I really didn’t intend to write this post, but there are a few things I can’t get out of my brain. See, over at Shapely Prose there’s a post about pamphlets being given to 9- and 10-year-old girls in “health” class. The pamphlet directs these girls to this ridiculous article, the alternate title of which should really be “Eating Disorders in Nine Absurd Steps.” This is a site run by Tampax, y’all; ponder the weirdness of the leading producer of sanitary supplies giving out advice that could lead to the delay or cessation of menstrual periods.
I have many, many things to say about this article. I might address them all here or I might spare you guys a 5,000-word post and just write about the thing that I’m finding most irksome: that stupid advice about writing down every single thing you eat:
2.Write down everything you eat. Icky, we know, but we also know there’s no better substitute (except looking at yourself in the mirror naked), that’s better than tracking what goes into your mouth to get you into the habit of thinking before you eat.
I don’t know why this little nugget of wisdom is so persistent, but I do know that I am fucking sick of it. As advice for rapidly growing girls on the cusp of puberty, I find it disingenuous at best and incredibly harmful at worst. As an adult with a brain and most of her food issues behind her, I find it really offensive. What’s the purpose of writing down everything you eat? Oh, right — to scare yourself into eating less. Okay, Tampax, I’ll give it a whirl.
Today I had a dark chocolate peppermint mocha frappuccino and two smallish homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, four Keebler Grasshopper cookies a couple of hours later, and a big Romaine/spinach/avocado/tomato salad with Caesar vinaigrette. I’ve had two Diet Cokes, a bottle of water, and a big iced tea. I’m going to have corned beef and roasted potatoes for dinner, and I’ll probably have a ginger snap or two afterward. It’s likely that I’ll eat a bag of microwave popcorn sometime around midnight, and I’ll probably have more water, Diet Coke, and tea — I like to have a steady stream of hydration and caffeine at all times.
What do I notice here? The first thing I notice is that this all looks like a lot more food when written down than it was when I ate it. I notice sugar, fat, carbs! I notice multiple between-meal snacks! OMG I’M EATING TOO MUCH. What I don’t notice is that my caloric intake so far is about 900 calories and that I’ll probably round out nicely at about 1700 calories after dinner and my bedtime snack. I don’t notice that I’ve eaten healthy fats, lots and lots of vitamins and antioxidants, a good amount of fiber, energy-providing sugar, and some tasty protein. The list doesn’t show how satisfied and energetic I feel, the great condition of my skin and hair, or my healthy teeth. The list doesn’t show my formidable biceps, my strong legs, or my quicksilver brain.
I can look over that list and see a gazillion places where I could cut back tomorrow. I could downsize my frappuccino to a black coffee, eat only one tiny cinnamon roll, eliminate the cookies, and leave the avocado and dressing off my salad. I could grill a skinless chicken breast for dinner and eat it with more (plain) salad, eat only one cup of (dry) popcorn, and go to bed feeling… what? Hungry, unsatisfied, paranoid, and obsessed. Who wants to bet that I’d wake up still hungry, still paranoid, still obsessed, and oh yeah — still fat? After a few days of this I could be all of that and exhausted, sallow, lank-haired, dull-witted, and crabby. After a few weeks of this particular hell, I might be a couple of pounds lighter.
The list doesn’t take into account my body’s needs. The reality is that even if I do nothing more vigorous than lying in bed 24 hours a day, my body needs about 1600 calories just to function. The list doesn’t show what I’m using all that food for — even on the injured list, I’m pretty active. I play with Connor; we go for rambling walks around the neighborhood, race about the yard, and wrestle around the living room. I go about my daily routine, which includes pretty vigorous cleaning, lifting, dashing to and fro, and sex. I exercise on purpose: Pilates, running, and jumping rope when I’m well, but even with a sprained ankle I still do Pilates and a lot of walking. I use my brain all day, every day, for writing and joking and organizing and planning. None of these things would be possible were I to deny my body what it needs.
So how do I know what my body needs? It tells me, that’s how. I get tired and thirsty when I’m not properly hydrated. I get hungry when I don’t eat often enough. I get dizzy when my blood sugar is low. I crave nice big salads for lunch when I haven’t been getting enough iron or folic acid, and avocados sound really good when I need some good old-fashioned fat. Tender, juicy steaks make me salivate when I need protein. Ice-cold milk sounds delicious when I’m low on calcium. Do you see a trend here?
I eat what I want when I want it. This despite the fact that I’m a) not growing anymore, b) several years past puberty, and c) overweight. The end result is that I am healthy, capable, strong, alert, satisfied, and productive — fat or no fat. Now, can you imagine telling a growing child who is on the cusp of puberty that she shouldn’t eat what her body says it needs? That, in effect, she shouldn’t be aiming for that same end result? Can you imagine being that young girl and having your teacher advocate this scare tactic? What a message to send — that the end goal of eating, for young girls, should be to not eat.
You know what, Tampax? You fail. I wrote down everything I ate and I’m still not scared enough to starve.
The rest of that article is just as bad; the very first piece of “advice” given to these girls is that when they get hungry, they should force themselves to wait at least thirty minutes before eating. If you get the chance, please hop on over there and send the writers a huge STFU.