(Or Why I Deleted MyFitnessPal)
This morning I logged into MyFitnessPal, just as I have done religiously for 102 days straight (apparently), and kind of had an epiphany/breakdown. This past May, I joined a certain online nutrition program that will remain nameless because I still really idolize, respect, and look up to the owner as a person. They are doing great things for many people and putting a lot of amazingly positive content into the world that I still read daily. I think I am coming to the conclusion that tracking my food just isn’t for me (and may not be for everyone), for reasons that I will elaborate on shortly.
I did not join because I needed to lose weight, or needed to get a certain physique for a competition, or anything like that. I joined simply looking for a way to increase my nutrition knowledge and take myself to “the next level” (whatever that is). I was already looking great and feeling great, having followed a relatively keto lifestyle for more than a year. I guess you could say I had more or less figured out what worked for me.
I never tracked my food. I ate when I was hungry and fasted when I was not. I did not weigh myself for months at a time and would be remarkably surprised on those rare occasions that I did weigh myself and find that I had lost weight. I ate mostly protein, vegetables, and fat. Coming from a historically very disordered relationship with food and borderline sugar addiction, I felt I had these both under control. I rarely had cravings for sugar or dessert, and did not think about the quantity of food that I ate on a minute-to-minute basis. For me quality became the most important factor.
Anyways, for whatever reason, I decided to blow almost $500 in order to have someone tell me exactly how much food I am supposed to eat each day. All of a sudden quantity took center stage again. I had to make sure I ate exactly the number of grams of protein, carbs, and fat that were prescribed to me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Even if I did not feel hungry, I was expected to eat them. Which more often than not resulted in me stuffing myself at the end of each day, just to hit my numbers.
From 0 to 200. Real Quick.
The main issue I had right at the start was the fact that I was assigned to eat 200 grams of carbs a day. 200?! The number alone made my head spin. I had spent the last almost two years eating less than 70 grams a day. I got my carbs from vegetables and the occasional sweet potato and that’s about it. At the time I was not eating fruit (even though I LOVE fruit), and honestly feel that this played a huge factor in the drastic reduction of my sugar cravings. Sugar acts like a drug on the brain, releasing dopamine and all the happy feels whenever it is consumed. The more you introduce sugar to your body (even in the “innocuous” form of fructose), the more the body craves it. Take out sugar altogether, and eventually the cravings simply disappear.
Now here I am, trying to fill in 200 grams of a macronutrient that I am simply not used to consuming. My coach recommended sweet potatoes, mangoes, bananas, apples, oatmeal, quinoa. Not only did I start eating a TON of fruit (HELLO, SUGAR!) but reintroducing long-absent grains back into my diet. All of a sudden I’m drizzling honey on my fruit because, hey, there’s 17 more grams of pure carbohydrate to bump up my numbers. Needless to say, my sugar cravings came back at full force with a vengeance, and I am still battling them today.
Where I expected to lean out and gain muscle, I instead started to feel overfed, bloated and fat all the time. I don’t know whether I was actually in a state of ketosis before, but I definitely was used to fasting at more regular intervals. If I didn’t feel hungry I simply wouldn’t eat breakfast in the morning. Now I was force feeding myself just to make sure the numbers on MyFitnessPal were approved by another person each day.
Eating out at restaurants became a HUGE stressor as well because I felt compelled to exactly, accurately track every single morsel of food that went into my body. If I felt like I didn’t have control over the ingredients going into my food, then I didn’t have control over my nutrition and that somehow that made me a failure. I felt that even one day of not having control would completely set me back in my fitness goals.
Abs to Flabs
The irony of this nutrition program is that it is supposed to heal your relationship with food and help you realize that it’s okay to be flexible in what you eat. If you look on instagram, there are boatloads of success stories. Side by side images of people with flab and then well-defined abs 4-8 weeks later. Honestly, I pretty much already had visible abs when I started the program. But week after week, as I continued to trust the process, I watched in horror as my abs became softer and less noticeable. How did I seem to be the ONE PERSON not achieving great results with this program?! I know that I was not cheating. I am so strict with myself about what I eat (almost to a harsh and negative degree), that I did the program exactly as I was supposed to.
I started compulsively weighing myself each day. I did not feel that I was gaining muscle (certainly doesn’t look like it), yet I was seeing the number on the scale slowly creeping up. I panicked. How do I get the number to go back down?! When did everything get so out of control?? I was weighing and measuring all my food to the gram, much to the annoyance of everyone in my family, and tracking everything in MyFitnessPal just like I was supposed to. And yet every day I felt worse. I felt physically worse and mentally worse.
Where I was supposed to “heal” my relationship with food, I actually created an anxious cloud of unhappiness and guilt. If I couldn’t track it, it was somehow “immoral”. If I went over my calories or one of my macronutrient numbers I was hammered with guilt and feelings of shame. After two months I decided to cancel my subscription of this service, only to be told I had to be billed for one more month because I had agreed to a three-month minimum commitment.
That’s fine. I paid for the last month but I did not log in or check in with my coach. I tried to readjust my macros on MyFitnessPal to resemble a more ketogenic style of eating. I continued to track, but still felt immense guilt and failure when I did not hit my self-imposed macro numbers.
I’m A Slave 4 Food
(Yes, in my mind I sang that to the tune of the Britney Spears song).
As the summer progressed, I realized that I had become a slave to my thoughts about food. I thought about food literally ALL. THE. TIME. I woke up with cravings for breakfast (usually something sweet), and as soon as I finished breakfast I was thinking about lunch. As soon as I finished lunch I was planning what to make for dinner. After dinner I was battling the desire for dessert. I have been going through periods of extreme restriction and then breaking down and eating unhealthy desserts because at times the willpower simply requires too much mental energy to maintain.
I feel bloated all the time and I feel inconsistent with my nutrition and I don’t like what I see in the morning when I look in the mirror. I used to wake up full of energy with a flat stomach, and if it bloated during the day because of veggies (yes, I love broccoli and cauliflower but they do cause temporary bloat), the next morning I would always feel brand spanking new again. Somewhere, despite the extreme illusion of control created by tracking, weighing, measuring, and reporting my food, I went off the rails. WAY off. And I can’t seem to find my way back to being okay like I was before.
Food has simultaneously become a source of pleasure and a source of guilt. I eat for pleasure then immediately feel guilty if I overeat or consume something that doesn’t “fit my macros”. Somewhere along the way I have stopped speaking to myself with kindness when it comes to food. I know I am not fat, I know that most of this is in my head. I am beyond a Type A personality. If there was a letter before A, I would be that type. Seriously. I like to control everything. And feeling so out of control with my eating has caused me a lot of cognitive dissonance.
Should You Track?
Ultimately it’s up to you. If you are someone that really needs to lose a lot of weight and has a hard time controlling what you eat, then the discipline instilled with tracking might actually do you a great service. If you aren’t as educated about food quality or have never learned about proper quantity as it relations to nutrition, then I highly recommend finding a nutrition coach to help you get started in your journey.
However, if you are someone like me, who is already very good about eating wholesome, healthy foods, and tends to have a somewhat disordered relationship with food, I do not recommend including tracking or weighing food into your routine. I became unhealthily obsessive about tracking my food to the point that it consumes most of my thoughts. It became a direct reflection of my self-worth as a person. If I am under my calorie goals, then I am worthy, but if I go over any of my numbers somehow I am not worthy. Trust me, I know it sounds crazy. But that’s just the nature of eating disorders.
Tracking macros can easily give way to these unhealthy obsessive thoughts which in turn can result in restrictive eating patterns. Or the opposite: making unhealthy food choices on a much more frequent basis simply because it “fits in your macros” for the day. I was adding honey, cashew ice cream, excess fruit, frozen waffles into my daily eating routine simply because I needed to “fill in the carbs”. And now that I am trying to remove those sugar cravings and go back to eating real foods that make me feel good, it is EXTREMELY HARD. My brain is screaming at me to eat chocolate chip waffles for breakfast, when I know my body feels so much better when I have scrambled eggs with spinach and peppers.
MyFitnessPal is not my Pal.
I am not saying tracking is not for anyone, but it is not for everyone. I made a nutrition move that I thought would benefit me in the long-term, and now feel like I am picking up shattered pieces of myself as I go. I feel like I have to repair my relationship with food and a big reason for this blog post was to kind of work out my anxieties and put them onto paper. (You know what I mean). I know there’s no end goal to nutrition. You don’t just get to a certain place and that’s where you stay for the rest of your life. It’s a constant balance of lifestyle and eating what’s good for your body at that particular moment. I’m hopeful that I will get out of this rut. It seems like the more I try to regain control, the more out of control things get.
So today I simply decided to let go. I deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone (!!) and for the first time in 102 days, I could not tell you exactly how many calories I ate today. I cannot tell you how many grams of carbs, fat, or protein. I am just going to eat when I am hungry and not eat when I am not hungry. I am going to gradually reduce my sugar intake, in hopes that the rampant cravings will slowly subside. I will love myself, even if I eat something “unhealthy” and I will love myself when I have a perfect day of nutrition. I will no longer be a slave to my kitchen food scale or to my bathroom scale.
In the end, it is important that I nourish my body and my mind. Obsessively tracking all my food was doing neither of these, and so today I have said goodbye.