Sometimes I grasp at it in the night, trying to turn off some silent, vibrating alarm that isn’t there.
In the moment I realize I’ve been on my feet a lot during the day, I instinctively reach for my phone or wrist to see how far I’ve gone.
But lately, I don’t know.
And I must say… it’s really freeing.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m obsessed with fitness tech and love testing fitness trackers (see here, here, here and here). But something was happening thanks to this obsession; something not good. And I didn’t even realize it until a book I’m currently reviewing connected the dots for me.
Although I’ve never struggled with your typical disordered eating behaviours, I recently came to realize there was something off about the way I was logging and tracking my calories consumed and expended so consistently. At first, I wanted to test my FitBit to see if it’s calculations really did work for fat loss, so I logged both workouts and food everyday for two months. Once that experiment was over, I wanted to find an optimal level of nutrition and calories to fuel my activities, so I tracked everything religiously to make sure I was getting enough protein, carbs, fats and micronutrients to perform at my best. But then, even though marathon training was over and I was eating pretty much the same thing every day, I kept tracking. It became a compulsive behavior, like I HAD to do it to feel in control. If there were a few days or meals missing, I would feel anxious… like I wasn’t in control and couldn’t relax or move on unless I opened the MyFitnessPal and FitBit app and logged every last rep and set, every last morsel of food.
Tracking calories in and out became as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth and working out, and felt totally normal because I’m in the fitness industry and should be aware of calorie consumption and expenditure, right? It’s not like I’m restricting food or not eating something because I’ll be in the you-ate-too-much “red zone” in the FitBit app for the day; I just felt the need to track it. To control it. It felt totally normal to me.
But then I read this passage from BODYpeace, a book I’m reviewing for authors Kasey Arena and Heather Waxman as part of a FitFluential campaign, and I realized what I was doing was not only not normal, but also could lead to something more severe:
In order to feel in control of something, I started to slowly
eliminate foods from my “approved” list in my head, not to
lose weight, but keep myself from feeling “sick.”
These rules then boiled down to my diet consisting of
mainly nothing. I wanted control. Without even realizing it,
I was spiraling down this path of rules and regulations I was
putting on myself without recognizing my rapid weight loss
happening at the same time.
And when I did eat, I liked control. I liked controlling that
fact that I PICKED when I ate. Every four hours, like clockwork,
I would “allow myself” to eat another meal. And guess what,
I got an adrenaline rush whenever that clock would hit four
hours — because I knew I was “allowed” to eat, and it gave
me a great feeling.
Despite always wanting to be in control, I actually started
to lose control of who I was at the same time because I was
so numb to all the calorie counting and restrictions. I felt sad,
depressed, and alone. No one knew how to help me – my
parents, my friends, and even me. I was at a loss.
– Kasey Arena
Kasey goes on to explain how she suffers from anxiety, and tracking calories was one way to feel a sense of control over other situations in her life were that were out of her control. I can totally relate to this, and realized what I was doing was in fact a disordered eating behaviour.
A symptom of Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS) is a constant awareness, bordering on obsession with food, calorie counting, exercise, and weight. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), if the way you eat and think about food interferes with your life and keeps you from enjoying life and moving forward, then that is disordered eating.
As someone who champions positive body image and sustainable fitness programs, how did I end up in this situation? You would think I would know better.
According to this excellent article Counting calories: women’s greatest threat? by Vanessa Garcia on stuff.co.nz, it could be that disordered eating behaviour is becoming more the norm than not.
In a 2008 survey by SELF magazine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 75 per cent of women reported disordered eating patterns, 37 per cent regularly skipped meals to lose weight, and 26 per cent cut out entire food groups.
The report concluded that “eating habits that women think are normal — such as banishing carbohydrates, skipping meals and in some cases extreme dieting — may actually be symptoms of disordered eating.”
What was once a neat fitness device to track my activity slowly turned into an enabler for a compulsive and harmful disorder that I had no idea I would ever have to face. As Arwa Mahdawl says in her article The unhealthy side of wearable fitness devices for theguardian.com, “Apps that facilitate calorie-counting and food-logging are an anorexic’s best friend and worst enemy. With society increasingly embracing a sort of ‘techorexia’ that rewrites compulsive behaviour as healthy, it is becoming easier for people with serious eating disorders to pretend there’s nothing wrong.”
It’s been nine days since I’ve logged a single meal or tracked a workout. At first, I had to stop myself from reaching for my phone after a meal to tally up what I ate. Since I’m not training for anything right now, there is no reason to track my workouts, so I’ve been leaving the Garmin at home. And you know what? It feels great. And very freeing.
Yes I still have anxiety and yes I will seek help. It’s clear I can’t deal with it on my own, and was starting to turn to other more harmful behaviours as a means of coping with it.
According to the report Eating Disorders Among Girls and Women in Canada prepared by the parliamentary standing committee on the status of women, somewhere between 600,000 and 990,000 Canadians suffer from eating disorders. Approximately 80 percent of those individuals diagnosed with eating disorders are girls or women, which isn’t surprising.
If you feel you use your tracking apps and fitness tech in this same way, I encourage you to ditch the devices with me and talk to someone who can help.
Thank you Kasey and Heather for your support with this XO