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An Open Letter to Calories

It is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I won’t go into the details now, but I have struggled with disordered eating for much of my life. Some of the issues I am only just now starting to confront, thanks to a wonderful show and blog called Size Ate and some relapsing of old disordered habits earlier in the year. I am working on developing the traits of “evolved eating” that I believe we are all born with–eating what I want when I am hungry and stopping when I am satisfied. I have always been the type who enjoys eating smaller amounts at several intervals throughout the day, yet due to social conditioning and starvation patterns, I pretty much lost touch with my body’s nutritive clock. I’d focus so much on making sure I was eating only “healthy” foods or the right number of calories that I didn’t think to just listen to what my body wanted. Sure, maybe one day it’s all bread and sweets, but the next day it’s usually all salad and apples. Over the course of the week, it tends to balance out. It’s pretty amazing what bodies can do. Since I’ve stopped trying to diet, I’ve actually lost about 4 pounds. I am no longer starving myself and then over eating, but letting my body do what it needs to do. It’s difficult sometimes, but it gets easier.

As I’ve become more aware of the way our culture characterizes food and eating, I’ve noticed how much we obsess about calories. Even systems like Weight Watchers which claims not to be a “diet” puts so much emphasis on “points” which is just another name for calories. It’s just another way to drive us crazy. It’s time calories got an apology. After all, what have they ever done to us? Saying that calories make people fat is like saying that pencils make spelling errors.


Dear Calories,
Thank you for existing. Thank you for continually fueling our bodies, nourishing them, repairing them in sickness and health, good times and bad. Thank you for existing sparingly in fresh, crunchy celery stalks and abundantly in decadent peanut butter brownies. You allow us to dance, breathe, cry, laugh and be. You do your job well.    You and I haven’t always gotten along. Over and over again, I tried to pluck you out of my life completely. I longed for absolute control over you; I thought I could do your job better, thought I could live happier without your help. I saw you as the enemy, an evil collection of digits maniacally scribbled over and over again on the corners of my notebooks, repeated like a mantra under my breath while I watched the digits on the scale drop. With every hour spent on the elliptical, every meal skipped I pushed you farther and farther away while my body yearned for you more and more. Eventually, we reconciled our differences. You helped me rebuild and I learned to live with you again. I turned myself, my own mind and body, into the subject of my fear instead. I sometimes ate too much of you to hide my uncertainties. I still didn’t trust you, but I trusted myself less. Caught in an endless cycle of staying far away from you and getting just a little too close,  I decided once and for all, to break free.
You get such a bad rap, little friends. Our culture perpetually counts you, the fewer the better, like you are the difficult variable in the equation for happiness. Instead of enjoying our brownies, we swallow them with a horse pill of guilt and a spoonful of promises:  No carbs for the rest of the week or I will workout for three more hours tonight. Penance to the gods of our insecurity.  On behalf of human beings, I extend this apology. I apologize for abusing you, for misunderstanding you, for not appreciating you all these years. I promise never to take advantage of you. I promise to get you to starving people who need you more than I do and I promise to always enjoy every morsel of my brownie. No shame.