Calorie Shaming

As if it weren’t bad enough that we are shamed from every direction for having normal, healthy human bodies, as soon as we decide to take back the power over our health and well being, and begin the process of learning to nourish ourselves properly to support our activity, so begins the calorie shaming.

What am I talking about? I cover several main themes on my facebook page, and the last week or so I’ve been focusing on eating enough calories. Here are a few of the comments people have left on my posts just in the last day, these are directed at me and my food choices:

“Ask yourself why you must defend your need to have [sugar]?” (left in response to my post about sugar being an awesome fuel for my workouts)

“Uh, hello? 3000 calories a day is not normal or healthy intake! Unless you are running a marathon every day.” (in response to my post that 3000 calories a day is not unreasonable for an active healthy adult – it’s about how much I eat. Not everyone needs quite that much, but many do.)

“3000 calories is a large amount of food if you are a healthy eater. Fresh fruits and veggies and lean proteins do not have many calories. What to you do? Eat a cheese burger on a big bun and than go running and call yourself healthy?” (same post as above)

The message here is that eating this much food is undesirable, unhealthy, bad.

How someone can look at my pictures and then criticize my eating philosophy as unhealthy and ineffective is beyond me. Well, I’ll take that back, we’ve seen very clearly that people who don’t want to hear the truth can make up some pretty amazing stories to rationalize away my success and ease their cognitive dissonance. These comments make me shake my head. Some have said to just ignore them, but I think it’s really important to highlight them and TALK about them. Disordered thinking is so deeply ingrained in or culture, I think that a lot of people reading comments like these won’t recognize the disorder, and will internalize it. That’s how our culture has conditioned us.

The good news is that the vast majority of responses my posts about this topic get are positive. Comment after comment from people who’ve increased their calorie intake to a more sustainable level and seen fitness, body composition and even weight loss progress where before they were frustrated. But these negative comments can be powerfully subversive, and have the potential to derail a person just beginning the recovery process. So I am talking about it. As you begin to emerge from the dark of the diet maze, you will be subjected to calorie shaming. It will come from all directions: the media, your friends, your SELF. Recognize it for what it is. It is not healthy.

You deserve a healthy strong body, and you can not starve yourself healthy and strong.




42 thoughts on “Calorie Shaming

  1. “these negative comments can be powerfully subversive, and have the potential to derail a person just beginning the recovery process. So I am talking about it. As you begin to emerge from the dark of the diet maze, you will be subjected to calorie shaming. It will come from all directions: the media, your friends, your SELF. Recognize it for what it is. It is not healthy. You deserve a healthy strong body, and you can not starve yourself healthy and strong.” I am working so hard to re-train my brain and remember this. The pressure to do UNhealthy things in the name of health is overwhelming, and coming at me all the time from all sides. I am so grateful for bloggers like you and a scant handful of others reminding me daily to ignore that BS and live, breathe, eat, move like this is my LIFE and not some competition to an arbitrary number on a scale or an arbitrary LOW number of calories. It is HARD to learn to listen to my body, but I am working on it every day. Thank you.

  2. I have been counting calories using starting last month. It determines an estimated BMR and then adds calories for any reported exercise/activities. But, I have found a new world of weird there. Apparently there is a significant group of people who subscribe to the eat 1200 calories a day philosophy. I have one MFP “friend” who eats 1200 a day and exercises around 1000 a day. This doesn’t seem healthy to me. Anyway, keep fighting the good fight Amber.

    • Tsimblist, the problem with that calorie estimation is that estimated BMR only represents the calories your body needs to sustain life if you are asleep all 24 hours of the day – in other words, in a coma. People don’t realise for some reason that even if you are only sitting down, if you are awake and so your body is using energy – depending on your weight and age, you burn anywhere between 500-1500 calories ABOVE BMR just sitting on your ass all day. Like even if you are electric-wheel-chair bound, there is a difference between BMR and “calories for any exercise/reported activities.” Use the calculator Amber recommends: – it lays it out very plainly.

      On this topic generally though, something else I don’t think people realise is that your calorie balance isn’t just a daily thing – your body is balancing your energy needs based on what you did and ate yesterday, and the day before, over time, it’s very sophisticated. So eating way less just because “oh I wasn’t active today” or “I didn’t exercise so I don’t need/haven’t earned the carbs” is freaking ridiculous – what about yesterday? What about last week? The adaptation your body must make happen if you are training – trying to get stronger, more muscular, faster, fitter – happens over weeks and months. If your body is capable of this adaptation over weeks and months, then it’s sure as shit capable of factoring in whether you regularly have enough energy coming in or not to make those changes possible. If you don’t have that energy coming in, don’t expect results – other than the results of starvation, that is.

      • I stand corrected on the BMR vs TEE thing. A personal trainer at my new gym suggested I try MFP when I complained about the “tube around my waist”. I used the wizard to set my sedentary base calories and picked the 1/2 lb/week weight loss option. So far it is working:

        At some point I will pick the weight maintenance option or even the gain 1/2 lb/week option (or more). Whatever it takes to get my body composition where I want it.

      • I’m confused. I used that health calc that you posted a link to above, but I’m not sure how to read it. My BMR is 1561 and my TEE is 2621. How many calories should I eat to start losing weight Is it the TEE amount minus 500

        • Do you need to lose weight? I’m guessing from your TEE that you’re not particularly heavy. If you’re at a healthy weight, you might want to focus on body composition rather than weight.If you’re not at a healthy weight, I’d recommend eating around 2200 calories a day to lose. It will be gradual, but you’ll protect your metabolic health and lean mass by keeping your deficit modest.

          • Yes, I need to lose about 50lbs to get to my goal weight of 140lbs. I’m a mom of two small kids but never lost any of the baby weight and it’s been 4 years since my youngest was born (well, I did when I breastfed, but it came back). I’m not a horrible eater, but I get cravings (worse then when I was pregnant). have fibromyalgia so I’m always in pain and always tired (and I really do mean ALWAYS). I have chronic insomnia and don’t get more then 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Add to all that an anxiety disorder and my body has a great recipe for stress so that means high levels of cortisol (and very low levels of Vit D, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with all of it). I’ve tried counting calories but I have absolutely no will power and, like I said, I get cravings and just HAVE to have something! I eat a lot of fast food because I am so tired it’s hard to have the energy to cook. I’m confused about how this all works. I would need to eat more then the 1400-1600 calories I’m ‘supposed’ to eat based on or But what kind of food? And how much exercise? Like I said, I have no energy at all (and yes, I know exercising would boost my energy and help me sleep…such is the vicious circle of having Fibromyalgia).

    • MFP is a handy app for tracking what you are eating, but DO NOT follow their calorie recommendations!! Ask me how I know… Gained back ten pounds getting things working right again. I’ve since lost about 4 of those.

      • Hi there –

        I have been feeling a bit challenged with all of this information. Trying to eat anough which of course totally freaks me out because I have always been restricting someting. That said… I have jumped into the pool and eaten more than I enjoy eating. I have had advice to eat everything just to cram calories in my mouth and have subesequently blown up.. as expected and that is ok. Now then, I feel like I am at apoint where I can get back into the gym without causing harm to my recovery. I also have been wanting ti figure out my calorie requirements using the TDEE clacualtor as a gauge. I had been doing that and I usee My fitness pal which tends to be a trigger… especially when I complete my log for the day and it gives me this little message about what I would weight in 5 weeks like this. That gives me heartburn. Anyway… this is what I have done and I am not sure if it makes sense and hope that Amber will “weight in” (hahaha get it?). OK, so I used the claculator per Maber’s advice and dialied in my goal weight. I based that activity level on sitting on my heiny all day and if I were to go homne and really do nothing. I amusing that TDEE as my minimum requirement and have changed my fitness pal to reflect this number as my claorie goal. THen… I make sure to log every step I take into the darned thing and make sure I eat the calories it says I have burned too so at the end of the day I shouyld have eatne ALL of my minimum calroeis plus whatever I lost during exercise. That is the only way I could use my fitness pal without feel,ing neurotic like Iw as before and forcing myself to use it as a tool to make sure I get enough, as opposed to making sure I ate too little. I am not sure if this hels anyone but I think fitpall can be a great tool if modified to fit healthy number. Oh…and also changed my macro percentages so I can mak sure to get enough of each, as well to help me figure out how and when to tweak if needed.

  3. Brilliant. I am so over all of this bullshit. Hunger is real, people!

    All of these ridiculous ways to manipulate eating into fewer calories and induce weird food guilt over perfectly normal healthy things. And then shaming for eating a normal healthy amount.

    The big one that bugs me is detox. Beans are nature’s miscombined oops (that make you fat)! Don’t eat nuts and grains together (or you’ll be fat)! That spaced out low energy tired cranky bitchy starving feeling that makes you want to eat a loaf of peanut butter (mold!) sandwiches and punch your mom? Those are detox symptoms, keep it up, you will get used to eating light! Comiserate with other hungry people on our blog while you detox! Follow these ridiculous made up rules not backed by any credible science that will cut your daily calories in half and you will be healthy!

    All a ruse to cut calories and not eat enough. People have been saying for years to eat fruits and vegetables because they are healthy, this is not new. Green juice is delicious and great but it has what, 10 calories? But I’m sure the binge later will make up for it. And that mindfuck will bring you back to detox….until you escape muhhahahahaha!.

    • I think it would be interesting to see how many “dieters” have landed face first in a pb&j sandwich, which is actually a very effective way to get calories fast… Our bodies are so smart and amazing – they will only take so much until they find a way to try and get what they need.

    • Yeah… all of that really sounds like an eating disorder to me. The praise for cutting more and more and more calories, the binges afterwards. God. Haven’t I been through THAT.

  4. I have upped my calories on your advice. Best thing I *ever* did. My hair is growing healthy and strong, my nails too. I have energy, I am happy! This is from someone who had been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, my hair was falling out, I couldn’t get off the couch many days of the week, was unhappy, couldn’t exercise. My life was *terrible*, all because I was not consuming enough calories. I now aim for anywhere between 2500-2800. I am not muscular and fit, not yet. I am not overweight and I have not put on weight. I have been eating the food since last October and my life has CHANGED! Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou.

      • Hi

        I worked out using Amber’s recommended calorie doover. Macros, smacros. I have simply been eating the food! Plus I am a kinesiologist, we have ways of asking the body how much it needs. At times this was more than what the calorie doover suggested btw.

  5. Thank you so much for TALKING about this. I have been following your site for the past couple of days, contemplating exactly what thought processes have me eating less than enough (I’m sure!). I’m not afraid to face my cognitive dissonance. As I was telling a friend today, my head is full of so many food rules, none of which have actually worked for me. Why should I keep following all those rules, which aren’t actually working for me' I’m so happy to have found your refreshing perspective. Your message is a true answer to prayer, and I am a new and happy follower!

  6. Hi girl, thank you for being you. Honestly, I’m praying right now for YOU and that I just read this post.

    I just cannot express my thankfulness enough. I hope you know how much I appreciate you and all of your help.

    I’m really trying to find my calorie needs right now and would love nothing more than your help, sweetie. I feel like I am so lost right now. I am trying to eat intuitively, but I always think of you and writing about how some of us just HAVE to keep in mind how many calories we need/day. That’s me! I KNOW I won’t get as many as I need/day if I’m not mindful about it. I really want to find a balance between IE and getting what I need to achieve the body I want. A healthy and strong body!

    I could really use your help sweetie. I used those calculators and tried to get where I should be at. But, can you help me a little more? How do you not totally think about food all the time, but still ensure you eat enough?

    Thank you so much

    Lots of love xoxo

    • Meg – hope it’s ok for me to chime in here?

      Firstly – there is nothing wrong with thinking about food all the time, unless those thoughts cause you anxiety and distress. If they do, then you’re in eating disorder territory, and the solution is not to try to stop thinking about food, it’s to start nourishing yourself. The ball-buster is that to nourish yourself, you gotta think about food, which results in even more anxiety. The light at the end of the tunnel is that those thoughts DO ease and then disappear! When you’re nourished! For me, and for most in eating disorder recovery, nourishment must come before intuitive eating because the anxiety just interferes with the intuitive signals. Ironically, having a solid plan for eating can make the eating feel more intuitive – because if you instead rely solely on your intuition, you have to battle it out with your anxiety so many times a day that you get exhausted and feel like you’re just thinking about food all the time.

      So my advice – have a plan, have snacks, have every-meal-dessert. Eat every 3 hours, no matter if it’s a proper meal or not. Have a bite or a spoonful of something with a contrasting flavor to the meal you just ate, when you’re done – dessert doesn’t have to be another “serving,” I usually just like a taste of something different (like sweet after salty, savory after sweet etc.) but if you are trying to eat enough, count it as a win if you DO want a whole serving of something else.

      Lastly – from personal experience, and you might not be this way, but for me it is impossible to stop the constant thoughts about food if I’m focusing obsessively on eating “clean” or eating a certain macro-nutrient ratio. And I mean obsessing. It’s hard to re-learn what “normal” eating is – but normal eating is eating a variety of mostly cooked or processed foods (yes, most food is processed, as in canned, milled, soaked, rolled, fermented, aged, baked, boiled, extracted, re-heated etc), a modest amount of raw or unprocessed foods, and an incidental amount of ultra-processed foods. I know most health-conscious people get very anxious about those terms I just used! If that’s you, then you might be like me! I cannot eat enough if I’m trying to “control” ratios or types of foods, because there will always be something you can’t eat, and it will always feel easier not to eat than to deal with the anxiety. Sadly, the truth is that the coping mechanism for dealing with the anxiety – obsessing about food so you don’t have to “worry” you’re eating the wrong thing – is what causes the anxiety in the first place. It’s good to gently start re-framing the anxiety over thoughts of food. The thoughts aren’t what’s wrong – the anxiety is.

      Anyway, if none of this applies to you then many apologies and sorry for the lengthy length! Hopefully it might help someone else though :)

      • No, thanks for commenting :) I really am trying to relearn how to eat after focusing on macros for so long. Yesterday went really well, but I really do want to make sure (some how ) to reach that amount of calories that my body needs. Makes sense? xo

        • So you say to eat every 3 hours for sure? I have really increased the sizes of my breakfast, lunch, and dinners, so not that hungry between :( Having a difficult time knowing what to snack on…

          • That’s great! Look, if you’re hitting your calorie target by increasing main meals, and that feels good, you don’t *need* to eat every 3 hours, it isn’t a rule. I just find that if I go 4 hours without eating, it’s easier to go 5…and then 6…my hunger signals are very intermittent, though getting better, so I don’t rely on them exclusively. I eat when I’m hungry, but if I do a quick calculation and find that it’s been 4 hours and I’m not hungry, I still eat a little something. Dried fruit, a teaspoon of nut butter, a small glass of milk, juice, chocolate – anything small and dense, or liquid, is easier to bite/gulp down if I’m not feeling hungry. And it adds up. Over time, you don’t have to stress about it as much, but it can be so hard in the beginning. The energy is worth it though!

    • I just went through a period of time where I basically “rrarfed” and I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted (but I want real food). I was starving after going 1200-1400 calories for over a month. I had no idea! So I ate like that for 3 or 4 weeks. I didn’t keep track or anything. It was scary. I gained 10 lbs. Then I went to maintenance for my goal weight. I have since lost 4 lbs. I feel SOOOOO MUCH BETTER! I have energy, my.. constipation went away immediately, I recover from exertion better.

      Oh, when I first started eating more, I went through a period of feeling worse, feeling very tired and I took naps like every day. My body was coming out of emergency stress hyper alert mode into recovery mode, which it needs a lot of sleep to do.

      • For years I was afraid of hunger, now I realize I need to eat when I’m hungry, DUH!

  7. It’s interesting that vegan apologists like Dom Matez and Durian Rider Harley report needing 3000-6000 calories a day, because energy from whole and raw foods isn’t absorbed as well as energy from refined or cooked foods. There is quite a significant calorie loss, and this may be another complication if someone is both skimping on calories and eating “healthy” raw food; they will be absorbing even less energy than they suppose.
    it’s also probably something that should be factored into utopian plans to feed the world and end starvation with raw vegan diets, but that’s another subject.

    This guy’s blog is fascinating. It’s kind of appalling too, but I have to admire his attention to detail and his devotion to the science.

  8. Great post! It’s amazing how much misinformation is in the media, and how it continues to circulate. There needs to be more posts like this that prove you can EAT and be healthy and fit.

    I used to starve myself on 1200 calories a day for years and I never liked the way I look. I spent years repairing my metabolism in conjunction with weight lifting, and I was able to increase to 3000 calories a day. I’m now trying to cut some weight, but I’m still eating around 2200 – a number which most women assume is too high!

    • Yes, when I was doing my fitness model diet, I was eating 2200-2400 a day, lost 12 pounds, got down to 12% body fat…on a calorie intake many people claim would make a person obese.

  9. What I want to say really doesn't have much to do with exercise, food or philosophies on any of these topics. Rather it's about how communicate with one another.
    A professor once told me that 'If everyone in the world had the same opinion and beliefs'well now that would be a dangerous world'. Her point being that disagreement promotes discussion and self-reflection. You can disagree as much as you want with the beliefs of others but allowing for different opinions and the way those disagreements are communicated is key.
    It is much faster, easier and less thoughtful to attack, belittle and disregard than to consider, reflect and take the time to word your arguments in a healthy and respectful way.
    Wanting everyone to share your opinion is how some of the tragic messes of the world have come to be.
    Thank you for your website'some of your thoughts don't resonate and some do but mostly I appreciate your encouragement to have people love and respect themselves.

  10. Wow, it’s all such a no-brainer.

    The poster about the marathon is plain wrong.
    You’d burn about 2,600 calories just running the thing, and then you’d burn more getting through the other 19 hours of the day.

    It ain’t just women.
    I am a 5’10” 142lb. man and am still tempted some days to not tell people what I eat.
    I’ll eat two small watermelons and someone will say, “You ate that whole thing?”, and I’ll say, “I ate two”.

    People, enough is enough, not too little or too much. This is common sense.

  11. Women tend to obsess over the size and pertness of their asses.

    The solidity of their asses generally determines pecking order, so that a woman with an ass you can park a truck on tends to rule them all. A less than solid ass, on the other hand, puts her back in the pecking order.

    I see women at the gym wasting time with exercises that are utterly futile, they should be working on their asses. 24/7 they should be thinking “My ass! My ass! My ass!”

    Because when push comes to shove if you are a woman, the ass is what matters.

    • While that might be your (chosen?) reality, and a lot of others may be on board, that’s certainly no absolute truth.

  12. Hi there Amber – my first time posting. I just wanted to say that I friggin LOVE what you are all about, and find it so refreshing hearing women and men talking so frankly about food, and our cultural obsessions with it.

    I myself am constantly thinking about how I fuel my body, and am working hard to get out of the diet-to-look-a-certain-way-mindset. It’s diabolical, the way it creeps into your life and mind.

    Looking forward to delving more into this good stuff, and your blog. THANKS!


  13. Hello Kaleo, My first post after discovering you via 180 degree health not so long ago.

    I don’t count calories, but I have experienced food shaming in the workplace. I have always eaten more than the average person and can easily eat a whole chicken or family chocolate bar if I am hungry enough and I have always been slender.

    I get ravenous in the mornings and like to eat a big lunch, so I would take a substantial meal to work and make time to sit down and enjoy it, even if it meant coming in earlier. Even though I had healthy snack food on hand if I needed it, I could work solidly and cope with stressful situations with plenty of energy.

    Not long after this, the women became hostile toward me and I found it difficult to eat my lunch as the stress affected my digestion. Comments such as “stuffing it in” would be directed at me. I had to find a new job, as I could not function in that hostile environment. Before I left, I noticed that the women who were constantly dieting would fill up on coke and coffee and lollies and take endless cigarette breaks and never seemed to lose any weight, but looked older than I did, even though they were younger than I.

  14. Thank you so much for this. I maintained a healthy BMI for a couple of years (after a lifetime of obesity) eating 2500-3000 calories a day with about an hour a day of intentional — not necessarily strenuous — activity. I’m tall, and I generally ate fairly “clean”/mostly whole foods, but plenty of meat, fats, wheat, etc. in addition to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was easily sustainable and I loved not having to eat like a “dieter”. Unfortunately, I let life events derail me and am struggling to find that place again where I can get in enough activity to support eating like a regular human being — you are a great inspiration!

  15. Um. My life has changed.
    I have been a chronic dieter for 12 years. You name it, I did it. I gave it up. I counted it. I did everything…saw every doctor.

    Anyway. Long story short..because we all have our long stories. Reading what you post has made me realize that my problem is not enough food.
    I have been living (hardly) on 1200-1400 calories a day WITH activity for the past 12 years in one form or another.
    If and when I did decide to “go out” for dinner …or “eat more than normal”
    I would be bloated, sick and gain 5 pounds. NO KIDDING.
    Discouraging to say the least.

    I enjoy working out: lifting weights and doing HIIT cardio. I got to a point that I couldn’t do these things because I would black out. I would have tunnel vision. Rapid/pounding heart beat when I walked up stairs…low blood preassue…hair loss..anger..depression.

    You posted something that said something like…you need to eat to support your body. (not exact..but you know the idea '?

    and right then. it hits me. I am not eating enough to support my own BODILY functions (aka…being alive) and the activity that I like to do.

    THUS…putting myself into starvation mode..(body holding weight)
    down regulation my metabolism, shutting off my sex drive (who needs sex when you are starving?!) stopping my period (again who needs babies?!)
    messing up my digestion (not top priority) and making my hair fall out.

    I’ve done a lot of corrective work up to this point but THIS BLOG was the light bulb that I needed. I was being so ignorant.

    1 week into “eating enough” (about 1800-2000) to support my body weight and activity level…I have lost 4 total inches. I AM NOT bloated or holding water anymore.
    Now this is not just eating whatever I please, it is mindful eating. Not much processed food at all.
    It is also working out / lifting heavy and doing cardio in the form of intervals for only about 20 total minutes 3x per week. (which by the way I can DO without feeling like I would pass out)

    ……ugh. and its because I am eating….
    FML! Thanks Kaleo <3 seriously from the bottom of my heart.

  16. Amber, do you believe that if a person needs to gain weight they should do it no more than 500 calories extra per day?
    I realize there may be too many other variables to consider and that your experience is in losing extra weight and then maintaining optimal weight primarily.

    • If a person needs to gain weight to recover from an eating disorder or starvation, they should eat 2500 minimum calories a day for women, and 3000 daily for men, even if that’s more than a 500 calorie surplus. The body needs those extra calories for repair. If they are gaining for aesthetics, then a smaller surplus would be better to maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain (assuming that was the goal). So short answer: it depends on the situation.

  17. Pingback: What happens when the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide? | Fit and Feminist

Comments are closed.