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Food Tracking Triggered my Eating Disorder

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On one of my teams the Question of the Day was about using the SP Nutrition Tracker. My reply to that question got a bit wordy as I went through my own experience with the thing. I thought it might be good to put what I wrote in a blog and maybe even add some details that I (graciously) left out of my thread post. Apologies to my team mates for putting them to sleep.

Here's (basically, with additions) what I posted on that thread:

I used the tracker the first year I was here on SP and I lost my excess weight. I also lost some freedom and sensibility. Too much focus on nutrient details based on faulty FDA recommendations and calories. During that time I was pushed, through the tracking process, to look up many foods to see where nutrients lie. That part was good. For instance I learned that portabella mushrooms contain much more potassium than bananas without the calories (sugar).

But, I know that while using the tracker I wasn't eating as nutritiously as I am now--too easy to get all wound up in keeping the calories down and not really addressing eating habits in general. Like holding back on nutritious meals so that I could eat some ice cream while watching a movie late at night. It was like a game.

It (tracking my food) also used up a lot of time and gave me extra stress as I weighed everything out. You see, I don't buy stuff in packages with handy dandy "nutrition facts" labels so I had to do all that myself. Example: Weigh each and every ingredient before putting it into the pot (or whatever). Weigh the WHOLE DARN MESS when I was done and then calculate all the important nutrient numbers that the whole thing had and enter all that into my "favorites" (how stupid, right?) I had to go to more than a few different websites to find the actual nutrient counts and then just use my own intuition (if I had any left at this point) to compromise between the differing data that is available.

I would make a chart for my culinary creations with the important nutrients going across the top and the ingredients going down the left side and then I would spend a silly amount of time filling in all the squares in the middle to come up with the totals going across the bottom.
Okay, you can see this coming. I was good for a few days scooping up a meal for myself out of that pot, weighing my portion and VOILA! "Just" put it in the tracker and I've got my numbers..."just"...sigh.

So, next time I want to make something like that dish I have to do it EXACTLY the same, weighing out the same amounts of everything without adding or subtracting or using up something that's in the refrigerator, or, ...sigh, ...figure out any changes I made. Oh boy.

Truth: I NEVER make the same thing the same way twice! WHAT IN THE WORLD DID I THINK I WAS DOING??? I know, I was driving myself (and my husband) crazy!
So, after I became physically and mentally exhausted with trying to cook like I normally do AND keep track of all the numbers, I eventually morphed over to eating things in packages (Oh, "healthy" things mind you, ahem)--paying attention to how many calories in a slice of bread, 1/4 cup of cottage cheese, can of soup, piece of chocolate. Oh, I kept eating fresh veggies but only by themselves so it was easy to weigh them. Still, I compromised my foods to cater to the Nutrition Tracker and the calorie beast's threats. I got skinny--LOVED IT!
...but then...

When I jumped off the tracker merry-go-round I put the weight back on and then some. And by that time I had a problem that I never had before. I became food obsessed--I got the "eating disorder" disease. Well, the good thing about that is that now I know what that feels like whereas I really didn't understand it before. I figure it was all that focused tracking of food that triggered the disease and since then I've avoided all tracking.

Now I am much more focused on eating the most nutritious foods I can get. I have almost totally eliminated the foods that cause disease and weight gain, namely sugars and grains and instead concentrate on lots of veggies, local, small farm raised meats, eggs, dairy and wild-caught fish. I don't eat breads, cakes, muffins, pasta, cereals. Dessert for me is a bit of brie on a seed cracker or with apple slices--yum! Cheese and apples feel delightful to me now. And a glass of wine or a small mixed drink. Also, I am VERY cognizant of my meal portions; I take a hard look at my plate before I sit down to eat it making sure that it is no bigger than my stomach no matter what my mouth drool level is. My portions are small and satisfying. I follow the No S style of eating...sort of. No snacks between meals, no sweets - maybe a small piece of dark chocolate on the weekend only, but even that is being fazed out; I find sweets less and less satisfying and THAT is a total miracle. Feels good.

My weight is a couple of pounds less now than it was when I began SP (135) which means that I have lost about 6 pounds since my high of 139 (after quitting the tracker and slumping into over-eating). I feel sane again. I am confident that I am losing weight very slowly, very reasonably in the most healthy way for me. It's taken me about a year to lose that 6 pounds. I know that doesn't sound like very much to a person with 50 or even 100 pounds to lose but when you get down to where you only need to lose 10 or 15 more you will see what I mean. It's harder to lose just one pound at that stage than it is to lose 10 at the top of the scale. You must learn to eat very little as your calorie needs near the bottom of the scale will be much less.

I feel free.

WARNING: Unsolicited advice coming up for people who want to take their health seriously:

Use the tracker to educate yourself about foods and portions. Don't take the FDA numbers on the nutrition labels too seriously because their recommendations are all off anyway (I found out), just get a ballpark view of your eating habits so that eventually you can eyeball things by yourself.

Move toward getting refined, conventional chemical-laced grocery store foods out of your kitchen and replace them with lots of fresh veggies especially the green leafy ones. Cut WAY down on all grains, this includes corn which though it is marketed as a veggie is not. It is one of the most sugar-filled grains.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan don't fall for the store-bought "vegan" junk. Make your own veggie patties and other nutritious things. Remember, you and your wallet are sitting ducks too.

If you aren't afraid of eating meat then do so with abandon. Don't be afraid of eating meat that has fat. Be afraid of eating chicken with arsenic and beef with antibiotics and hormones. Eat fresh, ground raised eggs and chicken. Eat wild, line-caught fish.

TRUTH: Fat is not what makes us fat; sugar is, in all its forms. "Fat Free" has not helped us get either thin or healthy. However, make note of this: trans fats are a killer, read: hydrogenated oils! Avoid, avoid, avoid!

Don't eat out except on rare, special occasions and then go to a restaurant that actually serves REAL food. Chain restaurants like Red Lobster, Olive Garden etc serve the same junk as McDonalds and just charge you more for a table and a bunch of staff members singing you "Happy Birthday" Don't fall for that; stay home and eat good food with family and friends.

As the good Doc Mercola (bless his weird heart) says: "Take control of your health"
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • RIVER331
    Thank you for writing this. I've been struggling for a couple days now with the food tracker - not just because it's new to me but because it just feels 'wrong'.

    It's been about 2 years now since I started re-learning how to eat & what NOT to eat... by now I think I know what my body wants and how it feels best. I found SP a week ago and LOVE the motivation & spirit here, but trying to use the nutrition tool the past 2 days has been problematic, as you so eloquently stated here in your blog. Like you, I use real, whole foods and don't measure - if it's a large tomato or a medium tomato, who cares? And what if I don't finish it?? Yes, this road can lead to obsession.

    Some of my new SparkFriends are encouraging me to keep at it, entering my whole foods piece by piece and saving them to "Favorites" - but I've actually found myself already finishing a plate just so it would track easier, even though I didn't want all the food! The nutrition guidelines are also telling me to eat way more calories than I want or can hold. I'm not going to go get a piece of cheesecake just to get my calorie count up. I can eat a LOT of veggies and be full without hitting 1500 calories. emoticon

    My problems with emotional eating and slight binging have been getting better and better - now it's time for me to get waaaay more ACTIVE and to keep trusting what I've already learned about food choices and portions.

    So sorry for the lengthy post! I just wanted to express this to myself as well as you.

    Thanks so much again - you've supported me and I emoticon
    2481 days ago
    emoticon thanks for that..I feel guilty for not tracking,so this was nice to hear.

    tracking my food causes me to think about food all day,giving me anxiety..but the main reason I emotionally eat is from anxiety,so it's just a circle.

    I don't track my food,but then again I am educated from years of tracking so I know how to eat right by now.

    There are times in my life when I develop bad habits and need to try tracking again for a couple weeks,but then I remember how much I dislike doing that. I don't eat things with labels either,I eat a lot of stuff from the garden,and homemade things that have no easy labels,and to top it off I usually only eat 1/4 of what I put on my plate,so what happens if i am tracking is I think to myself "oh no fractions" so I just eat the whole plate!!! that is terrible isn't it?

    and yes..I was thinking to myself it would be easier to just eat a lean cuisine for dinner...arrhhhh (that's just so wrong)

    basically tracking makes me eat more.

    I believe in everything you wrote here...and I rarely meet anyone who agrees with the smallest thing I believe in like not tracking.

    and store bought chicken..omygoodness don't get me started..haha
    2482 days ago
    I think I am slipping down that same slope you described. It is ridiculous to turn away from real food to junk just because it is easier to journal but I did exactly that at lunch today. Thank you for your thought provoking blog.
    2510 days ago
    I understood everything you said! Processed, refined foods are what are hurting our health most. The things FDA approves as acceptable "foods" are truly not worth the boxes (or cans) they are packaged in!
    2512 days ago
    You've said exactly what I've been thinking. Using the tracker (or Weight Watcher Points) is really difficult and time consuming when you make all your own food from scratch. Plus, the SP tracker carb/fat/protein percentages are based on the the FDA recommendations which are far more influenced by food industry lobbyists than actual science. I know you can adjust them, but it is a huge pain. When I use the trackers I start to get much more obsessive about food and I don't like that since, like you, I never had that problem before.
    2514 days ago
    emoticon I am currently struggling with the food aspect of it all. I know I need to make changes and this has helped me see what I really need to do. There are so many diets and fads out there it's hard to see what's what.
    2519 days ago
    I really appreciated this blog post. Tracking is hard for me but I find that when I stop tracking, it's even worse. I get completely consumed by fear that I'm overeating. That doesn't seem like a healthy food relationship.

    I think this may be something I need to really evaluate.
    2519 days ago
    THANK YOU EVERYBODY for your positive comments. I really didn't expect this. In fact I expected a lot of confusion and argument but I just felt I needed to say the truth. I don't feel so crazy now.

    2520 days ago
    Did you just steal my thoughts... I also find that the time Ive spent doing all the calculations are moments snatched from a real life to be lived.

    This soo totally rocks !!
    2520 days ago
    Loved your blog and I thank you for writing it! I came to the same conclusions and had to give up some "friends" along the way because I knew I had to follow my own regimen. People can't stand that, as a rule. I am getting myself back to where my thinking was some time ago before I got lost in all the rubble. I was even criticized for not sticking with one program when I knew there was no way that I could for obvious reasons I had about myself. Trust yourself, that's my motto.
    2521 days ago
    Wow.Wow.Wow!!!! You've pretty much put down in writing what I've been thinking for some time. I feel like I'm getting obsessed with the tracking thing. It's like I "know" what to eat and what not to eat.

    I liked what you said about putting the food on your plate, making sure it was no more than your stomach wanted, regardless of what the mindset was - or the drool factor I think you said.

    Fantastic blog... Something most definitely worth thinking about and I might just try it for awhile and see what happens. I'm kind of at a standstill where I am - and writing it all down - maybe I should just quit doing that and "just wing it" and eat the foods I know I should be eating instead of trying to juggle things around, for instance... for the ice cream, etc.

    You really got me to thinking!! emoticon
    2521 days ago
    Great blog! Exactly the way I feel!
    2522 days ago
    Great blog. Definitely something to think about. Thanks for sharing.
    2525 days ago
    emoticon For your expanded version of your blog post! I too never make things the same way twice. I got real tired of weighing and measuring things, entering foods into my favorites, etc. I figured my time would be better spent doing something actively healthy like walking the dogs or working in my garden instead of sitting on my butt trying to figure out oz vs grams.
    2537 days ago
    I can only hope to be your size and to do it without tracking! I am struggling right now with my 160-170 range and I am 5'5" too! My only saving grace is that people say I don't look that big probably because I exercise a lot. But clearly the actual weight is taking a toll! I am also fighting the thyroid and that is not helping! I want to let go of the food obsession but if I gain weight WHILE tracking am afraid of what will happen if I stop? ALso then there is the other side of just being tired of fighting my biology and letting my body do what it will since it does anyway!
    2538 days ago
  • MARTY728
    WOW! You mentioned a great deal I did not know or had not considered. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2538 days ago
    Hmmm? You've just made me have a moment...this journey with weightloss has been a hard one. I've always been told tracking=weightloss but....I hate tracking. I do a lot of cooking and have run in to the exact same scenario with trying to figure out the calories in a reciepe-so frustrating and time consuming. When I've hit a plateau I put blame on the "no tracking". I am learning along the way. I have never read of someone saying NO to tracking AND being successful. Good to know. Thank-you for your blog.
    2539 days ago
    Wonderful and insightful@ Thank you for sharing this; for some folks keeping track makes them avoid the extra calories, but for some of us it brings out an absolutely UNhealthy over-absorbtion (you? ME!!)

    2539 days ago
  • A*L*P*
    First off, gee, who would have come up with such an amazing question?! emoticon Just teasing, Annie. Second off, don't ever, EVER worry about being too wordy on the team. I solicit ALL forms of advice for everyone on the team, hence the reason for the QOTD. I love your input on the team and value your opinion to the nth degree. You are very wise and someone to look up to with your ways of eating.

    Like you, I became very obsessed (I know, who ME?) with calories, tracking, weighing and like you, I also became more about buying the convieniently packaged things. My focus was on the calories, not the content of the foods I was eating. Huh? What? Really? I never would have purchased coconut oil because of the calorie/fat content. But I would sit and nibble on other things.

    As I sit here now, I am focused on the QUALITY of the foods I am eating. I eat intuitively and only when I am hungry. It is amazing what it has done for me to relieve that pressure off of myself. I have shut the chapter on tracking foods. It was helpful in the beginning but a hindrance in the end. I have made this a very healthy pregnancy as a result. I get complimented by my doctors and that feels good. Have I tracked a single morsel during my pregnancy? NOPE! I haven't and I certainly won't as I venture into breastfeeding again. Using the powers of the body's hunger signals is all I need now. 26 pound weight gain at 36 weeks... I'll take it!

    Well put blog, Annie. Love it! Thanks so much!! Sorry to take up so much room on your blog. You can happily delete this if you want, I just wanted to tell you that I loved what you had to say!
    2539 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/12/2011 10:38:43 PM
    I am pretty much eating in the same manner as you are now and happier than I've ever been. I find that if I eat REAL food I don't have to obsess about the calorie counting.

    The food tracker got OLD real's just too darn time consuming...I'd much rather spend that time encouraging my sparkie buddies OR blogging about something relevant in my life at the time.

    BEST thing I ever did was kick sodas to the curb...all of em...that was over 2 years ago and I used to be the Diet Coke with a lime slice QUEEN of the world.

    I also avoid all processed's HORRIBLE! I just wish I could get a better meat source without spending a fortune at Whole Foods and then wondering if it's really as pure as what they hype it to be.

    It's all in the journey right? Great blog! emoticon
    2539 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/12/2011 9:20:23 PM
    I forgot to put in the weight I obtained while doing the tracker. I got down to 118 and I was deliriously happy about that as anyone can imagine. That felt really good on my 5 foot 5 inch frame.

    So my weight gain after quitting the tracker was about 21 pounds YIKES! I've never weighed that much in my life except when pregnant and even at that I never went over about 140. So you can understand how I was pretty miserable when I saw that 139 number. That's when I woke up...about last February and took a sober look at my eating problem.
    2539 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/12/2011 6:05:20 PM
    2539 days ago
    Nice blog! I have experienced some of the same things.
    2539 days ago
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