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Calories and Individuality

January 16, 2013

Trigger warning: Heather counts her calories and discusses eating disorders.

Note: Originally posted on Heather’s blog.

When I started this project, Atchka warned me to be careful and generously told me that I had nothing to prove to the trolls. While this started out as trying to do just that, it sort of developed into a little more: a thought-provoking (for me) project that turned out to be about all of our individuality. I ended up liking this post so much that I posted it on my own blog as well as this one.

One week ago today I started counting calories again. No, not because I decided to drop all the Body Acceptance stuff and hate myself again, but because I get tired of the same ole “fatties eat a lot” bullshit over and over. What put me over the edge was a comment which flat out called me a liar for saying that I averaged between 1200-1700 calories when I used to count them. They said “I’ve seen a photo of you and there’s no way you eat that much” or something to that effect. Yep, well here’s a photo of me, fat rolls and all (photo by Paul Cory):

You can totally tell how much and what I eat from that photo right? This project sort of started as a defensive “I totally defy the stereotype!” but progressed into “Wait a minute, I’m a freaking individual.” Because we are, aren’t we? No matter how much they want to stereotype and stuff us into these tiny (or not-so-tiny) boxes and label us as all the same, we’re all different. About a year ago I read about another fat activist blogger who did the same as me: counted calories for a day to see how many she ate, which was around 3,000. My average is closer to 1,500. Some fatties eat less than me, some eat more than me. But here’s the thing that fatphobes can’t seem to wrap their tiny minds around: we’re all different. Sorry, but it’s true.

My experience counting calories again was one full of eating disorder (ED) triggers for me. If I ate 1,000 calories I would think, “Just for a second, that’s not low enough.” Because at the worst of my ED, 1,000 calories was way above what I would eat. The least I ate was nothing and the most I ate was 500 calories. Maybe I should disclose that at this point I always did start losing weight.

The fatphobes are quick to point out that if you starve someone, they’ll eventually lose weight. They really, really love the second law of thermodynamics. And they’re right that eventually starvation produces results, but there, you see? You see what their goal is? To literally starve people: something we know for a fact is a human rights violation, as well as ridiculously unhealthy, just to produce thin people. So you have your proof that it has nothing to do with health (if you needed any more proof anyway).

The problem fatphobes have is failing to understand that the body can “decide” how many calories in and calories out it wants to use. If it doesn’t want to lose those calories, it’s going to hold onto them as tightly as possible. It’s not that calories in, calories out is altogether false, or that we somehow defy the laws of physics, it’s that they have a basic lack of understanding of how the body uses and stores calories to begin with.

Anyway, back to my experience with counting. I found myself eyeing some of my old ED foods, such as a single veggie burger with no bun and no sides, or tofu noodles which, with only 20 calories per serving, were invaluable to me for keeping my intake at starvation levels. I had to constantly remind myself to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and how much I wanted. Sometimes I even ate extra just to defy my brain and it’s ED instincts.And that’s not even mentioning that counting calories is a huge pain in the ass. I can’t believe I used to do it every day!

So, here it is, my caloric intake every day for a week. Please don’t read if you think you will find it at all triggering. And to see a diary of the actual foods I ate, please visit my food blog: WTF Do You Eat? (Diary of a Fat Vegan). In the course of the week I ate normally and even enjoyed sweets and fast food.

Monday: 1,903
Tuesday: 1,137
Wednesday: 1,099
Thursday: 1,605
Friday: 1,425
Saturday: 1,656
Sunday: 1,130

That averages out to 1,422 calories a day. I think it’s fair to say that, on average, I eat between 1,000-1,700 calories. Again, I can’t stress enough that this is what I, as a fat individual eats. Not all fatties eat like me. I’m a gluten free vegan. We are from every walk of life, including dietary lifestyles. Some of us binge, some of us don’t, some of us eat healthfully, some of us don’t, some of us eat a lot, some of us don’t. What I want people to take away from this post isn’t that I’m a “good fatty” for eating a healthy, low-calorie diet. I want them to take away that you can’t tell what someone eats just by looking at them, regardless of size.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. castingpearls7 permalink
    January 16, 2013 12:40 pm

    ‘By the numbers’ I’m obese. By my eating habits, chic onsumption and diagnosed eating disorder, I’m a restrictive anorexic. Although, both by appearances and encounters with medical personnel, psychotherapists and other fat peoplesome of whom see everyday what I subsist on during a bad cycle, don’t believe it exists. Strangely, I’m meeting so many like me, I’m thinking of starting a unicorn group, since none of us supposedly exist. Yes, I relate so much to this article.

    • castingpearls7 permalink
      January 16, 2013 12:42 pm

      Apologies for the typos…cell phone isn’t user-friendly

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 16, 2013 12:56 pm

      the horrible thing about being fat with an ED is that people often praise you for ED behaviors. IF you lose weight (and that’s an if) then you’re praised more, you’re told you’re getting healthy. ED’s in fat people are hardly ever recognized for what they are. This was my problem. I had to figure out my ED by myself because no one, not even my husband, realized there was a problem, even when I was skipping meals, not eating for days, or eating so little it was ridiculous.

      • Nyssa permalink
        January 28, 2013 2:31 pm

        You’re spot-on when it comes to people encouraging ED’s if they see an individual who they deem to be overweight…I used to be considered “chubby” or “fat” by most of my family members and friends. As a child, I was called fat/ugly/disgusting, even though I look at old pictures and saw that I was in fact, emaciated at some points, and so-called “normal” at other times. I suffered from Anorexia Nervosa on and off since the age of 11, before that, my mother put me on extremely restrictive diets and fasts. I started eating better at 19, and naturally, i put on weight and yes, I got chubby, but i finally accepted myself for once in my life.

        The fat shame was heaped on me, especially after I had my first child, then second. I relapsed into Anorexia when i was pregnant with my third, and my doc told me that the baby will live off of my “ample fat storage” and that I could starve myself safely, and the baby will be healthy (she was born healthy, but with an insane amount of luck, IMO). A doctor told me, so I did. He gave me the green light, and pulled the trigger. It’s funny how docs won’t take anyone who is deemed overweight seriously when we ask for help with Anorexia in particular… at least not until it’s too late.

        I lost weight, my family praised me, my doc praised me, even though they knew it was an ED. I gave birth, i became skeletal in a matter of weeks, and my family told me how healthy/good/attractive i looked, even though since the births, I was hospitalized for heart complications and went into cardiac arrest, twice in 2012. I’m still alive, luckily. They (family) told me I was strong and healthy for having my eating disorder, and that I had good willpower. How heartless… Now they tell me that I’m good enough now and to resume eating. ED’s don’t work like that. They’re not a diet. They’re a psychiatric illness which is hard to overcome. It’s about masohistic self-hatred. It’s about always seeing myself as flawed and not being able to look at the reflection in the mirror without seeing “flaws”. I have been in semi-recovery since New year 2013. I hope I can go back to a place where I am comfortable about myself, at any size :)

        Good luck in your recovery, as well :)

  2. Rija permalink
    January 16, 2013 12:54 pm

    I do think a controlled study of caloric consumption by people of all sizes and activity levels would yield very thought-provoking results. I’ve often wondered what non-calorie counting individuals who are thin would reveal.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 16, 2013 12:59 pm

      there have been a couple of studies done. the most recent one (i think) was on children and found that “overweight” teens ate less than their thin peers. Other studies I’ve read show that fat adults eat about the same as thin adults. Apologies that I don’t have those studies on hand.

      • castingpearls7 permalink
        January 16, 2013 1:03 pm

        Have read studies myself which indicate fat people eat less fast food than their thinner counterparts. So much for the ‘put down the cheeseburger, fatty’ helpfulness. ‘scuse me while I eat my little homemade turkey chili.

    • queenie permalink
      January 18, 2013 11:13 am

      Well I can certainly tell you that, as (in my youth) one of those people who never had to think about calories for a single second, that I can, pound for pound, eat my husband under the table, no problem (heh). When I was younger and more active, I probably ate more calories than the next two people every day. I used to think that my size was due to my hard work (they were, really, mostly healthy calories) on eating and at the gym.

      Then I had my first baby. And I didn’t have time to go to the gym, and I certainly didn’t have time to watch my diet. And my body size stayed the same. For years, really.

      Luck, people. Body size is mostly luck. Everybody should eat healthy and exercise, and nobody should measure our success at those things via body size.

  3. fatology101 permalink
    January 16, 2013 2:10 pm

    Thanks for the calorie count. Only my husband knows how ‘little’ I eat compared to others. My sister used to ask my why I was so fat when I didnt eat as much as her. (We were teens at the time.) She has come to think of me as a freak and that I am the only one who is fat and eats less than the thin. I told her it was common. Remember, it is not about food, it is about insulin resistance and other hormones. Please read my book. Im not out to promote to make money as I am to show you the studies I have done and hope others will take it further than I have. I want science to take a look at all the causes of obesity. I know to some it doesnt matter, and it shouldnt matter, but it does to me. Society needs to treat us better, I agree, but why not look for a cause as well. It is NOT the food.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 16, 2013 3:26 pm

      I’ve been meaning to buy your book, i’m putting it on my list of things to buy when I get paid again :)

  4. January 16, 2013 2:34 pm

    I will go through cycles where I will count calories and I can do it very objectively for months at a time, then suddenly, it’ll trigger me and I’ll start freaking out about it. But I think it’s good for me to do it when I can, just so I can keep tabs on things and I think it’s mostly good for me to at least think about about I’m going to put into my body before I eat.

    I average about 1500 calories a day, though I’m quite heavy. I know I’m not a unicorn even though I was told today that most large people do overeat.

    I was underfed as a child as my mother didn’t want me to become fat and I wonder how much that affected my metabolism.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 16, 2013 3:28 pm

      “I was underfed as a child as my mother didn’t want me to become fat and I wonder how much that affected my metabolism.”

      that is truly truly awful.. i’m so very sorry you had to go through that!! and i’m sure it had quite an affect on your metabolism indeed!

    • January 16, 2013 3:51 pm

      There was a study based on following the children of mothers living in the Netherlands during famine conditions in WWII, and it’s been found that not only does calorie restriction in an individual person lead to their bodies becoming ‘thrifty’ and therefore fatter later on in life, but calorie restriction in a woman ‘primes’ the genes in such a way as to lead to her child in utero, or even her daughter’s children (via the ova which are already in the daughter’s ovaries before birth), being born with an increased tendency to put on weight. There are other, more recent studies, and there’s a welter of anecdotal evidence from people who’ve become heavier than they’d otherwise have been through repeated dieting, so you’re absolutely not mistaken.

  5. January 16, 2013 3:52 pm

    What is it with me and italics lately? Sigh.

  6. lifeonfats permalink
    January 16, 2013 5:13 pm

    I’ve never done a calorie count but I venture it’s around 2000-2500 a day, sometimes probably less than that and I’m a dreaded deathfat. My attitude is, if I’m hungry, I’ll eat, if I’m not, I’m not and I know I can eat later. But that’s probably because I was never food-restricted as a child and never did any dieting as an adult, only upping my water intake and reducing sodas to see if that would ease my IBS symptoms. I have never seen any big person eating a ton of food unless it was part of a tabloid story on feederism but then again, I’m not one to assume all fat people eat all the time and that all thin people hardly eat at all. Go to a Golden Corral on any given night and you’ll see what I mean. ;)

  7. January 17, 2013 12:15 am

    I’m honestly just impressed you managed to count those calories. I start having a panic attack any time I try. I cannot face it – I just know it’ll wind up being 5743289 calories in a day and thus confirm my belief that I am a fat worthless pig.

    • The Real Cie permalink
      January 17, 2013 5:26 am

      Same here. I hate doing “food diaries.” It either makes me angry or makes me feel like the scum of the Earth. I just can’t do it.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 17, 2013 7:07 am

      I struggled with lots of triggering thoughts myself. But the thing is, even if you (or I) did end up eating a bunch of calories over what’s “acceptable” it wouldn’t matter. You’re allowed to eat what you want. You’re allowed to be fat. You’re allowed to eat as much as you want. You have no obligation to anyone to be anything other than you.

  8. January 18, 2013 8:32 am

    Great post, well done for satisfying your curiosity and staying sane, and great timing from my point of view.

    I’ve just spent two days arguing with people who refuse to believe that you aren’t overeating if you are fat, and if you were eating the ‘right’ amount of calories you would lose weight. Two months into my PhD, I have just realised with a sinking sensation that I’m going to be arguing with people on an almost daily basis for the next 3 years.

    I remember the study with the fat kids eating fewer calories, but don’t have any for adults (and couldn’t find any when I looked). References would be really useful to me if anyone has any. Thanks :)

  9. Qinn permalink
    January 22, 2013 8:48 am

    Thanks for the post love hearing about other people’s experience… As a quick correction to satisfy the old OCD: in the third paragraph after the picture you mean the First Law of Thermodynamics, which is conservation of energy.

    Second Law would imply that the fat stored round your stomach could not be converted into a higher grade of energy without outside input which is hardly relevant.
    [/nerdsplosion]

  10. Lydia Davila permalink
    January 25, 2013 4:32 am

    I used to think this way when I was fat too. I just didn’t know as much as I thought I did. There is a well-studied 5% variation in “metabolism” between individuals. To blame that for being fat is absurd. Obesity in America has skyrocketed in in recent decades; where were all the people whose bodies just “handle calories differently” before that? The focus on calories is misguided. People are fat because in our modern world they have access to foods their bodies have not evolved to handle well. If we eat only the foods we are designed to eat, we will stay trim, even if we vastly overeat. I lost over 60 pounds quickly, while eating 3500 calories a day. I now have single digit body fat, while consistently eating between 3000 and 4000 calories per day (I gave up counting calories long ago), and I’ve never had so much energy. I just had to eat what my body was designed to eat – fresh, raw, ripe fruits and vegetables, with some nuts and seeds. Read Dr. Douglas Graham’s “80/10/10″. Google the Woodstock Fruit Festival. Good luck to you.

    • January 28, 2013 4:21 pm

      This isn’t really the website to peddle diets.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      January 28, 2013 5:20 pm

      everyone’s ignoring you. just so you know. your comment is not only unwelcome, but it’s not going to reach it’s target audience here.

    • Mulberry permalink
      January 28, 2013 6:37 pm

      Sounds like a bunch of nonsense. First, obesity rates have leveled off in recent times, which is not the same as “skyrocketing” (look it up). Also, a single-digit body fat sounds terribly unhealthy, especially for a woman. You should take some personal responsibility and try to jack it up into a healthy range. Third, I’ve lost more than you just by my weight going crazy out of control (not that I ever really had control over it); i.e., I got very sick.
      Remember, the above advice is for your own good, and you’re quite welcome.

      • Kala permalink
        January 28, 2013 9:40 pm

        Mulberry, if you tilt your head enough, a flat line does look like it is going up. Have you tried that yet, Lydia Davila recommends it.

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