A Day in the Life of Calories In < Calories Out

A typical day of “calories in < calories out:”

"I am on a 30 day diet. So far I have lost 10 days."

Is this any way to live?

  • Wake up at 4:30 am after about 5-6 hours of sleep. Raises my ghrelin (the hunger stimulating hormone) and lowers my leptin (the satiety stimulating hormone). Lower leptin means lower endorphins. 
  • Coffee with artificial low-fat creamer. Raises my cortisol, stimulates insulin response. 
  • Get to the gym by 5 am. Take an hour long spin class. Physical stress of intense endurance workout raises my cortisol, artificially increases my endorphins. 
  • Down a protein shake (dairy proteins, lactose, and artificial sugar). Stimulate insulin response with lactose and artificial sugar, irritate gut with dairy proteins. 
  • Get to my job, which stresses me out (because I hate my job, because I have a big project on deadline, because I hate my coworkers/my boss/my direct reports, whatever). Cortisol stays raised. 
  • Stomach starts growling at 10 am. Have a Greek yogurt with berries on the bottom. Stimulates another insulin spike, more dairy proteins for the gut.
  • Starving by noon. Have a big salad with tofu, low-fat dressing, and a piece of whole grain bread. Snack on a banana. More gut irritation from soy (lectins and phytates and phytoestrogens, oh my!), bread (gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, etc. Another insulin spike from influx of glucose and fructose from both the low-fat dressing (added sugars to make up for the lack of fat, for taste purposes) and the banana. Promote hormone dysregulation with phytoestrogens in soy. 
  • Start yawning around 1 pm. Desperate to stay awake. Another cup of coffee. Cortisol stays raised, body/mind still physically exhausted. 
  • Starving again by 3 pm. Forage in purse of 100-calorie pack of cookies with goji berries. They’re gluten-free and low calorie so they must be healthy. Also, some doctor on the Today show said that one of the ingredients was a superfood. Superfoods are good for me, so I’ll eat more of them. Feeding my gut processed foods, feeding my liver glucose. More insulin.
  • Leave work and head back to the gym because I am feeling guilty for “not working out hard enough” this morning. Another hour of weights should do it. Drink a Gatorade throughout, to replenish electrolytes. More cortisol, more glucose. Liver is pumping insulin like it’s nobody’s business. Body isn’t hurting for electrolytes, but someone tweeted an article that said I needed them, so…
  • Get home and make dinner. It’s Meatless Monday, so, after weighing and measuring all my portions, it’s gluten-free pasta with soy-meatballs and beans for extra protein and canned spaghetti sauce. Pasta is gluten-free and therefore, in my mind, a weight loss food. Two helpings! More soy. Beans are primarily carbohydrate; proteins are incomplete. Also contain anti-nutrients called “phytates.” Canned spaghetti sauce has added sugar. Gluten-free pasta is still densely packed with carbohydrates, which will be broken down into sugar (glucose) in the body. 
  • Still hungry. Need dessert. Start foraging for anything sugary to take mind off of hunger. Cereal it is: one bowl–okay, two–with fat-free milk. If it’s low fat, it’s okay to have the extra bowl….right? More carbs and sugars, sugars and carbs. Nighttime binge courtesy of leptin resistance and one last wonderful spike/drop in insulin from the sugar eaten for dinner. 
  • Spend about 45 minutes logging all my food and exercise with an online calorie counter. Have used it every day for the last 6 months, so I already know exactly how many calories I’ve eaten, but I’m doing it anyway because I feel guilty if I don’t. May or may not have fudged the pasta and cereal amounts. Secretly hate myself because I know how much I really ate. Not a big enough deficit. Negative self talk as a result of using a calorie counter. “Staying accountable” to my disorder (and who says I have a disorder, huh?) makes me feel like I have a sense of power, even though I’ve actually just lost the last 45 minutes of my life to pointless worrying. 
  • Off to bed. Hating myself for the second bowl of cereal, thinking about chocolate cake. Guess I’ll have to go to the gym twice tomorrow to make up for it. Feeling depressed about it. Stay up late reading on my tablet–shut down around 11 or 12 and then toss and turn before falling into a light and fitful sleep. Cortisol levels kept unnaturally high by the afternoon coffee mean that sleep is going to be disrupted. Blue-white glow from the tablet screen disrupts melatonin production, which helps the body to fall asleep. Melatonin production also thrown off by disruption of natural circadian rhythm (staying up too late, getting up too early). Lack of sleep also promotes leptin resistance and stimulates ghrelin. Excessive exercise (stress) can contribute to depletion of serotonin, which leads to depression. Depression from lack of serotonin can lead to insomnia, which contributes to further serotonin depletion. (Vicious cycle.) 
Mom's logic junk food vs. balanced meal

The wisdom behind the standard American diet…

Okay. So remind me again why this lifestyle is considered healthy? Remind me why we “love” exercising and having to snack all day? Remind me why people get upset when anyone suggests that it’s not dedication but obsession?

If you’re a slave to the foods you eat or the amount of exercise you do because you believe that you’re benefitting from it, ask yourself if that’s helped you lose weight, get fit, or enjoy your life at all.

Eat Good Look Good Feel Good Fitspo

Can we just strike the middle one from our list of priorities? If you’re doing the first and third, then the second just comes naturally.

And if you’ve taken it to the “eat clean” orthorexic extreme (as I most assuredly did), then you’re definitely in the camp that believes that extreme measures are needed to stay healthy. And while I commend you for eliminating the 100-calorie packs of cookies, you’re in the same boat if you’re snacking on homemade gluten free cookies with dried goji berries instead. You’re in the same boat if you believe that you have to down a protein shake or some concoction made with egg whites and fake sugar. You’re in the same boat if you already know in advance how many calories you ate and burned because you’ve used the calorie counter for so long that it’s no longer even a necessary tool (especially if you have the mobile app on your phone because you want to log every morsel of every meal the second you eat it, so you won’t forget).

But we’ve been taught to eat less and move more for so long, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that there could be another way.

I’ll post next about some of the changes I made this summer, but I’m interested in hearing what you guys have to say. Does any of this sound familiar to you? What does your day look like?

- K.

12 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of Calories In < Calories Out

    • That definitely sounds like a win! I’ve been experimenting with very low carb/high fat, and it’s been pretty awesome. I haven’t touched IF, ’cause of all the hoopla about women, hormones, and IF in the paleo blogosphere recently, but it looks like a winning combination for most guys!

  1. It’s scary how familiar the day you described sounds…
    Anyways, a day in my life:
    Wake up at some ungodly hour to get ready for school, after not nearly enough sleep. Take a shower, spend the entire time planning breakfast. I know my nutritionist wants me to eat a 600 calorie breakfast, so I obsess over how to get there without feeling guilty or disgusting.
    Eat breakfast, inevitably feel guilty and disgusting. Set to work packing lunch and snacks, walking my imagined tightrope between not enough and too much. Usually settle on a peanut butter sandwich and yogurt.
    Try to figure out if I can fit in a workout today. If I can, maybe I allow myself a few more calories of wiggle room.
    Go to school, hungry by 9:00. 3 hours until lunchtime. Grudgingly eat a snack (more calories), which winds up being barely enough to get me to lunch.
    After lunch, which feels satisfying for all of an hour, I worry about when I’m going to eat again, when I’m going to exercise.
    I drive home, and try to get on the elliptical before my mom can stop me and yell at me for exercising too much. I’d love to run, but my knee has been hurting and I know I shouldn’t injure it further. I also should swim, since swim season starts in a week, but every time I get in the water I feel freezing cold, which distresses and depresses me. While on the elliptical, I battle myself over how hard to push myself. I should take it easy, rest myself for swim season, but then the workout wouldn’t feel “hard enough.” I get off after and have a snack, nagging thoughts pulling at the back of my head, a battle between keeping myself nourished and not wanting to put back the calories I just burned.
    I keep quite occupied until dinner, with a mountain of schoolwork and college applications that won’t go away, but the whole time, I’m wondering what we’re having for dinner, if its “healthy” or “fattening.” If we go out to eat, I want to know where, so I can spend a half hour researching the calorie content of their food. During dinner, I argue with myself over whether to take a second helping, have a second roll. I don’t. Afterwards, I do more homework, until my mom reminds me that I have to have dessert, which usually consists of what I consider to be copious amounts of ice cream or pie. Feeling grossly full, I spend the rest of the night doing homework, then fall asleep worrying about how I’m going to do it all again tomorrow.

    • Man, oh man, does that sound familiar! Just know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Some days will always be more of a struggle than others, but there will come a time in your life when your relationship with food will heal and you will be able to live your life without constantly worrying about the caloric content of your day…

  2. Love love love this! Okay obviously I don’t love that it’s so prevalent today, but it’s good that you recognize these behaviors. Can I print this out and share this with everyone I know?! :) Actually, can I send these to all these women out there trying to get me (as a personal trainer and someone trying to lose weight for a competition) to try Visalus or Advocare or Isagenix or some other concoction? Ugh! I keep telling everyone I’m doing this the natural way eating REAL food. Oh and I’m a big advocate of knowing your cortisol levels. I used to work for LifeTime Fitness and they got me hooked on lab testing. I felt 1000% better after getting my levels in check.

    • Ugh indeed! I did Isagenix on the recommendation of family members one summer…and that stuff was VILE. Not to mention the fact that I was basically starving myself for very little actual benefit.

      Please feel free to share my blog with the women (and men!) you work with…I’d love to help spread a little sanity in our insane world of fitness and nutrition! :)

  3. Do protein shakes have a place? Like after resistance training? They are recommended by many of the cutting edge trainers after a workout. Can they be used tactically to enhance recovery?

    • So, here’s my thing about protein shakes: I drank them religiously for about two years. I was obsessed with making sure to get my whey protein in during the 15 minute post-workout window. I made sure to have casein protein before bed because I didn’t want to get catabolic while I slept. I supplemented my snacks with protein powder for fear that I wasn’t going to get enough protein during my other meals….

      So, here’s my thing about protein powders: unless you have a body-building-specific goal that absolutely must be met by overloading on protein, I don’t think they’re necessary or even necessarily healthy. I have used and abused food replacement powders for long enough to know that my health was not optimal when I was using them.

      I think it’s absolutely possible to get enough protein from real food for healthy muscle development. And, frankly, I think that we all consume more protein than we actually need, usually from inferior sources. A lot of the protein powders and shakes are filled with artificial ingredients and made from denatured proteins. Many of them are “fortified” with sugars (real or fake), grains, or soy. And at the end of the day, they’re not particularly satisfying. (Unless you’re intentionally starving yourself, as I was, because then even protein sludge looks and tastes like chocolate cake…)

      Anyway, those are my two cents. I think there’s a time and a place for protein powders, and if you are going to use them, make sure to find the purest forms of whey isolate that you can–if, that is, your body can tolerate dairy proteins. There is a lot of good information on protein powders through Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, and the Bulletproof Executive, and I know that it’s a topic that’s been discussed on the Relentless Roger and the Caveman Doctor podcast…

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