I have added a new “bad” word to my vocabulary. Forget the f-word, forget the four-letter c-word: this is a 7-letter c-word, and it’s the most heinous, stupid, useless wastes of breath I think I have ever wasted time uttering:
In fact, I am sick of hearing that word used, because I think we, as a culture, completely abuse it without having any actual understanding of what it actually means.
Over the course of the next few posts, I’m going to explain how potentially ruinous the “calories-in/calories-out” mindset is, so prepare to have your minds blown (and your sanity restored):
From the moment I met ED, I had a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that part of my miraculous weight loss was due not just to the fact that I was eating less, but also to the fact that I was exercising more.
The summer between 8th and 9th grade was spent not only eating soy-free (a.k.a. apples and peanut butter), but also biking back and forth to the gym every day, spending an hour doing some asinine combination of light weights and cardio, and then doing “toning” and “core” exercises on my bedroom floor each night. And, for a long time, that formula worked.
After my 9th grade knee surgery, I started increasing my caloric intake while sitting on my rear and healing, so I, of course, gained weight. As soon as my knee would allow it, I joined the cross country team and began doing long, slow (very slow) endurance runs. As my competitive nature kicked in and my leg grew stronger, I started running longer and faster, even on the weekends. By the time I became cross country team captain in 11th grade, I was going for a second run every night after dinner, even if I’d already run long and hard at practice that day.
Of course, the more I ran, the hungrier I got. And all of the conventional wisdom at the time pointed toward carb-loading, so I made sure to have extra helpings of french bread and spaghetti between my after school practice and my nightly training. I also made sure to down a Clif Bar before cross country every day, even though I had eaten a large lunch and a packet of peanut M&M’s less than 2 hours beforehand.
I thought it didn’t matter, because conventional wisdom also said that my exercise (calories out) was burning off the huge amounts of food I was eating (calories in). As long as I went for that second run each night, I was golden.
And yet, two years later in New York, while I was dieting and cleansing and generally miserable, I was vastly under-eating (probably about 800-1000 calories a day while cleansing, if I had to hazard a guess) plus going to the gym every morning and doing an hour of some asinine combination of light weights and cardio–and I was gaining weight.
It didn’t make sense. But yo-yo diets aren’t supposed to make sense; they’re simply supposed to continue to fuel our negative self-talk, self-hate, and confusion. If anything, we’re doing ED a favor by focusing on eating less and exercising more until our bodies are so exhausted that we can’t fight back.
By the time I started bodybuilding, I got my starvation (*ahem* sorry, eating clean) and exercise down to an art, so I started dropping weight again. By this point, even though the “transformation” I was following didn’t recommend massive amounts of cardio, I still threw in an hour on the elliptical or the rotating stairs, even after a 45 minute workout with heavy weights. The fitness models I followed on Facebook and Twitter all talked about doing fasted cardio* in the morning (which I started doing) followed immediately by weights and then a second workout in the evening (which I technically did by biking up and downtown between my two jobs while I lived in NYC). I wanted to make sure that I was burning calories all day, whenever I had the chance. The more I limited my diet, the more I exercised, the thinner I was going to be.
By the time I moved to Florida, I was absolutely exhausted. I worked out fasted in the morning and made sure to drink my protein within the 15 minute post-workout window, and then went home and collapsed onto the couch for the rest of the day (with minimal movement allotted for meal times). By this time, I was about 110 lbs. I was also incredibly depressed. If I didn’t work out, the depression went from awful but bearable to absolutely monstrous (cue: depleted neurotransmitters and fatigued adrenal glands lecture here). If I didn’t work out, I would spend the day sobbing, brooding, scowling, snapping or some combination thereof.
Worse yet, I found that, even though my diet wasn’t changing, I had to do more exercise, harder exercise, to get the same weight-loss and mood-altering affects. It wasn’t fair–but I was addicted. I was ED’s willing prisoner, and so I didn’t care.
*Cardio on an empty stomach