I have a lot of colleagues who know the truth – that virtually everyone eats more than they think they do – but have decided that the best way to deal with it is to tell people to eat 1200 calories, knowing they will ACTUALLY eat more like 2000.
Because almost everyone who’s ever had their actual calorie intake compared with their reported intake, by actual SCIENTISTS, has been shown to underestimate how much they’re eating – some people by as much as 300%. In this study, participants under-reported their intake by 47%. This Danish study of over 300 people showed virtually everyone, in every demographic, under-reporting calories. This one shows participants under-reporting by up to 300%! That means some people who think they are eating 1000 calories a day are actually eating more like 3000. Even Registered Dieticians under-report their intake!
Calorie under-reporting isn’t a moral failure, it is normal. Almost everyone does it. It doesn’t make a person weak or dumb or lazy. It just is the way it is.
As I said above, many of my colleagues, knowing this, think that telling people to eat less than they really need is the way to go. I disagree. I think teaching people to be HONEST and ACCURATE is far more important and empowering.
I never made any real or lasting progress until I was honest with myself. Until I wrote down everything I ate and all the exercise I did, and didn’t lie to myself about how much it was. Until I acknowledged that I was eating upwards of 4k calories a day on a typical day, and all that ‘activity’ I told myself I did was really mostly sitting in my chair at my computer. Being honest with myself was the hardest thing I ever did. And it was also the most empowering, because it allowed me to make REAL change to my behavior.
Until I could identify and change my actual behavior, I was stuck in the endless cycle of dieting and regain. Being unaware of what I was really doing to myself was THE problem. Awareness and honesty was the solution.
I believe that most people are capable of being honest with themselves. It’s fucking HARD, but it’s possible. And it’s important. And it’s empowering, because you no longer think of yourself as a victim of biology. You take back the power. You take responsibility for making your own decisions. And making a decision to STOP dieting is every bit as valid a decision as deciding to keep trying to lose weight. It is your body, it is your decision, and you have the power to change it. Or not. Being honest with yourself gives you that power.
I do not believe that coddling people’s unawareness is the way to go. I do not believe that giving people misinformation (your body only needs 1200 calories) because you think they can’t handle the real information (you’re probably eating more than you think) is fair or respectful. I think that compassionate honesty is the most important thing we can do for ourselves (and for those of us in the wellness industry, our clients).
‘You are normal. And you are capable. And I will help you. Lets do this thing.’
The reason people freak out about how much I eat is not because 3000 calories a day is so extraordinary for someone my height and weight and activity level. The reason people freak out is because almost everyone else under-reports their intake, so they think they are eating less than me but not achieving the same results. I am the one tracking accurately (see my last blog post for evidence that 3k cals a day is a perfectly appropriate intake for me). The reason people freak out is because I’m one of the very few people who actually tracks my intake accurately, so it looks like I’m the anomaly. I’m not.