Did you know that there are 30 calories in a clementine orange? Roughly 110 in a medium-sized banana, 190 in 2 tablespoons of nut butter, 120 in three quarters cup Kashi heart cereal, zero in a black cup of coffee, 100 in a slice of standard, whole wheat bread, 35 in one serving of carrots, 170 in an ounce of dark chocolate, 80 in Danon Greek Light&Fit yogurt, 7 in one cup of spinach, 470 in a slice of Starbucks banana bread, and 140 in two graham crackers?
Did you know that 1 tablespoon of soy milk coffee creamer has 10 calories, or that 3 ounces of firm tofu has 70—more if you fry the tofu in oil. Or that a quarter cup of cashews has 170 calories, a stick of bubblegum has 10, a packet of sugar-free hot chocolate mix has 35, a six inch Subway veggie delight has 270?
Did you know an oreo quest bar has 190 calories, a medium sized apple has 80, a can of Coke 150, a half cup of chickpeas 130, 1 cup of raw brussel sprouts 40, a baguette from Panera 170? Or that 9 corn tortilla chips will cost you 140 calories, that half a medium avocado is about 125? Or that 3 ounces of salmon are 177 calories, a quarter pound burger (just the burger) is 250, a small order of McDonald's fries 230, 4 spears of dried mango 150, a slice of cheddar cheese 113?
For people who suffer from an eating disorder, it is impossible to order food at a restaurant and not think about how many calories are in the salad dressing, the pizza crust, the pasta. For years, I refused to buy anything without knowing its exact calorie count. There are millions of women and men who play this game, wearily counting calories, ignoring their hunger cues, despising their bodies for taking up space as if space is our most valuable commodity.
I used to wait tables a local diner that opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 2 p.m. Needless to say, a restaurant can be a hellish place to work for someone who considers food the enemy. One Saturday, two middle aged women came for lunch. One ordered a ham sandwich, no side thank you, and asked for a to-go box with the meal. She then carefully put half her sandwich away and slowly ate the rest. The woman she was with sighed wistfully and said, “You’ve got the best self-control Robin.”
Robin grinned proudly for a moment before her face sagged downward, “Yes well, it doesn’t seem to be helping any.”
Robin was a good dieter. The problem was simply that the diet wasn’t doing her any good.
As I refilled water classes and fetched crayons for moody kids, I tallied up the calories in her sandwich. Two slices of sourdough bread: 220 calories. Three thick slices of deli ham, 300 calories. Two slices of Swiss cheese: 200 calories. Two tablespoons of mayonnaise: 200 calories. Lettuce and tomato: nothing, I decided. There wasn’t enough on the sandwich to make a difference. Even so, the whole sandwich was 920 calories, so half was 460. 460 calories weren’t so bad, I figured, but 920 seemed awfully high for a sandwich. I made a mental note never to order sandwiches from restaurants that did not articulate caloric information in bright yellow lettering, right on the menu. The risk, I decided was just too high.
As I've moved through Recovery, I've stopped my practice of counting calories, but it wasn't, isn't easy. I attended weekly therapy for over 3 months before deleting MyFitnessPal's calorie counting app from my phone. That didn't really help though, because as this post conveys, I know the calorie content of so many foods that I was able to keep track without the app. How did I stop altogether?
Practice and therapy and self-love and relapse and practice.
I practiced listening to my body's hunger cues, practiced feeding myself enough. Re-learned what "enough" looked like, because I was used to eating far too little.
Learned that it's okay to be hungry, and it's okay to take up space. That my power is in who I am and what I do, not in what I look like or the shape of my body.
I had to unlearn the deeply rooted belief that the numbers must make sense-that if I could control the numbers going into me, and the number beneath me on a scale, everything would be okay.
I had to let go of the voices in my own head and the voices around me that constantly condoned disordered "diets." I had to learn that food is not my enemy, that it never was the enemy until I made it one.
P.S. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, call the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237. Find a comprehensive list of Eating Disorder Anonymous (EDA) meetings HERE. Find a quality treatment center near you, courtesy of Eating Disorder Hope, HERE.