While I was in school to become a dietitian and was training for a marathon (Goofy in particular), I got in the habit of tracking what I ate in MyFitnessPal. Not so much to make sure I ate less, but to make sure I ate ENOUGH. While it is true that most people gain weight when training for a marathon because of the free thinking of running warrants eating whatever you want, this is not always the case. When I was training for Goofy, I was following a fairly strict plant-based runners diet that filled me up on fewer calories, so I was struggling to maintain my weight. And yes, part of me was happy with this change. But I also knew I needed to eat enough to fuel the extra distance that this training required. I wasn’t just doing one long run on the weekends. I was doing two to mimic race day.
Nothing I was doing seemed unhealthy. I was consuming what I needed. I was feeling good. I was, however, spending almost all my free time thinking about what I was going to eat next, when I was going to prep it, what I needed to buy at the store. I made everything from scratch (crackers, cereal, sauces). I worked from home when I wasn’t traveling, and the husband was traveling so much, I mostly had to worry about my own meals. So I had the time to spend my energy on this. I was also living in Chicago, walking everywhere, and practicing hot vinyasa yoga twice a week.
So yes, it was helpful to track my calories to ensure I ate enough.
Fast forward three years, and I was still tracking my meals. When I wrote out my meal plan for the week, I input all my recipes into MyFitnessPal and planned out what I was going to eat for each meal. This helped me not waste food, as I was able to plan out how many meals of food I had to eat within the week. It also helped me not have to think about what I was going to make at mealtime. The app just told me, and I followed it without thinking. I was so used to planning things this way, that when I got pregnant and found myself not interested in food or meal planning, I ended up kind of lost. My phone wasn’t telling me what to eat anymore.
I eventually got back in a meal prep routine and continued to track, estimating the extra calories I needed for growing a baby.
And then I actually HAD a baby.
No one has time to plan and track all their meals with a newborn. Your only goal is when you can sleep. People are bringing you meals, so you don’t have to think about food.
But I also found myself STARVING. All the time. Breastfeeding hunger is REAL. I had snacks next to my chair for each middle of the night feeding. The people who brought me those snacks were my best friends.
Once I got back into (very slowly) running again, the hunger only increased. I realized I needed to start tracking again to make sure I was eating ENOUGH. Or at least that’s what I told myself. The hunger eventually subsided as I figured out how much extra I needed to fuel my current lifestyle.
I continued on this way for a while. Until I started seeing counseling clients again. I don’t have clients track meals. I encourage them to listen to their body, their hunger and satiety cues. What does your body need from you today? Is it a salad? Or is it cake? Whatever it is, go eat that. Savor it. Enjoy it. And move on.
So why wasn’t I taking my own advice? What happened?
I looked back over the past few years and realized that the breakdown from me listening to my own body’s cues for what to eat to relying on an app for every meal had happened without me even realizing it. I really do LOVE food and the whole process that comes with eating. Planning, shopping, cooking. The feeling you get when you prepare just enough and have everything ready for the week and then seeing the empty fridge on Saturday before starting over again. I have this crazy JOY in all of it. But somehow I had twisted that love into this reliance on an app instead of honoring my own body’s needs. I was practicing, in theory, a twisted form of dieting. I was limiting what I ate to what I had pre-scheduled out, based on my caloric needs for the day. No, I wasn’t restricting overall calories. I was making a plan based on an adequate amount for my current stage of life and activity. But I was addicted to those numbers. In hitting them, in making sure I had the right amount and balance of nutrients each day. That I drank enough water. It is possible to have disordered eating around a healthy diet. And I had suddenly found myself on the edge of something that could have very easily gotten way worse. It’s easy for any of us to do. But as dietitians, people look at what we eat A LOT. They assume we eat perfectly all the time. That we eat only kale salad and green smoothies. (Guess what? We don’t!)
Right then and there, I quit. Cold turkey. I made a split second decision to just stop. App deleted off my phone. I got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote out my meals and grocery list for the week the old-fashioned way.
It was honestly, very strange at first. Not necessarily hard. Just different. I relied on that written down menu A LOT the first week. I just had this compulsive need to know what meal was next. And then thought to myself, WHY? Why did I know what I was going to eat for lunch? Why couldn’t I just make what I wanted when lunch time came around? The learning curve for me took some time. To remember to just eat what sounded good in that moment with what I had. Granted, I don’t keep a ton of food on hand in the house. I like to keep a lean pantry and fridge to avoid waste. But of all the things we did have, I still had a variety of options to choose from each day. I could afford to not plan out every single meal.
After a few weeks of writing everything down, I slowly ditched that as well. It wasn’t as intentional as it was time-saving. I just didn’t have the time to sit and plan everything out anymore. I had a set grocery list of things we bought every single week. And then I just bought a few extra things that sounded good at the time. On Sundays, when I planned out my schedule for the week, I wrote down in my calendar a rough dinner plan. And that was it. That’s where I am at today. No formal menu. No real grocery list. Just a handful of staples plus some extras. Sometimes I pick out a handful of recipes for the week. Sometimes we do Hello Fresh all week. It all works out. No one is starving. Even jumping back into marathon training, I have enough fuel and energy to succeed in my workouts.
I have clients that ask me if I want them to keep a food diary. Or if I can just tell them what to eat. It seems so much easier to have someone else, or something else, dictate it for you. But there is no JOY in that. Yes, it may help you with your short-term goals. There is a place and a purpose for tracking intake. I do 24 hour food recalls with all my new clients to get an idea of their usual dietary patterns as we get started on their goals. But every day, mapping out meals, is just not worth the time or the energy. Let’s get back to what our body needs today. It’s smart. It will tell us. We just have to learn to listen and interpret what it’s telling us.
Sound to good to be true? If you’re ready to change how you look at food and meal planning, I’d love to talk to you! Leave a comment below, or schedule a quick chat with me here.