As mentioned in my List of ED symptoms post, for many years I had been obsessively tracking calories/macros using MyFitnessPal, obsessively weighing food wherever possible, and planning my nutrition to a T. Ostensibly this was to ensure that my diet was on point and optimised for whatever my goal was at the time (whether that was fat loss or muscle gain). There were a heap of food rules around this, such as:
- Making sure overall daily calories weren’t too excessive, so that I could eat a large enough meal at dinner time and before bed to feel at least somewhat satiated
- Ensuring that every meal contained at least 30g of protein (but not too much!) to ensure maximum muscle protein synthesis
- Attempting to spread those protein feedings over at least 4-5 meals a day
- Trying to keep carbs a little higher pre and post training sessions; and keep them lower at other times of the day, particularly on days I knew I’d be more sedentary
- To keep fats down as low as possible – especially if I knew the family dinner (the one meal I don’t really have complete control over) was going to be higher in fats/calories
I ate like this for three years solid, with only a couple of very short breaks of 1-2 weeks at a time when the family were away on holidays and it was difficult to sustain. The end result was that I felt constantly hungry, grumpy, exhausted and sore. Even when trying to ‘bulk’ I almost never ate enough, because I was so fearful of gaming fat, so aside from one short period where I was letting Avatar Nutrition set my macros, my metabolism almost never normalised and I was constantly in energy deficit.
If I was forced to eat food I hadn’t prepared, this would cause me great anxiety. Going out for a meal was a nightmare – I’d always want to know where we were going in advance, so that I could spend hours poring over the menu and trying to figure out what to have. And since most restaurants around here don’t publish nutritional information it also meant spending ridiculous amounts of time looking through MyFitnessPal’s database comparing similar meals to try and estimate what the macros would be, and planning the rest of the day’s meals to try and compensate for the restaurant meal inevitably being more calorie dense than usual.
Don’t even get me started on Christmas dinners and work functions and any other occasion where I had to try and wing it. I actively tried to avoid most of these, with a fair amount of success. But when I couldn’t, they were a major mindfuck, and inevitably I either ate nothing, or ate too much (in my head), felt guilty and compensated by going walking for long periods and/or restricting subsequent meals.
This was probably one of the most stressful parts of my eating disorder, and I am so glad to be able to write about it in the past tense. I used to tell myself that I’m a numbers guy, and I enjoy having good data on the foods I’m consuming, but in reality it was a massive life thief (to steal a phrase from Christy Harrison) – I know some people have success with it (and I did too, to begin with) but with my tendencies towards obsessiveness and OCD type behaviours, it wasn’t good for me in the long term.
The story of how I gave it up is straightforward. I started experiencing more and more regular episodes of binge eating (and I tracked those binges in MyFitnessPal as best I could) and I eventually recognised that the obsessive tracking and controlling was probably a contributing factor. So to start with, I stopped tracking carbs and fats and just attempted to track protein. That didn’t help much, so on Feb 1st 2019 after another late night biscuit and cereal rampage I decided just to stop tracking and weighing and just try to eat mindfully in an attempt to stop the binges. It didn’t work, and I still experienced (and gave in to) extreme hunger many times afterwards, but I just never went back to tracking.
I was so proud of my record with tracking that I continued to login to the MyFitnessPal app and website daily to keep my ‘streak’ going (their system tells you how many consecutive days you’ve used it in an effort to encourage consistency). The last time I checked it was at 1200 plus days, but then in mid May 2019 I realised I’d forgotten to do it and I logged in to discover my streak had been reset. I thought this would bother me, but it really didn’t. So I took the opportunity to delete the app from my phone and cancel my premium subscription, and can’t see myself ever going back.
On a related note, in early May I started using another app to track food called ‘Ate‘. This might seem a bit strange, after everything I’ve just written, but the process and purpose is completely different. It is simply a food journal, where I take a photo of the meal and ask myself some questions about the circumstances of the meal as well as how I feel pre and post eating. It encourages mindfulness and has been really helpful in learning how to eat like a human again – after so many years of ‘eating by numbers’ I’d completely lost touch with my body’s hunger and satiety signals. In my efforts to eat ‘clean’ all the time, I’d also largely forgotten which foods that I really enjoyed and didn’t, and which foods made me feel good and bad.