Sometime in my mid-20s, I decided I should be a big-girl and get a big-girl scale.
One of the ones that sends little pulses up your body to estimate body fat. It was around $40 and was just about the limit of what I could, and was willing to pay. I wanted to re-commit to a healthier, happier me, and I knew that body fat measurements were a better way to go than a simple number on a scale, especially for strong, busty women like me.
Fast forward ten years and several rounds of yo-yo dieting later, and I learn that there’s an even more accurate way to determine not only body fat percentages, but perhaps more importantly, your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is the number of calories one’s body burns throughout the day simply by virtue of existing. It’s the measure of how many calories are needed to do things like pump blood through your veins and breathe. The vitals.
Your RMR is, therefore, an indicator of the absolute bare minimum calories one should consume in a day. Consuming more enables the body to engage in additional activities like walking and climbing the stairs and if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, exercise. To consume less tells the body it’s not getting what it needs to live–cue starvation mode.
It’s the number that’s used in dietary guidelines when they recommend a minimum intake. For women, the floor is often suggested to be 1,200 calories, with little actual regard for her height, activity level, or current weight. Other recommendations seemingly arbitrarily put this number closer to 1,600
As a result, large portions of the population are aiming to consumer 1,200-1,600 calories a day, myself included. I’ve spent the majority of my life aiming to stay in exactly that range.
The problem is, however, that many healthy metabolisms require far more than 1,200 calories to maintain standard bodily functions. Confound this with western culture’s preoccupation with strenuous exercise and nutrient poor processed diet foods, and we have bodies getting far far less fuel than they need.
Up until reading The F*ck It Diet and the moment of my own RMR test and DEXA scan, I strongly believed that 1,600 calories would make for an extremely reasonable daily consumption, that 1,200 calories would be a “perfect,” or “clean” day, and that 2,000 calories meant I was having a “bad” or incredibly gluttonous, shameful day.
To put things in additional perspective, two years ago, as I prepared for my wedding and engaged in insane prenuptial restriction and exercise rituals, I was working out hard every single morning, lifting heavy weights, and running 13 mph sprints on the treadmill.
And I granted myself a MAXIMUM of 1,200 calories a day. To make meals easier on myself, I limited the number of decisions I’d have to make, and ate nearly the exact same meals every single day for two years:
one cup of plain, 1% Fage Greek Yogurt, ¼ cup low sugar granola and coffee for breakfast, a pound of carrots for lunch, and a protein and veggie dinner each night–typically 4 oz of baked salmon with grilled asparagus. Every day.
As the wedding got closer and I began to panic, I restricted further, to prepared juice cleanses that I used as weeks of full meal replacements (400-600 calories/day) and stepped up my workouts, working out hard for as much as two hours a day in addition to my 10k steps. In short, I was encouraged and supported in being anorexic in the pursuit of the perfect wedding photos.
And, unfortunately, in what becomes a reinforcing cycle, it kind of worked. When I restrict, I lose weight. When I stop, I gain. And rather than see this process for what it is, I blame it on my unfortunate lack of willpower.
All that diet and exercise, and I’m convinced I have no willpower.
When I received my RMR results from Audrey at Composition ID, I cried. No wonder I perpetually gain it back and then some. My RMR is a very healthy 1,750 calories. Adding in daily lifestyle brings my minimum required daily calories closer to 2300 calories a day. Add in the exercise I was doing and my required intake was somewhere between 2,700-3,200 calories a day.
Yet I was allowing myself somewhere between 600-1,200 calories per day in the name of health.
Are you angry yet?
Audrey asked me about my goals and my weight and goal history. I shared that my healthiest, most fit tri-varsity high school self comfortably weighed between 150-160 pounds, and that at that time, I’d set a goal for myself of weighing 135 pounds. She helped me to read my DEXA scan–a low-dosage X-Ray scan that hospitals often use to measure bone density in aging patients that is also used to measure things like visceral fat, subcutaneous fat, muscle, water, etc. If I were to take every ounce of fat from my body today, after two years of minimal exercise, my bones, muscles and organs alone would still weigh 127 pounds. A goal of 135 pounds is beyond unreasonable for me now, and was even more unreasonable for me then, for as strong and active as I was.
I was furious.
I carry around a lot of shame. I have internalized that I have no willpower. I have internalized that I don’t deserve to take up space. I have internalized that I am a lesser human being because of the way that I look.
The diet industry – which, let’s be honest, is virtually indistinguishable from broader American culture – has sunken into the woman’s psyche. Through intensely powerful marketing, it has told us that we are fat and lazy, unhealthy slobs and couch potatoes. In the pursuit of a quick buck, it sells quick fixes: one-size-fits-all plans that dumb down nutrition and health and science do us all an immense disservice.
These businesses inappropriately connect the unobservable (health) with the observable (weight) in order to pray on our deepest insecurities and our fears. They sell us a hope of health, happiness, love, and longevity–because we’re willing to pay top dollar for them. And they benefit from our confusion, as they cite faulty, non-peer reviewed research and biased doctors who pit one strategy against another.
Add to this the rising stress levels worldwide that disconnect us further and further from our bodies, careers and businesses that demand higher and higher quantities of time, and staunch individualism that leave us more and more disconnected from our communities, and we’re left grasping for things that will provide us with some comfort and reassurance in our fast-paced, hectic world.
Finally, consumerism teaches us that we always need food in order to relax, to celebrate, to feel better, or to recharge. We’re encouraged to go out to celebrate or to buy something that will make us feel better.
Our preoccupation with weight and body size has so much more to do with rampant marketing, industry-sanctioned confusion, rising stress levels, and materialism than we give it credit for. As women, we so often take the blame when it’s not our fault, that it’s become second-nature to take the blame and shame for this, too.
To me, The F*ck It Diet is so much more than saying, “fuck it–I’m not going to police my intake anymore.”
It’s saying, “Fuck you, diet culture. I see what you’re trying to do, and I’m not going to let you have the upper hand.”
It’s saying, “Fuck you, culture that wants to keep me figuratively and literally small. I was not put on this earth to count calories, and you won’t keep me preoccupied with diet anymore. I deserve to take up space. I deserve to be seen. I deserve to be accepted, just as I am. I deserve to have a voice, and I know you’re trying to keep me from using that voice by trying to keep me focused on being small and polite. That’s not what I was put on this earth to do. Fuck you. It’s time to cause a ruckus.”
For now, I’m in the process of returning to my body. For me, this means yoga and meditation, sleeping and eating. I’m trusting her when she's tired and not forcing her to staying awake. I’m trusting her when she’s hungry, and not policing every bite. I’m trusting her when she’s in pain, and will take care of her, rather than covering pain with medicine.
I’m going to focus on what’s actually important to me, rather than focusing on what the media tells me should be important. I will trust my intuition when she tells me something is wrong. I will trust her when she says something is important, rather than brushing it away to make other people more comfortable. I will break the cycle of burnout at my body’s expense and focus on the things that truly bring me health and happiness, love and longevity.
I love you, body.
I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you.
Please forgive me for thinking I knew better.