Safety in Numbers: Calorie Obsession

by Sarah on February 26, 2013 · 38 comments

It starts off innocently enough.

As anyone who is anyone even somewhat educated in healthy eating knows, reading nutritional labels is the first step to making smart choices in your diet.

Over time, perhaps, you start to focus in on certain aspects of the label: calcium, iron, fat, sodium, protein, calories.

Then you might start to wonder about foods without nutritional labels.

Out of curiosity, you might google ‘nutritional information of ____________,’ filling in the blank with whatever fruit or vegetable is currently tickling your fancy.

The discrepancies you find won’t bother you. For the most part, you’ll believe what you read.

Educating yourself about a food’s nutritional value is very different from educating yourself about its numerical values, but that line might slowly start to get a bit blurry.

You’ll start to build up a miniature warehouse of knowledge about everything you are eating: which foods will give you iron and calcium, which ones will raise or lower cholesterol, which foods have the ‘healthy fats’ that your body needs.

And you’ll also start to memorize–unwittingly, perhaps–calories.

It won’t take over your life or anything.

You’ll start to roughly gauge the numbers of your lunch, even when it consists mostly of–dare I say frickin‘?–vegetables.

As a food blogger, you also consider yourself a recipe developer. You’ll probably start to wonder about the nutritional content of your own recipes.

Smart, right?

There are now apps for that.

You’ll measure out ingredients more carefully, and keep track of what food goes into a pot…and how much food comes out.

Those apps also let you track your daily caloric intake.

Again, the discrepancies among contributions to the site/app won’t matter. They’ll give you at least a general idea of what you are eating.

As though what you are eating is a number.

(I thought what you were eating was food?)You’ll just ‘eyeball’ it at first.

After all, as anyone who is anyone studying healthy eating knows–yet again–developing a sense of portion control is crucial to well-being, right?

That’s probably 1/2 cup of rice…That looks like 1 cup of Cheerios…I think I scooped out about 1/4 cup of hummus into that bowl…Criminy! I probably just ate 1/3 cup of peanut butter!

You’ll still go out to eat, of course, and you might even go to some amazing food tasting events.

No way of knowing exactly what you are taking in–I mean, aside from what the food is of course–and you won’t get too caught up in it at the time. You’ll still enjoy every bite of bacon, every tantalizing sweet treat.

But later…later, you’ll make some guesses. You’ll try to figure out what you ate, and how much of it.

It will become like a little game. A numbers game. And you always loved math.*

*Well, maybe not calculus. Unless it was that song by 2Ge+her. You + Me = Us.

And when you think that a kitchen scale will be a brilliant gift–after all, don’t all healthy foodies have one?–you’ll start to measure more than just ingredients for recipes.

Grams and ounces, ounces and grams.

One day it will hit you:  you are eating like you are on a diet.

But you’re not.

Or you shouldn’t be.

You still don’t freak out if you aren’t 100% sure what you’ve eaten at a restaurant.

So it’s not a problem, right?

And when you travel, or go to parties, you won’t measure or track rigidly either.It will feel great. (Obviously.)

But you’ll always fall back on the safety in numbers.

But it is a false sense of security. (What do all those numbers REALLY mean?) And one that can get a little out of control.

You’ll know it’s time to change when you don’t even want to scrape off the most delicious part of a loaf of cranberry orange bread from the plate because you wonder if you should be trying to record it.Or when you find yourself throwing a few chunks of roasted rutabaga or a couple of blueberries on the scale, ‘just to see how much they weigh.’

And you’ll say to yourself, repeatedly, for months, “I really don’t need to be keeping track of what I’m eating so rigidly.” But you won’t stop.

It’s an addiction. And not a healthy one.

So. The counting? The tracking? For me, it has to stop.