Updated: Dec 4, 2020
There are some things I know for certain:
Cold pizza is the perfect breakfast.
Before coffee I am a goblin.
And, there is no faster way to give someone who has always been on a diet a heart attack than to tell her that this week she gets to (and has to) eat whatever she wants.
This third one I know because every experience I’ve had while supporting someone through their Body Positivity and health journey has contained that moment. The moment where I let them know that this week there is no such thing as a diet and that they are not only free but encouraged to eat whenever and whatever they want, causing either their face to go completely pale or for the voice on the other end of the phone get so silent I have to say, “hello? Hello?” about a dozen times.
And when they finally do start talking, the first thing they say is generally something like: “If I do that I’m going to gain 100 pounds!”
Now, while that answer is probably somewhat facetious, it is based in a true fear. Maybe even one you, yourself have.
Let’s try it now. What are the first thoughts you have when I say, “starting today, for a whole week, I want you to eat whatever and whenever you want.”
No, go ahead and think about, I’m happy to wait.
Anything come up? Any feelings of nervousness or fear?
If so, totally normal. Really. You see, the diet and fitness culture is hoping for those thoughts because it keeps fat-phobia alive, which keeps the diet and fitness industry making money. It has trained us to think that if we stop following their rules and give in to “forbidden,” “bad” foods we will become uncontrollable beasts and gain massive amounts of weight as soon as our lips touch a cupcake.
And this, my beautiful, gorgeous human, is simply not true.
No, seriously. In fact, let’s break it down using some actual numbers, shall we?
This part is gonna get a little math-y/science-y, but bear with me because we are going somewhere, okay?
Now, who here knows what a Resting Metabolic Rate is?
Anyone? If you do, awesome! Just scroll down a bit while I let everyone else know about the wonder that is RMR.
RMR stands for Resting Metabolic Rate. It is the amount of calories your body must burn in order to keep up the most basic functions while at rest. For example, breathing, having your heart beat, and digesting food.
It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate, which makes sense, because they are very similar, but there is one key difference: Your BMR does not take the calories your body burns for digesting food into account, while your RMR does. So, scientifically, your RMR is generally a more reliable source for calculating how many calories your body burns in a day just on its own.
All make sense so far?
Great! So, let’s put what we’ve learned into a real-world situation.
Let’s say that you’re a thirty-five-year old woman (feel free to give yourself whatever name and occupation you choose!) You’re 5 feet 7 inches tall, you weigh 180 pounds, and you live a lightly active lifestyle. When all is said and calculated, you have an RMR of 1745. This means that even when you’re lying down watching the latest episode of The Bachelor (God, I miss Tyler C) you are slated to burn 1745 calories in a day.
So even if you do nothing, you are still slated to burn almost 2000 calories in a day.
Keeping that number in mind, here’s another number: the amount of calories in a pound is 3500.
Got those numbers? Great!
Let’s keep going: You, the thirty-five-year old woman, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs 180 pounds, and lives a lightly active lifestyle, decides to work with me, Dani, as your coach to help you work through your disordered views about your body and food.
I tell you that you’ve been doing AWESOME and that this week we’re going to try something a little different: we’re going to remove all the stigmas you have put on foods (such as labeling them bad vs good or allowed vs forbidden) And you are officially allowed to eat whatever you want whenever you want.
You reply: “WHAT? I can’t do that! I’ll gain 50 pounds!”
Now, you’re possibly being hyperbolic, but since I’ve heard this response so often, I decided to put it to the test.
I decided to crunch the numbers and see how much you would have to eat in order to gain that feared number of 50 pounds in a week.
I do this using your RMR, meaning that I’m not even calculating in any movement beyond your basic functions at rest (breathing, etc)
When my calculations are complete, I come to find that in order to gain 50 pounds in one week you would have to eat 187,215 calories total, or 25,745 calories per day.
Now let’s make these numbers a little more tangible:
A meal at McDonald’s consisting of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a large fry, and a baked apple pie is 1450 calories.
A meal at IHop consisting of New York Cheesecake pancakes topped with glazed strawberries and whipped topping, scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, a sausage patty, and hash browns with white cheddar cheese is 1580 calories.
A meal at Outback Steakhouse consisting of honey wheat bread with whipped butter, roasted garlic filet medallions with homestyle mashed potatoes and broccoli, gold coast coconut shrimp, a large (or as the people of Outback Steakhouse say: Big Bloke) Michelob Ultra, and ½ a salted caramel cookie skillet (you decided to split dessert) is 2030 calories.
All together those meals equal: 5060 calories. Still less than two pounds worth of calories. And in order to gain 50 pounds in a week? You’d have to eat all three of those meals THIRTY SEVEN times in seven days. THIRTY SEVEN SERVINGS OF THOSE THREE MEALS! Not thirty seven of one of those meals, thirty seven servings of all three.
And don’t forget, this is only if you had everything delivered and brought directly to where you were lying down because all of this has been calculated using only you RMR. If you get up to pee or get some water? You’re going to need to up your calorie intake.
Okay, now you’re probably thinking, “alright, maybe fifty pounds was a little high, but I could definitely gain ten.”
Well, now that you mention it, let’s try gaining ten pounds, shall we?
In order to gain ten pounds in one week using only your RMR to calculate (meaning no moving around at all) You would have to eat 47,215 calories a week and 6,745 calories per day. Even the three meals listed above don’t contain that many calories all together. In order to hit your daily calorie goal you would not only have to eat your meals at McDonalds, IHop, and Outback, you’d also have to head on over to Starbucks and grab a venti whole milk midnight mint mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream and caramel drizzle, a holiday turkey panini, a double chocolate chunk brownie, and a petite vanilla bean scone.
And in order to gain the full 10 pounds? You’ll be eating those four meals TWENTY SEVEN AND A HALF TIMES over the course of one week.
I say all this not to be funny (well, not just to be funny) But to emphasize the fact that having this idea that eating “forbidden” foods is not going to lead to an immediate jump up in weight. And not only that, if we spend time terrified of food or restricting, there’s a much higher chance of feeling like you’ve failed by eating something you enjoy and then falling into a binge cycle.
Freedom comes from letting yourself out of food jail and getting to know yourself and your tastes outside of the world of diet and fitness. We are so inundated with fat-phobia that we spend more time trying to police ourselves than we do learning about ourselves. And that, my friends, is no bueno.
After working with dozens of women, I’ve come to realize that the major fear lies in losing control. Like, if you have one piece of cake you’ll never be able to stop. That’s just not the case. Even if you kept eating and eating and eating and eating, eventually your body would not be able to take it, your action of eating would get an override, and you’d probably get sick because the food had no more room.
When we’re living in a world of diet cycling and restriction it is very hard to be mindful about what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. When there is so much concern placed on rules and failure vs success, there is no way to pay any attention to satisfaction. When you can’t tell whether or not you’re satisfied, you generally wind up always feeling hungry.
I remember not allowing myself to eat any of the foods I enjoyed for days on end because I was terrified of the dreaded “fifty in a week.” I ended up feeling so miserable and filled with such intense cravings that I found myself at 2am in my kitchen eating an entire jar of almond butter. And I don’t even like almond butter.
So what’s the message here? If you don’t give yourself room to enjoy food and learn about your body you won’t be able to escape the cycle of disordered eating. Weirdly, the foods you are most afraid of hold the key to your freedom.
That’s why I would challenge you today to take some time to have something you enjoy. And really take the time to make it an event. Don’t shovel it away in secret, consumed with guilt and fear. Make it out like you’re in a swanky foreign movie set in Paris and you’re going to eat that chocolate and almond croissant and drink that mocha latte with such gusto that there’s going to be a three-car pile-up outside the café you’re at. I promise, you’re safe doing it. Food is just food if you let it be. And when you take that message to heart? I promise you’ll be able to stop when you’re satisfied.
Til next time,
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