A Healthier Relationship: Calories, The Scale, and Body Image

While I consider Tasty Eats At Home a healthier food blog, I don’t often venture outside of gluten-free, dairy-free recipes and topics related to that. I love to talk about cooking (both healthy recipes and indulgent ones!), and I love to talk about navigating gluten and dairy-free living. But rarely do I address other aspects of healthy living. Lately, however, I’ve been struggling with one hot topic.

Having a healthy relationship – with food, with exercise, and with your body.

Sure, you hear that all the time – that we should all strive for balance, eat a healthier diet (but enjoying treats in moderation), maintain a healthy self-image, blah blah blah. But what does that really mean?

It seems that everywhere, people looking to lose weight count calories. While I’ve never been deemed overweight, I’ve fussed and fretted over the same 5-10 lbs lost and regained a countless number of times. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I generally eat a healthy, balanced diet. But I’ve also counted calories and weighed myself like it was my job. I’ve tracked every morsel that goes into my mouth, and I’ve even calculated calories burned doing various exercises. Back in the day, before I went gluten-free, I even did Weight Watchers for a time.

And you know what, folks? It’s gotten me nowhere.

In fact, I think that those activities have driven me further away from a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and body image. Sure, I’d buckle down and decide I would really eat clean. I love veggies, and of course, I love cooking, so I can always create delicious meals that are nourishing without feeling it was a burden. I would exercise as well, and I’d track what I was doing, using an online calorie counting site and the good ol’ trusty scale. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more and more difficult for me to lose weight, even with an extremely strict diet and regular exercise. But for a while, I could manage to be disciplined enough to drop 5 or so pounds in the course of a few months, and I’d be proud of myself.

Then I’d allow myself to bake or make treats. Of course, when I bake, I nibble. A lot. I’d then go down that spiral of excess, where even though many times I would bake “healthier” treats, I’d enjoy too much of them. I had been “good” for so long that it would seem I’d lose some control over my eating when it came to those sweets. And I’d gain. I would still weigh myself religiously, and that scale would determine my mood. Over time, I created a guilt association with overindulgence, and that scale was the punishment. I’d weigh myself, scorn myself for overindulging, and resolve to “do better”. Only this cycle of “doing better” and “overindulging” and all the scorn in the world didn’t make that number on the scale stay in one place. And even if I did feel like I’d been eating well, felt lighter/smaller, and felt more positive about my body, if I weighed myself and the scale suggested otherwise, it would ruin that positive mood.

I thought I had a healthy relationship with food. My diet consists of nourishing, whole foods. Back in the day, I bought into the whole “diet” food, low-fat regimen, but I’ve long since trashed that idea in favor of real food. I exercise regularly, mixing cardio with strength training, and even taking time to try to center myself with yoga. But this cycle of “good” versus “bad” and the constant measuring of calories and my weight was undermining all of that. I no longer was in touch with what my body needed. If I saw I had a surplus of calories available on a given day, I’d indulge (or even over-indulge), even if I wasn’t hungry. If I was at my limit of calories, I would immediately feel deprived, even if I wasn’t hungry, causing me to cave and snack on something. My sugar “binges” would make the cycle even worse, giving me cravings that just couldn’t be satisfied with any sweet treat. It was a struggle. The fact that I run a “healthy food” blog seemed to make this worse – I, of all people, should have a healthy relationship with food, right? Furthermore, I have a teenage step-daughter that is already more than self-conscious about her weight, as many teen girls are. The last thing I want to do is pass on these negative mental battles I have with food, weight, and body image to her.

So I’ve made a decision. I’ve had enough.

About a week and a half ago, I embarked on a decision to follow the Whole30 Program, in an effort to reign in those sugar cravings, as well as get back to feeling my best. I was diagnosed with PCOS a few months back (which helps to explain the struggle with losing even 5 lbs, as well as so many other unsexy symptoms such as acne), and so in addition to my delicate digestive “balance” (or lack thereof, especially when I’m ignoring my body’s signals), I’ve been struggling with out-of-whack hormones as my doctor works to find the best solution for me. Whole30, which is very much like the paleo diet, seemed like a great way to move towards improving my health and wellness. (Others have talked about success with Whole30 and PCOS.) I have been eating mostly “paleo” for the past 5-6 months (with some excessive baking/treats – not-so-paleo), so this wasn’t too much of a stretch for me. With that program, I did two monumental (at least, for me) things:

Number One: I ditched the scale.

Number Two: I ditched the calorie counting.

There will be no measurements.

This isn’t about weight loss; it’s about reconnecting with my body and its needs.

About a week in, (after the sugar monster stopped growling outside my door) I came to some realizations. One, since I stopped counting calories, I don’t think I’m actually eating any more than I was. (which was part of my fear – that I’d eat too much and not be aware of it.) I’m listening more to actual hunger cues. I’m stopping to think before I decide I need a snack about whether I’m hungry, or if it’s just a conditioned response – I’m bored, I’m tired, I’m stressed, or it’s just “time to eat.” I’m finding I’m not hungry as often. It’s not totally natural yet, of course, but I feel good about the progress made already.

As for the scale, I still think about it. I think it will take a while to retrain my brain. Ultimately, though, my weight is just a number. I would rather feel good about my body and feel fit and healthy than weigh a certain number. But my brain still tells me it wants that “validation” that I’m doing a good job. While I’m working to change that, I have to remind myself that my “validation” is that I have more energy and feel more in touch with my body. What’s even better? Yesterday, I was feeling particularly good. My skin seemed more vibrant (read – less acne, less dryness, less angry-hormonal-craziness), I didn’t feel sluggish and bloated, and I was no longer fighting sugar cravings. I was in the bathroom and the thought popped into my head, “I wonder if I’ve lost any weight? I feel good.” But rather than being told how to feel by that number on the scale, instead, I allowed myself to continue to feel good and did not weigh myself. That’s a freeing concept for me. I look forward to more of it.

Most importantly, I am working on changing my thoughts about my body. After all, I am more than a number on a scale. AndreAnna over at Life As A Plate talked a while back about true health vs. what’s right “on paper,” and I was inspired by her writing. My husband tells me I am beautiful all the time. I hear it, but I don’t always let it truly sink in. But I know I feel vibrant. I am feeling healthier as each day passes. I am motivated to work out in the morning, and when I do, I feel stronger. I’m not preoccupying myself with calories or my weight. I am feeling more balanced and free. I recently read a post over at Ancestralize Me that really spoke to me – that maybe women aren’t all supposed to be super-lean when they are at optimum health. It was a good refresher that I needed to keep perspective. I am beautiful, but not because of what the scale, the mirror, or even those wretched BMI charts say. I am beautiful because I choose to be beautiful – through my actions, with my heart, and my health. These are the things I need to focus on, and what I need to pass on to my step-daughter. When I change my thoughts, I can change my behavior, which in turn will change my health. My body will do what it’s destined to do.

And I’m learning to be fine with that.

 

Me, crossing the finish line at JailBreak (5K mud run/obstacle course), with my sister cheering me on. Covered in mud and exhausted, yet feeling strong and beautiful!

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Alta – thank you for your honesty. I suspect that many of us have been through or are currently dealing with the same issues, and I would be one of those people. I applaud your decision to ditch the scale and to stop calorie counting. That seems to me to be a sure way to give yourself the opportunity to listen to your body. Keep up the good and important work and know that others are benefiting by your commitment, your stepdaughter and me, as well as others who will no doubt ready your post and see that it resonates for them too.

  2. says

    I LOVE THIS Alta. I truly struggle with my body image, being overweight, dealing with sugar highs & lows. I too have for the most part ditched the scale. Working with my nutritionist I’m going to start using it again, but only a monthly basis to track my progress instead of obsessively checking it every day to see if I’ve gained , lost, or earned the right to eat ice “Cream” that night… I have to let that go. It’ such a hard journey, especially in the world we live in. A culture obsessed with physical perfection. I really enjoyed this post and I love your bravery in sharing this. It’s hard to be so personal, to feel vulnerable… and I can tell you that this post will touch a lot of women. Thank you for sharing it! You are inspiring and you’ve given me real hope that I can do Whole30 when I get my mind in the right place. I’m tired of the ups and downs too and right now I’m in the swings of a sugar crash… and I’m tired of feeling that way and then beating myself up about it… so I’m really close to being ready for Whole30. I want to feel good. Thank you for sharing your struggles too.

    • altawrites says

      Carrie – Thank you! It is hard to shift our thinking so that we don’t think of things like ice cream and such as “rewards” or “punishing” ourselves if we haven’t been “good” enough to earn it. That thinking is so detrimental to our healthy relationship with food and eating. And yes, the world we live in isn’t really conducive to a positive relationship either. YOU are truly a beautiful woman yourself too – you touch the lives of so many people with your writing. XO

  3. Barb says

    You look great! You don’t need to lose an ounce. Just look in the mirror and you’ll see that you are beautiful just as you are.

  4. says

    Completely understand what you are saying, Alta. It doesn’t matter what size/weight we are, we all go through these feelings. You are so inspiring to us all! I know that I counting calories doesn’t work. I absolutely know what foods work for me and they are the simple foods that work for paleo. I lose weight. I feel so strong. My brain works again. But still I am called by those desserts. Even when made “healthy” they just aren’t needed. When an apple tastes super sweet, one knows one is eating right, right? ;-) I’ve got the Whole30 printed out, but have not followed it even one full day, so I need to get on board with that. Thank you again for this post. I happen to be listening to Dr. Terry Wahls teleseminar with Leanne Ely of Saving Dinner right now and she’s talking about sugar, white potatoes, etc. and the addictive nature of them … more so than nicotine which is more addictive than heroin per Dr. Wahls. Wow, but I’ve always known that even a little is too much. As Dr. Wahls says, she wouldn’t say “just take a little heroin” or “take a little cocaine daily.” All must be removed. I do believe that many can successfully count calories, eat low fat for years, but eventually it catches up to one.

    Best of luck, dear. I’m grateful for you and your honesty! xo,

    Shirley

    • altawrites says

      Shirley – I love that – that you wouldn’t take “just a little heroin”. I hope you can find balance as well! XOXO Thank you!

  5. says

    Yes. And yes. And yes. I’ve gained 20 pounds since OCTOBER when I went gluten free because I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I’ve always been thin…too thin. But my clothes don’t fit now and I feel so very large. Larger than I have ever been in my life (except when I was 9 months pregnant). So I get it. But I’m getting older. I’m healthy. And I feel freaking fantastic. That’s worth something, right? I’m with you…let’s ditch the scale and love who we are and where we are….and enjoy being healthy.
    xx,
    Alison

    • altawrites says

      Alison – Some of my body’s reluctance to lose weight also came from going gluten-free, I think. When I was a kid, I was SUPER skinny. As I became an adult, something shifted in my metabolism, and then when I went on a gluten-free diet, I think my body started to properly absorb nutrients. It’s a good thing, for you and me both! But I can imagine it takes some getting used to for you, right? SO glad you’re feeling so much healthier now that you’re gluten-free. Kudos. :)

  6. says

    Oh, sister. Someone’s been reading my mail! Your story is SO much like mine. Only my last 5-10 pounds was 50. I’m in my 8th month of pregnancy with baby #3 and I’ve recently chucked the sugar from my diet and I’m dabbling in going gluten/grain free. I’m realizing that I don’t need the extra sweets, even if I can fit it into my carb count (I’m on a modified carb diet for gestational diabetes). I have more energy and I’m seeing that this is not just a “fix” that is getting me through this pregnancy and then I can relax and eat whatever I want once the baby comes.

    • altawrites says

      Jessica – Hoping the rest of your pregnancy goes well – sounds like your move to pulling sugar from your diet helps! Now the key will be keeping that radiant health and happy mindset even after the baby comes. :) Best of luck!

  7. says

    You are the picture of health in that photo – and you are beautiful! Such strength and bravery you’re showing by sharing all of this. Thank you! I wish you the best on continuing down this path. I’m so excited to see more and more bloggers ditching their scales and focusing on feeling healthy.

  8. says

    I love it, Alta! I did the same thing several years ago. I decided my focus would be on my health, not losing weight. I only step on the scale at the doctors and on a rare occasion at home. When my chiropractor in their office was fitting me for my orthotics, he was asked how much I weighed. I just looked at him and said, “I have no idea.” They wound up using what they had in my chart. Felt good to say that. :D It’s freeing to not even THINK about weight and focus more on how I feel. I’m not always great either about my food habits, but I always try and know that tomorrow is a new day.

    • altawrites says

      Debi – I’m looking forward to feeling that freedom of not thinking or even knowing about weight. :) How we feel is most important anyway! Thanks!

  9. says

    Alta – Thanks for this post. It hits home with me too. And I totally know how hard it is to “put yourself out there” on such personal issues.
    I am sorry to hear that you are having to deal with PCOS. I have also been struggling with feeling good about myself since my Graves’ disease diagnosis and the ten pounds I gained from it. (Luckily it was only ten!) And now I have been bouncing back and forth with counting calories and have become a consummate scale watcher again. But over the past month or so I have been trying to chill out on the scale and pay more attention to when I am actually hungry. And just focusing on healthy eating and smaller portions. My husband has been helping too as he has been trying to cut as much sugar from his diet as he can. I still have the sugar cravings, but not having it in the house has been very helpful. At the same time, I don’t do well with the feelings of total deprivation of sugar, so I have been limiting it greatly, but still allowing myself a once-in-a-while treat, otherwise I do eventually go berserk and binge. But every day it is a little easier.
    The battles that we wage in our heads can be so hard on us. Don’t be too hard on yourself – you look wonderful, healthy and most importantly, active! You’re doing great. And thanks for sharing. ((Hugs)) to you.
    Renee

    • altawrites says

      Renee – It did make me nervous to hit “post” on this one, so thank you! I encourage you to chill out on the scale too! Working through endocrine disorders is tough, and so I hope your body gets back to feeling good soon! Hugs to you too!

  10. says

    Alta,

    Yes, you are beautiful, no doubt about that! Even covered in mud. =)

    I admire your honesty and know that this struggle with weight and self-acceptance is a long and winding road, especially for women. And you’re so right that we can get caught up in too much measuring, comparing, dieting, scale-watching, etc. and miss out on true health. You mentioned the word vibrant. That’s what to shoot for rather than some ideal body image (which doesn’t exist). I know where (weight-wise, activity-wise, health-wise, food-wise, image-wise, emotion-wise) I feel vibrant and that’s what I strive for. That sweet spot. You’re right, it’s not easy and there are times when life’s struggles get the best of us and the only comfort seems to be found in a chocolate bar, a couple of muffins, a plater full of mac and cheese, or a couple glasses of wine when we know a half an apple or a short walk would be a better answer. Balance? That’s a tight-rope that is ever-shifting. I feel that you have to find something that trumps the desire to look to food for final comfort. What is more important than the cupcake or candy? I find it’s in the activities I want to do that make me feel “vibrant.” I know where my weight, strength, and energy levels should be to feel “vibrant” and even though I’m not there a good part of the time, I know the path back to the feeling and what it takes to get me there.

    Hang in there! Your honesty is part of your beauty and a delightful reminder to your readers that we’re all in this together. It’s so important not to get caught up in the next new diet fad, magic bullet, supplement, quick fix, etc. Simplify, just as you are doing. One very simple thing to remember is to eat until you are no longer hungry, rather than until you’re full. There’s a big difference. These small changes add up over time.

    Great post, Alta. Well done.
    Onward…
    Melissa

    • altawrites says

      Melissa – Thank you! I love that idea of shifting thoughts to what makes you feel vibrant. :) It’s a great deal about awareness, isn’t it? :)

  11. says

    Alta, what a great article. Loved hearing your story. It’s amazing when we just eat the right things and exercise our body comes into alignment with the right weight. Never understood that before because my sugar cravings were always kicking in. But after a year of no sugars I am totally amazed myself (that plus eating gluten-free & organic foods). I lost 32 lbs without a diet for the first time and kept it off. And I feel like I did 20 years ago. I don’t worry about what I eat or counting food anymore – it is such FREEDOM. I know your article will encourage others to do the same. I never knew how much I could just enjoy my food and still feel like I am taking great care of myself and my family. Can’t wait to see how your challenge goes.

    • altawrites says

      HomeCookedHealthy – That’s inspiring to know you’ve found that freedom! Thank you for sharing!

  12. says

    Such a great post, Alta. And I agree with the other commenters–you look FANTASTIC in that photo! As you know, I’ve been struggling with this same issue for. . . .well, decades. I don’t count calories any more and I’m also learning to eat intuitively. It can get scary when you gain 20 pounds in one year, eating healthy foods! For me, balance is still something that is a work in progress, but I’m not going to give up the quest because, like you, I truly believe that our healthiest weight is something our body knows how to achieve on its own–if we listen to it. I hope the Whole 30 approach works out for you. It seems to be leading in the right direction already! :)

    • altawrites says

      Ricki – Thank you! It is scary when you gain while eating healthy foods. Eating intuitively is key, I think. It’s definitely a work in progress. :) Hugs!

  13. says

    Alta, you are beautiful!! Reading this post just confirms your inner beauty. We all seek validation and worth in so many trivial things, whether it’s a number on the scale or a reflection in the mirror. I am so glad to see that you are moving towards balance in your life and finding a new way to embrace health holistically. Keep up the great work! We are here to support you no matter what. :)

  14. says

    Such a great post, Alta. I read it a few times. So many of the guidelines that we use to determine if we’re healthy or not seem to get in the way figuring it out in the first place. Good on you for deciding to ditch the rest and just listen. I’ll do my best to follow suit.

  15. says

    Love that you wrote this post, Alta! As you know, I’ve been staying away from the mirror, and like you, I find it’s given me the freedom to determine my moods for myself rather than by what I see (or in your case, what the scale says). So glad you’re doing this and putting it out there for the rest of us to hear about too!

  16. says

    Thank you Alta for sharing your struggles. I think so many of us can relate. We eat healthy, run healthy eating blogs and obsess over 5 or 10lbs….not so healthy. It’s refreshing to take control and say goodbye to obsessive compulsive negative behavior and truly love ourselves. This is something that is always in process for me.

  17. Fi says

    I totally agree with you. I’ve never been seriously overweight, nor had any real trouble losing weight when I really put my mind to it, but I find that maintaining a healthy weight is much easier when I eat good, healthy food and eat only when I’m hungry. I also got rid of my car and travel by bike everywhere, and this is enormously helpful in keeping fit (and saving money!). Best of luck!!!

    • altawrites says

      Fi – I am a tad jealous that you can travel by bike! I wish I could…but my office is 33 miles away, so that’s a BIT of a trek on a bike for everyday! LOL Thanks for visiting!

  18. says

    Such a hot topic Alta. I’m so glad you opened up on here and shared it with us, you’re definitely not alone. I bet 80 percent of food bloggers feel the same way about their relationship with food. I know I do! I’ve recently stopped too. I do NOT want to spend the rest of my life wishing I was skinnier or whatever. I’m done! I think it’s a mental, emotional, and physical journey. You look incredibly happy in that last photo, and isn’t that all that really matters? xoxoxo

    • altawrites says

      Maggie – I do think it’s a journey for sure. Happiness is WAY more important than the last 5 pounds or the little dimples in my thighs…and we all have to keep that in our minds!

  19. says

    Alta, I don’t think there is a woman on earth who can’t relate to your struggles. It is so refreshing when bloggers open up and share, breaking down the image of “perfection” that we often see. What amazing results! I think I need to do that Whole30 – especially after reading Diane’s allergy results too.

    You ARE beautiful!!

  20. says

    Alta, What a great post. I know I am repeating what a lot of people already said, but reading it just made me think of myself. It all sounds so familiar. I have been going through a mindset change, too, lately. A lot of things converged at the same time. Seeing the 60 minutes segment, husband seeing it too and getting a kick start on removing sugar, my glucose test and making drink/eat sugar to take it, getting sick from the sugar, etc. Husband keeps reminding me that when I looked and felt my best was when I cut out sugar. Not limited calories, worked out 2-3 times a day or weighed myself every day. So, even if my test comes back ok, we are still getting the sugar out of the house and eating the way we as humans are meant to eat.

    Anyway, I am babbling. All this was meant to say that I think you for being one more “sign” that tells me I am on the right track. I already feel better about myself, even though I am big as a house with baby #2. I feel much healthier with this pregnancy than the last one.

    So, the point is, you are not alone, keep up the good work, way to go, you are an inspiration, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, etc.

    ~Tia

  21. Amanda says

    Alta,

    I wish you all the luck and determination in the world. I also have PCOS and celiacs, and haven’t found the balance yet that will allow me to loose weight. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of information about dealing with this combination and how your body may react to foods differently… I look forward to reading the program you linked above

    Amanda

    • altawrites says

      Amanda – I’m glad to know there are others out there dealing with the same issues. It’s relieving somewhat. Check out Whole30…and if you find it works for you, let me know! thanks!

  22. says

    I am so glad that my post helped you, even a little. It’s so hard to be “wrong” and KNOW you’re healthy and fight for yourself and your body.

    This was a great post and I am learning a lot of these same lessons, one step at a time.

    • altawrites says

      AndreAnna – You continually post such inspirational thoughts to me. I think we learn from one another. :) These lessons aren’t overnight ones for sure – definitely one step at a time. Thank you!

  23. says

    awesome, awesome post, Alta. I can relate on so many levels and it’s always comforting to hear from others who have gone through the same things. I wish you the best of luck on this new nutrition plan – please keep us posted!

  24. says

    Alta, what a beautiful and inspiring post! I love it! Your words are so true and perfect. Thank you for being so honest and sharing it with all of us.
    Oh..and in that picture you look absolutely and positively STUNNING!! You rock, my sweet friend!
    xo

  25. says

    Thank you so much for this inspiring & honest article. I am so refreshed by it as I deal with so many of the exact feelings & issues. I have a strong faith in God & have been feeling so convicted over my weight obsessions & have felt that I should drop the obsessive calorie counting & other things as well & just concentrate on listening to my body. ie: learning what my bodys true hunger signals are, mindful eating, stopping at the feeling of my hunger being satisfied, and trying really hard to accept that being super skinny may not be what is healthy for me at my age & season of life…etc. Your honesty & inspiration came at a perfect time, & on a perfect day ( as today has been extremely hard in this area). I too am gluten intolerant & am very new at the whole gluten free lifestyle, though I have been eating a healthier clean diet for many years ( with many ups & downs with the sugar demon as well- lol). Thank you for a great blog. I just found you today & will be a dedicated reader from this day forward. Prayers for your continued success & healing on your journey.

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