Start by getting into your car. Drive to the nearest dumpster and throw in your Fitbit. And throw in anything you use to count calories too.
Really, you don’t need this stuff and, frankly, these types of devices and apps could really mess you up. According to a recent study article published in the scientific journal Eating Behaviors (1):
“Individuals who reported using calorie trackers manifested higher levels of eating concern and dietary restraint, controlling for BMI [body-mass index]. Additionally, fitness tracking was uniquely associated with ED [eating disorder] symptomatology after adjusting for gender and bingeing and purging behavior within the past month. Findings highlight associations between use of calorie and fitness trackers and eating disorder symptomatology.”
For emphasis: “Findings highlight associations between use of calorie and fitness trackers and eating disorder symptomatology.”
You might find this surprising because there’s a pervasive paradigm that exists that tells us that anything that gets a person to eat less and move more is helpful. This is a faulty paradigm. (Stick with me for a few minutes; I’m going to tell you about a much better one.)
I’m not surprised that the use of movement trackers and calorie counters is associated with the development of eating disorders. Nor are many of my colleagues (physicians, other wellness coaches, and other wellness professionals) when I talk with them about the results of this study. To those of us who work closely with people on adopting great wellness habits, this is a no-brainer. We’ve seen these types of approaches fail miserably more times than we can count. We also see them cause a great deal of harm on a regular basis.
What did you think was going to happen when you rewarded people for taking steps and for not-eating? This is a simple Pavlovian effect. Each time they step, bing, they get a reward. Each time they not-eat, bing, they get a reward. It might sound pretty good to you so far, but in practice, this gets real ugly real fast for many people. There’a an important perspective you must take to really get what can go wrong here: Anyone with any insecurity (there’s a lot of that around here), could have trouble stopping. They’ll keep stepping away and not-eating away while you throw them doggie treats. And if I can take 5,000 steps, maybe I can take 10,000. Maybe 20,000. Maybe 50,000. If I can keep myself under 1,500 calories, maybe I can stay under 1,400. Maybe 1,300. Maybe I can fast one day per week. That’s a zero-calorie day. Then I’ll be doing really good.
This thinking happens. All the time.
Sure, most people using these methods don’t develop full-on eating disorders. However, millions of people live with an inordinate amount of self-oppression as they become calories-in, calories-out automatons. (If this resonates with you, hang tight. There’s a much better way to take care of yourself and that’s where we’re headed. By the way, I wouldn’t actually call the “calories-in, calories-out” approach a method of self-care; I’d call it a method of self-domination.)
“Eat less, move more” is the mantra of this often well-intentioned, but thoroughly misguided paradigm behind these devices and apps. Most people say it like this to themselves: “Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard).” The part in parentheses isn’t usually said in words, but it’s often very much there in spirit. People often say to me, “I know what I need to do: Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard).” I can feel their self-loathing when the say it.
I never like hearing this. Honestly, it always makes me very sad. I was a fat teenager. And when I didn’t get any support from the adults in my life, I turned to our society for the solution. Our society shouted back meanly, “Eat less (you gluttonous pig), move more (you lazy bastard)!” And since no one was offering a better solution, or any other solution at all, “eat less, move more” became my mantra.
Those were some hard times. My self-talk transformed from that of what you’d expect of an adventurous, life-loving young man to that of what you’d expect from a harsh taskmaster. I wasn’t in harmony with myself at all. I was controlling myself with a berating tone. I wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on anyone. In fact, I’d like to turn it around or prevent it for as many people as I can.
Of course, discipline is a useful trait, but it so easily slip-slides into self-domination and self-oppression for so many as studies are revealing. Another 2017 study article published in the scientific journal Eating Behaviors (2) looked at the calorie-counting feature of the My Fitness Pal (I think you need better friends) app. Here’s what the researchers found:
“We found that a substantial percentage (~75%) of participants used My Fitness Pal and that 73% of these users perceived the app as contributing to their eating disorder. Furthermore, we found that these perceptions were correlated with eating disorder symptoms. This research suggests that My Fitness Pal is widely used in an eating disorder population and is perceived as contributing to eating disorder symptoms.”
For emphasis: “This research suggests that My Fitness Pal is widely used in an eating disorder population and is perceived as contributing to eating disorder symptoms.”
Science is bringing a very important issue to the forefront. “Eat less, move more” is extremely dangerous. Besides, it’s a faulty paradigm based on entirely false premises.
First, it’s based on the premise that human nature is to eat more than one needs to eat and cause themselves great harm and therefore people need massive restraint and the tools that teach massive restraint in order to eat well.
Second, it’s based on the premise that human nature is sit around all day long and therefore people need every form of carrot and stick possible to get them off the couch and doing something for crying out loud.
People, like all other animals, have evolved to enjoy and nourish themselves with food and to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. That’s our nature. Two factors of modern life have converged to create the possibility and the reality of overeating for many people.
The first factor is fake food. Fake food, junk food, industrial food, whatever you want to call it, is 95 percent of what you find in food stores, including places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market by the way. It’s all of the lifeless, barely perishable “food” that makes up almost all of the over 45,000 “foods” sold in most food stores. Fake food is so adulterated that it never truly satisfies. There’s a reason No One Can Eat Just One. There’s a reason you can’t stop eating fake food. It isn’t providing your body, you, with what you need. When you eat fake food of any kind, your body “says” to you: “Thanks for the energy. I appreciate it. But I also need some magnesium, some zinc, some vitamin A, and could you pick up some vitamin C on your way home, honey. We’re way low.” When your body needs nutrients, it “speaks” only one language: hunger. Since fake food is extremely nutrient-sparse, and can never truly satisfy you, it will always leave you hungry. Real food, on the other hand, is extremely satisfying. I dare you to even try to eat two pounds of broiled salmon or four pears or a whole bowl of guacamole. You won’t be able to do it (unless you push hard past your body’s clear signals that it’s satisfied and had enough which I obviously don’t recommend). Your body will “tell” you in no uncertain terms that you’ve had enough. When you eat six or eight or 10 ounces of salmon or maybe some scallops, or when you eat two apples or maybe a big bowl of berries, you stop wanting them. It’s the exact opposite effect of eating LAY’S Potato Chips. Back to guacamole (a dish usually made from real food like onions, tomatoes, and garlic, along with avocados of course). You might be thinking that you could eat chips and guacamole all day long. And, alas, you have seen the light. Chips, even the organic, gluten-free ones, are fake food with very few nutrients. Fake food never satisfies. Real food (like real community, real friends, and real life partners by the way) always satisfies. Always. Fake food (and all things fake) never satisfy and always leaves us wanting more. The invention of fake food created the phenomenon of overeating.
The second factor is chronic stress. Chronic stress, most commonly stemming from relationships and work lives that don’t meet a person’s needs, alters one’s normal appetite-satiety response via “emotional”* eating. This is eating when one is bored, lonely, stressed, and/or tired, but not hungry. Chronic stress isn’t an aspect of modern life, it is modern life for far too many people. In short, chronic stress lowers one’s levels of reward chemicals (dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, etc.). That feels bad and these bad feelings are your body’s way of nudging you to meet your needs. You might need more intimacy in your friendships. You might need more meaning in your work. Both of those would boost your levels of reward chemicals and have you feeling good. But eating some cookies does the job too. Really. Food makes you feel good. And, sugary junk food makes you feel really good really fast because it rapidly increases your levels of reward chemicals. But the high only lasts a few minutes. Then you need more. So you overeat. The invention of fake food created overeating, and the expansion of chronic stress as a way of life took overeating to a whole ‘nother level.
Now let’s talk about movement. When I visit my brother Jeff’s family, this is how it typically goes down. I pull up to their house and before I can put my car in park, my niece Julia and my nephew Jack are running toward my car. I get out and pick them up and hug them and in about 60 seconds flat, we’re into our first activity: the bouncy game. That’s the one where I hold Julia and bounce her up and down on the couch. Then Jack when he shouts, “My turn!” Then Julia again, upside down this time. I sit down to rest, and Jack asks excitedly, “Want to put out some fires, Uncle Jason?” We run through the house together. He’s on Engine 34, I’m on Ladder 12, and we find fires all over the house one after the other. As soon as we get our trucks back into the firehouse (the one we made out of blocks), Jack shouts, “Fire in the kitchen!” and we’re off again. This continues nearly all day. I get small breaks for reading them a book or putting together a puzzle, but most of the day, we’re running around, wrestling, putting on a rock concert, or something like that. My point: It’s human nature to move around. It’s only the sit-down, shut-up factory-education system and other cultural factors that train us to be sedentary. Labor-saving devices have created the notion that there’s really no reason to move around and use our bodies to do something, when a machine can do it. But even this doesn’t take away most peoples innate desire not only to move around, but to enjoy moving around. What are people doing in retirement communities? People who have all the time in the world to do whatever they please? Many are playing golf, swimming, going for walks. Most people like to move around throughout the life cycle, from childhood to old age.
People don’t need to be forced to “Eat less, move more!” They don’t need to be poked and prodded. It’s harmful and it’s not even necessary.
In other words, we don’t need to “whip ourselves into shape”. Let the spirit of that phrase really wash over you for a moment. Consider the use of the word “whip”. Does this paradigm serve us? Is it even humane?
So if you’re not as lean, fit, happy, and healthy as you want to be, and if “eat less, move more” isn’t the answer, what are you to do? What are you to say to yourself?
I offer you the wellness mantra of the 21st century: “Nourishing movement, nourishing food, nourishing life!”
You leave self-domination and self-oppression at the door and you nourish yourself with movement, food, and lots more. You truly care for yourself.
Let’s get specific:
- Identify some types of movement that you enjoy. I know you enjoy some movement. Just like Julia and Jack, you were born to move. Strip away all the bullshit “no pain, no gain” programming you received from physical-education classes, sports, terrible gym programs, your parents, and your culture at large. Underneath it, what forms of movement do you enjoy? Still not sure? Try some new things. Go for a hike. Take a dance class. Learn to play racquetball. Walk to work. Or walk with your family after dinner. Don’t settle until your doing movement you enjoy. That’s nourishing movement. You see the clear difference, right? You’re not doing this to burn calories. You’re not doing this to prove to yourself or anyone else that you can suffer. You’re doing this to nourish yourself with movement. This is no-pain, all-gain exercise.
- Start eating lots of real food. Shop the perimeter of the food store. Or do like I do and shop at the farmers’ market where there isn’t any fake food to be found. Turn your kitchen into a farm-to-table restaurant. Make dishes you find delicious. Savor them with your close ones. That’s nourishing food! The difference is clear here too, right? You’re not doing this to limit your caloric intake. You’re not doing this to be “on” some rigid diet/cleanse/detox/fast. You’re doing this to nourish yourself with food. This is dogma-free, enjoyment-full eating.
- Take care of you. Yes, you. Get the sleep you need. Get the rest you need. These next two parts are very simple, hardly ever easy, but so worth it and key to your well-being. First, go for, and create what you really want in your relationships. Second, go for, and create what you really want in your work life. How fulfilling your relationships and work life directly impacts your well-being in massive ways. You’re so much more than a calories-in, calories-out automaton; you’re an amazing person. Seriously, you rock, and no one deserves to have their needs met more than you do. Meeting all of your needs—all of your needs—is what wellness is about. Embracing your humanity and meeting your personal needs for meditation, solitude, time in nature, creating art, taking in art, hobbies, volunteering, relaxation techniques, and spirituality all play a role in you being your best, in you thriving. That’s nourishing life!
Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better?
This is self-care. This is doing things for yourself, not to yourself.
I invite you to reflect on this new paradigm and consider how it feels to you.
I know for some of you, this will definitely resonate. Others will still be tempted by the “eat less, move more” paradigm, it’s devices and apps, it’s pervasive advertising. I know the person in the Fitbit add has a great ass and a great smile to boot. They look so healthy and so happy. I get it. Do you remember the Marlboro man?
People in cigarette ads always look life their lives rock too. Can you say emphysema, lung cancer, and premature death? Ads can be (often are) deceiving. Don’t be fooled by the Fitbit ads. Listen to the science. Twenty years from now, it’ll be mainstream knowledge that these devices, apps, and approaches are terribly damaging. People doing it today are just like the physicians who used to smoke in their offices. We know better now. (The scientific studies I’ve described and cited in this article make it perfectly clear.) I’m saving you 20 years on this one by letting you know now. Stay on the cutting edge with me. Be free. Live well. Enjoy life. Thrive.
Author’s Note: I’m not attacking the businesses or products mentioned in this article. I have no interest in attacking people, businesses, industries, products, or services. I have great interest in dismantling harmful ideas and paradigms and introducing life-giving ideas and paradigms and presenting them as an option for people.
Author’s Note: Children are being harmed by the antiquated, failing paradigm of “eat less, move more” too. Check out this important article put out recently by the National Eating Disorders Association.
*I put “emotional” in quotes in when using the term “emotional” eating because there’s no separation between our “physical”, “emotional”, and “mental” existence and our “physical”, “mental”, and “emotional” processes and “emotional” eating clearly has overlapping emotional, physical, and mental components.
1) Calorie Counting and Fitness Tracking Technology: Associations with Eating Disorder Symptomatology. Eating Behaviors, 2017, 26, 89-92.
2) My Fitness Pal Calorie Tracker Usage in the Eating Disorders. Eating Behaviors, 2017, 27, 14-16.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.
There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.