Do you track what you eat? Wear a fitness watch? Like a long streak? Lots of us love a good graph but it can be dangerous too. Achieving measures and collecting data can be addictive – to your detriment.
When I help people learn to eat well, one of the things that surprises them is the lack of counting. It’s all about nutrients, pleasure, satisfaction and health, caring for yourself with real food, with not a calorie in sight. Calories are all very well as a physics measure of energy but they tell you nothing about biology or how your body uses different types of foods in different ways. Counting them tends to drive people towards bad food choices.
Most diets are based on calorie restriction, even if they disguise that by using measures like points. So dieters head for lower calorie foods and manufactured food-like products. Often these are low in fat, so valuable nutrients are lost.
Natural fats like butter, lard, dripping, olive oil and coconut oil are useful to the body.
- We need fat soluble vitamins.
- We don’t absorb minerals as well without fats.
- Fats boost our metabolic rate so we burn more energy. Depression of metabolism caused by calorie restriction is one of the key reasons that dieters stall/plateau and then regain weight.
- And fats add flavour which is why low-fat and fat-free products have to be loaded with sugar, sweeteners and flavouring chemicals.
The supermarket section labelled as healthy contains many products that are bad for you.
Pausing midway through a film to boil the kettle, I caught a few minutes of a BBC3 programme about eating disorders. A girl was saying that having put on weight as a student boozing and eating kebabs she started using a food-tracking app. I suppose the same thing happens with these apps as other types of scrolling, addiction to likes and other built-in artificial rewards. It’s all designed to keep you doing the next thing, and the next, making it hard to control or to stop. The girl became obsessed with her food app and lost so much weight her periods stopped and a year later they still haven’t restarted, although thankfully she’s eating again.
The same day I had been speaking to someone who had read that the fitness apps, exercise trackers and watches that people wear has made them over-exercise at times when their bodies really wanted to rest and this has exacerbated chronic post viral fatigue (including long-covid).
Like so many things that ‘everybody knows’ the 10,000 steps a day has no science behind it at all. It was marketing by a Japanese company that manufactures pedometers. Yes, it’s good to walk. No, it is not good to feel forced to do a certain number of steps each day, regardless of how you feel. And there are better types of exercise that get neglected because apps reward you for consecutive days of doing the same thing. Research shows aerobic exercise on its own reduces your all-cause mortality by 16% and strength training one its own reduces it by 21%, whereas if you do both, you reduce your all-cause mortality by 29%.
Not only that but exercising every day can be counter productive. The benefits come during the recovery phase, so you need days off or to change the part of the body you work on. Here’s a study showing muscle weakness caused by 3 days of consecutive exercise.
When I was competing internationally (and also had a very demanding full-time job) I kept records, even created a visual monthly training records chart to identify training patterns leading to better performance.
I certainly trained at times when it would have been better not to – even when injured, which caused me damage as well as pain (more fool me).
The morning of writing this blog post I slept in. Weirdly, even though I work for myself, I still feel guilty about things like that, such are the expectations on us to work hard all the time. But truthfully, with plenty of time to prepare for someone coming later in the morning, it wasn’t a problem. No need to crack the whip.
It’s a part of human nature to push ourselves to do more and now it’s been made worse by tech.
Time to take back control of our lives and not be told what to do and when to do it. Ditch the apps sometimes – at a weekend or for a week or a month or forever.
Time to listen to our bodies, be kind, recognise that we change day to day and sometimes rest is good.
Be Free From Counting
I help people to change their relationship with food so that they are not trapped in a prison made of numbers. Your body’s needs won’t be the same every day or in every situation. There’s no need to be trapped in a rigid ‘on it – off it’ diet mentality. Rather than fighting against yourself with miserable, strict denial you can listen to your body and provide nutrition in a caring, flexible way.
Top tip: Set yourself free from the tyranny of counting.