the negative spiral has already started.
Let me start back a bit.
At the end of last year, I decided I would jump on the macro counting bandwagon – I was training hard and wanted to make sure I was maximising my gains by fueling my body better.
I did some research, talked to my coach, and quizzed friends who were macro counting and performing well (and looking ripped!). I found an App, calculated my numbers and set about meal prepping. It wasn’t about losing weight (but I wasn’t going to be disappointed if some of the extra padding shifted), it was about being a better crossfitter. I weighed, and counted, ate and recorded…. and was hungry – really hungry.
The app flashed up angry red warnings if I went over my carbs or fat numbers. It showed me everything; daily breakdown of the macros, per meal, average over the week, pretty green graphs when I was under the calorie count, alarming red graphs for went I was over, predictions of what I’d weigh in 5 weeks.
And then I started trying to win – not just staying in the green, but beating it – by eating less and making sure the prediction of how much I would weigh kept decreasing. I was weighing myself daily, aiming for a lower and lower number. My partner would find me standing, almost paralyzed by angst, in the middle of the kitchen trying to meal prep; trying to plan an entire weeks worth of food, that hit all the numbers less a bit. It wasn’t an eating disorder. I was still eating sufficient calories, I was losing weight, but slowly, sensibly. I was still able to train five times a week, I wasn’t losing strength. I was fine…
Luckily I’m just self aware enough to know that that was a bit of a lie, something wasn’t right. It might not be an eating disorder, but it was definitely disordered eating. Even luckier – I have some amazing friends I could turn to for help. One in particular read the tumble of thoughts I’d sent her, and responded immediately with “I think we should talk – come over for coffee”. She dropped what she was doing to listen, to help me rationalise my thoughts, and to help me come up with a plan.
Just stop; stop counting, stop tracking, stop weighing, uninstall the app, and then, start just eating. If I’m hungry, eat. Enjoy food.
I wasn’t in a head-space where I could work though the root causes and try to fix them. I was broken, and just needed to get back to a place where I was OK. We talked at length, through tears, and established that to get there – to OK – I needed to trust myself. I know how to eat generally well, I exercise, and the worst that was going to happen if I just ate, was (realistically for me) I’d put on a few kilo’s and have to buy some new clothes. Not the end of the world, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be managed when, or if, it happened.
So I did – I stopped. I stopped the obsessing, I went back to just eating food. I uninstalled the app and put away the scales. It took some mental strength, it wasn’t easy, I still had to fight against the pull of feeling in control, but I had support. I shared what I was doing, and why, with my partner, my friends and my coach. There was not one negative comment or glance. Not one thing said to suggest I was “being silly”, or that there was any reason for me to not trust myself. And it worked. I was happier, and less hungry, and it was OK.
The plan was to get to a better headspace, and then, when I had some emotional reserves, I should tackle this big, scary, emotional trigger and unpack it, depower it. But that’s hard, and while I was going along ‘just eating’, there was no need. I was good; nothing to see here.
Fast forward a few months, factor in an upheaval of routine, sense of place and belonging, and introduce new opportunities for my inner critic to make ‘not good enough’ comparisons and then re-introduce Macro counting. In hindsight, perhaps not the cleverest of plans.
It was going to be different this time though, I was going to approach it differently – review it as an afterthought rather than plan out a day, a week.
Two weeks in, and I realise the negative spiral has started again. Not only am I obsessing, hungry, focused on my weight, and trying to win at eating, I am not eating well. I eat junk – under the guise of “see, I’m fine, I’m not obsessing, it’s not controlling me” – but then punish myself by skipping meals. I feel awful, my inner critic is constantly telling me I need to lose weight, that I’m fat, and useless and not good enough.
Turns out, if you don’t actually address the root cause of problems, if you don’t break triggering behaviours down and understand them, nothing changes. The triggers still trigger, and the outcomes are the same. Who knew?
For now, I am going back to ‘just eating’. I don’t like the fact that my head is broken when it comes to food and my sense of self worth, but it is, and not putting myself in a situation where that causes problems isn’t coping out – it’s looking after myself. If I injure myself, I stop doing the thing that makes it hurt – and this is exactly the same. Whether or not it is sensible to think I will be able to avoid it for ever, and therefore don’t need to work out what injured it in the first place is another matter, but not one I need to tackle right now. It’s going to take some time to get back to being OK, but the voice inside my head telling me that my weight “means” something, and that the number on the scales needs to get smaller, and that it somehow reflects my worth as a human, is already getting quieter, and more infrequent. I will get better, and it will be OK.
Some disclaimers – this is my reality, not yours. I have seen Macro counting work amazingly in others, and RP, and Zone, and Paleo and Atkins, and a plethora of other diets. Just ‘eating’ for you might be a really bad idea. It might be the exact opposite of what being healthy means for you. Eating disorders are very real, and very damaging, and truly life threatening. If this is you, I hope you get the support you need and have the courage to talk to someone about it. But this is not that, and I am not trying to make light of those issues, or suggest that having one coffee with a friend will make everything better. What I am trying to do is explain that everyone has their ‘thing’. This is one of mine. Maybe, sharing this might help you to reflect on your own relationship with food, maybe it’ll mean someone realises they are not alone, perhaps it’ll just give you a different perspective.
At no point did my coach, or my friends, or my Crossfit community suggest I had to change my diet and start counting Macros. In fact, one of the genuinely enlightening thing I find about Crossfit is the complete absence of focus on what you look like or how much you weigh. The only thing that ‘matters’ is how you move and the effort you put in. Any celebration is focused on the awesome things your body is able to do, the only weights discussed are those that you are lifting, and there is no pressure to do anything other than what works for and is right for you as an individually amazing human.