Why Counting Calories is Bullshit (for me)

On Mother's Day I posted on FB a picture of what I got from my kids.  They gave me loads of chocolate with the nutritional information blacked out. I was thrilled and posted it, along with the sentiment that "counting calories is bullshit".  This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a loved one who didn't agree with that sentiment. In our subsequent conversation, I assured my loved one that yes, it's true, people can do whatever they want with their own bodies.  And yes, everyone is on their own journey.  And yes, counting calories might be "working" for some people. (But what does "working" mean?)  I do agree that there is no one right way to do anything for anyone. And my work is all about helping people listen to their own inner guidance to help them make decisions and to trust their bodies above anyone else's opinion. So I explained all that, but at the end of the day, I have to say that I still think counting calories is bullshit and I'll tell you why.  What I will caveat that with is - that's totally fine if you disagree!

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My Mortality


Over the last year, I have finally given up trying to control my food in order to control my size.  But what I realized this week is that I am still trying to control my food to control my mortality.  The truth is, we can't control our food, our weight or our mortality and I think that makes us all very uncomfortable, to put it mildly. If I plan out a day's meals, half the time I don't want to eat what I planned. These days, there is no way I'm going to force myself to do so if I am not going to enjoy what I am eating. I am going to eat what is appealing in the moment, whether it's a cupcake or a bowl of bran cereal, a plate of broccoli or a cheeseburger.  It's not sane thinking to think that I can control my instincts or my wants and needs. Not to mention the number of times we think we know what we are doing in the day, week or month and then plans change.  Babies are born, vacations come and go, we move, we get new jobs, kids get sick.  There is always a measure of instability in our lives that is impossible to plan around.

For some months now, I have been okay with that.  It's ok that I'm going to be the size I am because I am going to eat what I want and I'm not going to try and control it, because its futile.  But then I see a new book or read a new article about all the foods I should be eating for my "health". Before I know it, I am back to thinking about how to control my food. This time for "health's" sake. And what do I mean by health? It's ok, I'll say it.  Not dying.  That is what I mean by health.

The media has me convinced that I need to eat certain foods  in order to be healthy and, in my mind, avoid disease (cancer) and not die.  There are lots of people who have cured themselves of disease because they changed what they ate, among other things.  I believe that can happen and I powerfully believe that food does influence and affect your body and even your longevity.  But it's not the only thing that can affect your longevity and it's far from foolproof.  Even those that cured themselves were not only changing their food, they were changing their whole mindset on life and that is the ultimate in powerful healing tools.

I realized yesterday as I was listening to a great podcast -(Food Psych with Christy Harrison) that here I am still trying to control my food and this time, it's not because of my fear of fat, it's because of my fear of dying and leaving my 3 young children without a mother.  I am no longer afraid of fat and no longer think that fat is going to kill me. I have  the book and the movement Health at Every Size (Linda Bacon) to thank for that.  So why am I still convinced that if I don't eat a mostly plant based diet and avoid sugar, alcohol, coffee and fried or processed food that I am a goner?

That fear has gone deep for me and I am only now really beginning to tease it out into the light.  The truth is - I could eat all those things that I equate with a long life and I could still get hit by a bus tomorrow. The bigger and deeper step that food is asking me to do now is to accept the unknown. Accept the uncertainty.  Accept the lack of control.  We try to find ways to control what scares us but the only thing you can really do is let go of the fear.

I woke up this morning to take my daughter to band and saw that a neighbor had crashed their car into a tree on our street.  I don't know if they are ok as I write this. All I can think of is how useless it is to worry about whether I ate enough spinach yesterday or drank enough water.  We cannot control our mortality or the life things that are going to happen around us.  On the way back from band, driving through my neighborhood again and about to pass the accident scene,  a giant deer raced across the street at top speed and I missed hitting it by inches.  The universe is blowing my mind this morning, teaching me to get over this idea of a perfect diet or controlling my food as a way to be sure that I will be here tomorrow.

This is not to say that those who promote such ways of eating are wrong.  This is a reminder to myself that it's not the whole story.  It can't promise anything.  Our bodies also react to the thoughts we have inside and if you are eating healthy foods and thinking toxic thoughts then you aren't doing yourself any favors.  It's a balance. The goal is to aim for the things that ultimately make you feel good,  not feel wrong and fearful.

Don't waste time trying to perfect everything around you, like your food. Instead your time would be much more wisely used to appreciate what you have and to be present for all the things going on around you.  Life is short, and for that very reason, it does not make sense to spend your time living in fear that you are doing it all wrong. It's a lesson the perfectionist in me is still learning, but now that I can see the truth in my behavior, I am resting easier than before.

Let go of the fear, that is the thing that will really kill you.


Wow. The Embrace documentary is a powerfully moving film that makes you think on so many different levels.   I have spent the last few weeks contemplating the movie since I saw it for the first time and I have been wondering what people thought of it.  On the one hand, I have received wonderfully supportive feedback.  My community was moved and impressed and they texted me and emailed me and posted on Facebook to thank me for bringing the film to our area.  There was also some talk as people left the movie of -" what do I do now? I am so much more aware of this issue and I don't know how I can help".  I actually had one dear sweet friend ask how she could help support me support the movement. I have an answer for that although at the time we were talking I felt just as overwhelmed as she did by the enormity of the problem concerning women and body image in our society. I also spent time wondering about the people who did not reach out and tell me what they thought.  I wondered if they had a negative reaction.  Did they not relate to any of it? Did they think we are all bunch of cry babies lamenting our larger figures? Many of my less positive thoughts were not at all productive but I welcomed them because they made me re-examine my beliefs and caused me to challenge my own ideas about body image.  That is always a good thing for me because every time I do that, I come back stronger in my belief that dieting is not the answer, we are all beautiful and perfect human beings just as we are and we all have a light to shine that we may be hiding somewhere.  And for god's sake, 90% of the time, it's not about the food.

maddenspictureAt one point, while I was wondering what people thought of the movie, my friend shared with me this picture.  Her 13 year old daughter  drew it after watching my screening of the movie.  I saw that and burst into tears.  I don't normally burst into tears but I was overcome with the emotions of gratitude and validation for what I was trying to achieve.  The picture reminded me that I will never know what impact the movie has on people exactly but if there is one person, like this amazingly talented young woman, who can draw a picture like this after seeing the movie, then everything I was trying to achieve was accomplished.  I stopped wondering what the impact on everyone was or whether people loved or hated it.  If I at all had any doubts, I was back on track with my mission.

Why doubts? The short answer is I think we all question what we are doing as we are doing it.  Even though my gut and my heart tells me I am on the right path the majority of the time, my head and my inner critic and my ego are trying to get a word in edgewise.  Not to mention that pull of society and the media.  I've been conditioned to think a certain way for 40 (alright 46) years and it's not going to dissolve in an instant.  It's not entirely fun to have doubts, but I welcome them because they lead me to more clarity and more conviction once I work it out.  I happy to say I feel stronger than ever about my belief that life is simply better on the other side of the scale.

What to do about the "what do we do now" questions?  When women walk out of this movie, they may be more are aware of society's impact on their body image or maybe they are now able to name something they felt but didn't know how to identify.  That can feel raw and exposed and overwhelming.  The issue might be understood intellectually, but how do we move on from there?   The answer is, we each individually have to do what we can and what feels right to forward the movement for ourselves and not worry about the mountain of work there is to do around this issue.  I was talking to someone yesterday who reminded me of a quote by Confucius. He said, "The man (or I'd like to say woman) who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."

So if people can examine their own lives and find that one way they can forward the movement, before you know it, we will have moved the mountain.  What might this look like? It might look like canceling your Weight Watchers membership.  It might look like signing up for that dance class that you always wanted to try but were too scared to go for.  It might start with following a body positive stream on Instagram or reading a book about body positivity.  It might look like not commenting on your child's weight or food intake.  It might look like doing some research into the science behind Health at Every Size.  It might look like stopping yourself when you are about to lambaste your back fat in the mirror.  It might look like getting rid of the scale and ditching the magazines that are full of false promises.  It might look like making time to go for a walk by yourself or cooking something for dinner that you can't wait to eat.

There are actually so many ways that we can start to move this mountain, right now, today. I am not feeling overwhelmed anymore, I am feeling inspired.  Personally,  I'm going to write this blog post for my approximately 0 subscribers and hope that maybe my mom reads it or someone glances through it on their trip around the web late one night.  What are you going to do today to support the movement? Feel free to comment below (mom) - I'd love to hear your ideas.