Letting Go Of Numbers
When I was in the midst of my eating disorder, a number could make or break my day. If it was a particularly unwelcome number, my whole week would suffer.
Numbers took over my mind and structured my waking hours: the time taken to eat lunch, the hours at which it was acceptable to eat certain foods, the calories of each meal and snack.
While I can look back now and see the meaninglessness of these numbers, at the time, they felt more real than anything else. In a world that felt increasingly out of control, they became something to cling onto: tangible, measurable and solid. All hinged on these numbers, and if one fell out of place, it was as if everything would fall apart.
In a way, numbers were also integral to my recovery. I knew I couldn’t trust the image in the mirror or my felt sense of how much I had eaten that day, so calorie calculations and the number on the scale became - for me and for my treatment team - markers of progress.
That numbers are so ingrained in eating disorder treatment makes moving on from them and measuring your life in more enriching terms particularly challenging. In recovery, meal plans are often set on according to caloric intake. Weight targets are set, charts are drawn up and BMIs are calculated. You remain quantified, albeit in the service of a more positive goal.
When weight gain is of critical value to health, these numbers are of course
important. But they only tell one side of the story. Weight is not the sole marker
of sickness, and the reliance on indicators like BMIs in treatment can reinforce
a fixation on numbers and can exclude many from access to care.
We probably all have a bit of work to do when it comes to letting go of numbers,
a task made much more difficult by society’s increasing obsession with calorie
counting and step-tracking, and the reliance on weight in many treatment
programmes. One thing you can do right now is sign this petition, calling
on healthcare providers to stop using restricting treatment based on weight.
You can also sign this petition to stop the UK government from making
restaurants put calorie counts on their menus, which could be detrimental
for those with eating disorders.
What changes could you make in your own day-to-day life that might help you
find some freedom from numbers? Imagine what you could do with all that
brain power that is currently being used up counting calories or measuring
Here are some useful tips to help you let go of numbers for good:
Throw away your scales or give them to someone you trust to look after
If you’re being weighed as part of a care plan, try blind weigh-ins: these don’t work for everyone, and in the long run it’s important to confront and work through your fear of weight gain - but they be helpful in becoming less fixated on that number and disentangling the association between food and weight. You can always ask your practitioner to tell you if you go beyond a particular range.
Read up about set points and health at every size: essentially, we all have our own, genetically-determined weight ranges at which our body sits comfortably. There’s no one-size-fits-all healthy weight, and what a healthy weight means will be different for all of us.
Delete MyFitnessPal, burn your FitBit - essentially dispose of any device that’s enabling you to track your intake/exercise. If this feels impossible, see if you can go without it for one day. If this is manageable, keep building it up until you realise you don’t need it anymore and can use all that time spent tracking on activities that make you feel good about yourself and align more closely with your values.
If calorie counting is a problem for you, it can be helpful to to eat foods that can’t be easily calculated: a meal at a restaurant with no calories on the menu, a home cooked meal cooked by a family member. Letting go of the control might be difficult at first, but ultimately it will be so liberating.
And if you really must count something, here are some things to count that aren’t calories...
Holiday days from work
How many books you can read this year
Your favourite films
Days until Christmas
Sheep when you can’t sleep
Things you’re grateful for
Your breath when you’re feeling anxious