The Numbers Game

Planning of dietCalories in, calories out, weight, clothing size, waist size, portion size, measurements, BMI, weight watchers points, time spent exercising…..numbers. Do any of these numbers mean something to you? Have they played a significant part in your decisions about food, exercise or health? Have they been beneficial or harmful? Many people choose to manage their health and weight by controlling numbers. In the end this becomes a time consuming and stressful process that doesn’t reap any benefits.

Health isn’t determined by a set of numbers, and you won’t suddenly feel better because you are a certain size or because you consumed a certain number of calories. Health is about caring for yourself, and it is about wellbeing in a whole range of areas. We don’t arrive at health, rather it is continual life journey where we prioritise looking after our self because of our values not because of a set of numbers.

Unfortunately, many people manage their weight through following numerous diets. As stated in previous blog posts, diets are dangerous and instead of improving health they cause a lot of harm. We also need to remember, that science has proven that diets don’t work. Diets are based on numbers and rules and therefore they create a great divide between your internal regulation cues and your mind (the choices you make). We are not robots that can be controlled by a set of formulas and numbers. They don’t lead to sustainable change and they don’t lead to improved health outcomes.

One of the most common ways people use numbers to control their health is by calorie counting. Calorie counting involves setting a limit of calories you can consume on a daily basis and then all you have to do is stick to this limit by adding up all the calories you consume throughout the day. How can that be harmful, you might say?

Let’s examine how calorie counting negatively impacts our relationship with food and our body. Calorie counting gives people a false sense of control over their food intake and weight. How can we possibly determine and control how much fuel and nutrients our body needs on a daily basis? Did you know that there is no scientific evidence to support calorie counting as a form of weight management? It simply doesn’t work and isn’t accurate at all. All the numbers on nutritional labels are estimates. They can never account for the seasonal fluctuations of nutrients in food. In addition, there are so many factors that determine how much fuel and nutrients the human body needs on a daily basis. Calorie counting suggests we need the same amount of energy every day, however our nutrient and energy requirements fluctuate. The consequence of relying on calorie counting is that it prevents us from listening to our body’s natural rhythm and therefore we miss all its signals (hunger, fullness, thirst, tiredness etc.). We become disconnected from our body which makes it very difficult to accurately listen and respond to the natural fluctuations in energy requirements. Relying on calorie counting will lead you to over or under estimating how much fuel our body needs. In addition to its inaccuracy, calorie counting also removes the joy associated with eating. Removing the joy of eating can cause physical and emotional deprivation. Which we know can trigger emotional eating patterns. Rather than giving you control over your health and weight, calorie counting actually gets you to work against your body instead than with it. It doesn’t allow you to build a sense of trust with your body, which is essential for intuitive eating.

The second most common way of using numbers to determine health, is by valuing the number on the scales. Unfortunately many people feel that the number on the scale is a very important number. For some people if they don’t weigh a particular number they will feel devastated and it will impact their self-confidence and esteem. The fact is that our weight will fluctuate on a daily basis according to time, temperature, hormones, fluid levels, whether you’ve opened your bowels etc. It saddens me that for many people the focus on weight becomes such a pursuit or focus, that they lose sight of all other aspects of life. The fact is that the number on the scales does not determine your value or worth. It does not determine your personality, skills, values, and health. There is so much more to health than weight. When we become free of the pursuit of numbers, we can truly eat in an intuitive way, take care of ourselves and live by our values. This is where health and wellbeing begin.

So here are some questions to get you thinking about what is driving your health goals.

  • Do you feel that you will only be healthy once you reach a certain weight?
  • Do you find yourself focusing more on calories in food, rather than eating mindfully and enjoying food?
  • How much time and energy does calorie counting take?
  • Have you found that your diet rules or calorie counting taking too much priority and distract you from more important values?
  • Do you feel physically and emotionally deprived when you follow your diet rules?
  • Are you pushing yourself with exercise just to meet a target and losing all enjoyment when exercising?
  • Are you exercising even when exhausted?
  • Do your diet rules impact your social interactions?