As any good dieter will tell you, it’s all in the numbers. How many calories are you eating. How much weight have you lost. What size clothes are you in. Those little numbers become like crack to most dieters.
For many of us, those numbers become the be all and end all. And in a bid not to ‘lose count’, we track our progress on handy little app’s that infiltrate our every waking moment.
My drug of choice was MyFitnessPal. That little app lived in my pocket for about 5 years. Now another number became important, how many days had I logged in consistently for.
When I first started losing weight, it was quite a natural evolution. I’d been having carers live with me for a long time, but I changed how the set up ran and it mean I had different people working with me. Because my impairment was so severe, I was unable to prepare my own meals and I was reliant on others to supply all my nutrition.
With my mental health the way it was, and with carers who didn’t always have great communication, we neither of us could research recipes and cook from scratch, so my default was microwave meals and take aways.
Once the changes in how my care was provided started to take effect, I suddenly had access to a very different demographic of carer. And along with that came access to younger women from a community similar to my own who were able to prepare simple home cooked meals.
The first few stone just fell off. I didn’t even notice.
When one of my new carers told me she planned to drive to work and was happy to drive me places, I decided to invest in a cheap second hand manual wheelchair and worked hard on my ability to move from one chair to another without the aid of a hoist. Once out of the house, although I couldn’t push far, those extra movements coupled with my evolving diet meant my shape soon started to change further.
I remember the first time I was able to go into Primark and buy size 20 clothes. The first time in my 20s I’d been able to shop in a high street store that wasn’t Evans. And let me assure you, Evans in the early 00s wasn’t what it is today!
Seeing that size 20 was the first number that triggered me to go further. And that’s when I downloaded MyFitnessPal and instead in some scales.
Now my mobility was improving, I was able to stand for a few moments, I could stand on the scales. I could use the hand cycle. And I could easily turn down the cake being passed around because I was high on shrinking.
I remember adding people on MFP and seeing the green numbers under their names, telling me exactly how much weight they’d lost, before I knew anything else about them. Katie, a friend I still communicate with today, had lost over 5st .. oh I remember with such envy wishing to see that number under my own name.
The numbers just became more and more important. Over the months are years, what had gone from a ‘just making different choices’ had turned into logging every teaspoon of cinnamon I added to my curry (8 calories per teaspoon .. I wonder if I’ll ever forget those numbers?), every clove of garlic, every single morsel of food that passed my lips was logged.
And if I couldn’t work out how many calories was in something, the panic was horrid. I would do my best to log the nearest thing to whatever I’d eaten, or just add a random amount of calories so that I stood a chance of being under my calories each day.
The obsession. The dedication. It’s scary to think about how it controlled my life.
Now let’s add in the step counter. The calorie burns at the end of each day. The number of numbers I needed to see were adding up.
Shamefully, Instagram eventually fell into my counting obsession. How many followers, how many likes on each photo. It all added up.
It is entirely possible that for many people they’re able to manage using something like MFP without the side effects I experienced. And I would like to give it it’s due, because I did lose a significant amount of weight and meet some amazing people who I’m still in touch with. But those positives are absolutely outweighed by the all consuming eating disorder it fed into.
Letting go of numbers is a constant battle. It’s hard to reconcile that those numbers, in many way, did save my life. I am confident I wouldn’t be here had I not changed the way I approached my well being. But those numbers also left me as unwell as I was when I started, just in a very different way.
I couldn’t tell you the number of times I logged into MFP each day. The number of times I checked my weight. The number of clothes I’ve had to buy as my dress size changed. But I can tell you that not counting now is both the most incredible liberation and the most terrifying challenge.
No longer counting calories was an absolute. Moving into an intuitive eating patten felt like my only option. Using what I know about how food makes me feel, I aim to eat a diet that nourishes my body without any restriction on specific foods. Eating like a normal person is a constant challenge. But alongside TRUE compassion and REAL body acceptance that ISN’T rooted in a media driven body image is the key.
Don’t get me wrong. I fight my head every day. But it is becoming easier to listen to the calmer, better fed, more reasonable, compassionate voice that comes from deep within my soul and ignore the highly anxious, panicked voice of my eating disorder.
I don’t know where my body will be in a year, but I do know that wherever we are, I will be doing my damnedest to love, cherish and nourish it.