Eating the Food: Ten Weeks
Trigger warning: Discussion of calorie counting in order to eat enough food to meet daily caloric requirements.
As I write this, I’m 70 days into my 100 day Eat the Food experiment. This is my ten-week follow-up.
Just as a reminder, I decided ten weeks ago to eat above my base metabolic rate (BMR) for 100 days. BMR is calculated based on gender, age, weight, and height. It’s the number of calories your body needs to keep your organs functioning if you lay in bed all day. Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the number of calories your body needs to maintain your weight, taking your daily activities into consideration. My TDEE is 3,100 calories. I used this calculator to figure out my BMR and TDEE.
For 100 days, I’m eating AT LEAST 2,500 calories. That’s the minimum, not the maximum. And that’s net, which means that I eat back the calories I burn through exercise. I’m blogging about my experiment daily.
Today I’ll answer some questions that I’ve been asked and let you guys know how it’s going otherwise.
I’ve had some questions about the fact that I am focused on eating a minimum of 2,500 calories without really talking about a maximum. Some people are genuinely curious, while others use that as a reason to concern troll. Several of the trollish kind have pointed out that eating below your BMR is not going to kill you. Putting aside the fact that anorexia is definitely eating below BMR and will in fact kill you, I’ll give these people the benefit of the doubt that they mean eating below the BMR, but more than, say, 1,200 calories a day.
Plenty of people do in fact eat well below their BMR all the time because they are dieting, fasting for religious reasons, because they are food unstable, because they are ill. That doesn’t take away from the fact that eating above your BMR is the best way to keep your body thriving, instead of just surviving.
I think the idea of tracking for a minimum, rather than a maximum, is a foreign way of thinking comparable to how thinking about maternalistic societies is foreign to people from paternalistic societies. It can be strange to think of a husband taking his wife’s name and children passing on their mother’s name rather than their father’s when you’re from a deeply paternalistic society. We live in a deeply weight-loss centered society, and the idea of anyone — in particular a fat person, but even a thin person — thinking about calories in a way that has nothing to do with weight loss is WEIRD. I get it. So, let me share with you something that just came about very organically as I’ve made my way through this experiment:
Despite making no effort to curb my calories, I’ve found that when I eat as much as I want, I’m somewhere between 2,500 and my TDEE (net) calories every day without making any effort. In other words, having the freedom to eat literally as much as I want has not led to me eating 10,000 calories a day. In other words, without thinking about weight loss or trying to lose weight, I’m eating an amount of food that is likely to slowly allow my body to come to its natural weight.
I’ve talked to a couple of people who are interested in my experiment, but think that tracking calories would be too triggering for them. All I can say is that I had the same fear. Data is my biggest trigger. It was a little scary for the first week or so, but then I started to feel so much better physically that there was no way I was going to give it up and risk going back to the restrict/binge cycle that I’ve lived with most of my life.
If you think that eating above your BMR is something you want to try, it might take a little bravery at first. There are ways to pay attention to how much you’re eating without actually tracking. You could research what the number of calories you want to eat no less than looks like. You could do an exchange program like the one the USDA uses for it’s My Plate program (the My Plate program goes up to at least 3,200 calories, so you should be good.)
Food is one way that I celebrate my amazing body. I feed myself so that I have the energy to do what I want to do everyday. I feed myself because just about every part of my body is designed to reward me for eating. Eating feels good. I feed myself because I love myself and eating enough food is a wonderful way to express that self-love. I feed myself because I want to be strong and healthy. My experiment has given me the ability to understand my body’s needs and my relationship with food in a way that I never have before.
So, ten weeks in. As I talked about last time, I haven’t lost much weight. It’s hard to over-estimate how disproportionately large the benefits of eating above my BMR every day for ten weeks are compared to the minuscule amount of weight that I’ve lost. I set out to improve three things: sleep, energy, and pain.
I’ve gone from sleeping maybe five or six broken hours a night to falling asleep with no problem and staying asleep for seven or eight hours a night. When I started my experiment, I was taking a sleep aid most nights. I haven’t taken one at all for eight weeks. I wake up rested and energetic, which in and of itself would be enough to make me never want to stop Eating the Food.
When my experiment started, I was crashing every day at 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. I was so tired all of the time that I was almost non-functional. I had a huge amount of stress after meeting a deadline for my second book that I could not seem to let go of. The last three days, I’ve left my house at about 8:30 in the morning and been out until after 9 p.m. Unless you’ve lived with major, never-ending fatigue, it might be hard to really understand the significance of having enough energy to get through a busy 12-hour day that includes school, work, exercise, family obligations, and entertainment, without wanting to die about halfway through. I am amazed every day at how much more energy I have now than I have had in years. Maybe even my whole adult life.
I was taking pain medication every day. My back hurt, my shoulders hurt, my head hurt. Really, there wasn’t much that didn’t hurt. I haven’t had to take any pain medication at all, except for two headaches, since the first couple weeks of my experiment. I was waking up stiff and that doesn’t happen anymore with the exception of one shoulder that is still a little stiff, but is much, much better. Instead of general, everywhere pain, the pain that I do still have is isolated to the sciatica that has bothered me since I was pregnant with my daughter nine years ago. Because it’s isolated, I can stretch it and ice it or give it heat, instead of just feeling miserable all over and taking medication. The pain is greatly reduced as well and getting better all the time.
I’ve noticed a shift over the last two weeks from just eating whatever struck my fancy and making sure that I got enough calories, to thinking about how the food I eat is going to make me feel. I love this, because I think it’s a sign of recovery and healing. And I think it’s a move toward intuitive eating, which is my own personal ultimate goal. I’ve always had a major sweet tooth, but I’ve noticed less of a desire for sweet food lately, for instance. I still eat it, I just don’t want it as often, if that makes sense.
I’ve decided that I am definitely going to do another 100 days when this experiment is over. (By coincidence, this experiment is over on March 24, which was my mother’s birthday.) The second 100 days would start on March 25, then. Some readers of my personal blog are going to join me, which makes me super excited! You’re welcome to come along, too. I’m not entirely sure what coming along will entail — except that we’ll support each other in Eating the Food and working toward incorporating Health at Every Size® (HAES) principles into our lives. If you’re interested in HAES, but you’ve had trouble really implementing it (like I did), then maybe having some support will help. Email me at shauntagrimes at gmail if you have any questions, or follow my blog for more information.