The Dangers of Counting Calories

dangers of counting calories

dangers of counting calories

A life consumed by counting calories

If you or someone that you know has, or is counting calories, dieting to the extremes, or making drastic lifestyle changes, please read this.

It has been nearly six years now since I first decided that it was time to get a grip on my life, and make a lifestyle change. A lifestyle change that I imagined would bring nothing but happiness, and the approval from others. A lifestyle change that involved vigorous daily exercise, and counting calories. Little did I know that this would become one of the biggest mistakes of my life that I would still be dealing with nearly six years later.

As an overweight sophomore in college, I made a promise to myself that I was never going to see the scale go past two hundred pounds. The day that I made this promise to myself, I stepped on the scale one last time standing at 5 foot 9 inches. I stepped on, looked down, and it read 199.4 pounds.

For me, I had it. I hated the way I looked, I hated the way that I felt, and I hated not having any confidence in myself. The next day, I knew that I had to do everything that I could to get back to being healthy. It was time to get fit.

The first four months were easy, mainly because I had not started counting calories at this point. I was eating the same, but I had just eliminated soda from my diet. I was also doing two workout videos a day in my dorm room; Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, and a 20-minute knockoff YouTube video of an Insanity workout.

After these four months, summer was approaching, and I was moving back home. I wanted nothing more than to go to the lake with my friends, and be able to take my shirt off without feeling some sense of shame. So, I did just that.

After losing twenty five pounds in a span of four months, I was feeling good about myself. Not only was I losing a lot of body fat, but I was also gaining muscle. I was finally getting the body that I had always wanted, and people were taking notice.

The left is my senior picture, and the right was me just under a year ago.

For me, the attention from others almost felt like a drug. No matter how much attention I was getting, I simply couldn’t get enough. As I was feeling more and more confident by the day, I knew that I had to keep pushing myself to be just that much better. After some time, exercise simply wasn’t cutting it anymore. So, I started tracking my calories.

If you are not familiar with caloric intake, the ODPHP (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion) recommends that the average 23-year-old male should consume 3,000 calories per day. This is is you weigh 160 pounds, and are moderately active. If you are looking to lose one pound of weight per week, you should be consuming 2,500. If you are looking to lose two pounds per week, you should be consuming 2,000. Anything lower than this should be under the supervision of a medical professional.

Well, I wanted to push my body. I wanted to see the weight melt off, and I wanted it gone fast. So without medical supervision, I restricted my daily caloric intake to 1,500 to 1,800 per day. Not only was I still doing the same workouts that I had mentioned before, but I was running at least four miles per day.

From the day that I first started focusing on my “health,” to the day I moved back to school for my junior year of college, I had lost 45 pounds. It had only been 7 months… I was starting my junior year of college standing 5 feet 11 inches, and an unhealthy 6% body fat.

After helping me unpack and get settled in, my parents left to head home, and I immediately went to the store. They didn’t know this at the time, but they would be returning just a few days later.

The first purchase that I made as a junior in college was a scale. I got back to my apartment, and immediately, I had to check my weight. 155 pounds. A new low weigh in for me. I could see my abs, I could see the veins on my arm, and life was “good.”

My dad wanted to see me put weight back on, and he didn’t really trust my cooking abilities. So, he went to the school cafeteria, and purchased the four day unlimited meal plan. Four days a week, I could go to the cafeteria and consume as much food as I could possibly imagine. That’s every college kids dream, right?

Three days into the school year I was standing in line getting a sandwich. No sides, no nothing, just a spinach wrap with turkey. As I stood in line waiting for my food, I started feeling dizzy. My vision went black, and I was losing my hearing. Immediately, I ran to the nearest table and sat down. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of sitting at a high-top table. I put my head on my arms, and I closed my eyes.

The next thing I remember is being on my back, and looking up at the ceiling with other students holding my head in place. I had fallen off of the stool and straight on the top of my head. Every muscle in my body was clenched, and I could not move my neck.

After about ten minutes of not being able to move my head or neck, the police and the paramedics arrived. One of the paramedics placed a brace on my neck, and together, they lifted me on the gurney.

As soon as I was on the gurney, I looked out of the corner of my eyes and saw every set of eyes on me. Embarrassed at what happened, my stomach started feeling anxious. I couldn’t stand to be looked at by people that I see on a daily basis. I turned my head, except when I did, I vomited all over the cafeteria floor. Finally, I was wheeled out, and loaded into the ambulance.

On the way to the hospital, the paramedics called my parents and had advised them to come to the hospital. As I was getting an IV placed into my arm in the back of an ambulance, shame fell over me for what I was putting my family through. My parents had to take work off to come and see me because I couldn’t hold myself together.

I got to the hospital, went through a bunch of tests, and was placed in a room. The nurses brought me crackers to help calm my stomach, and orange juice to drink. I ate the crackers, but disregarded the orange juice as it was unnecessary calories that I was not willing to put into my body. Yes, even after fainting, this was still my mentality.

After two hours of tests and watching tv, my parents had finally arrived. My mom was in tears and my dad was trying to hide the worry on his face. There I was, their youngest child laying on a hospital bed because he refused to eat, and eventually fainted due to starving himself.

We hung out in the hospital room for three hours before I was released. Following my release, my parents took me home with them for the remainder of the week to rest, and to make sure that I was going to be alright. After sustaining my fifth concussion, doctors thought it was best that I didn’t put my brain through any stress for the rest of the week.

I tried desperately to act like I was fine, but the truth is, I was the furthest thing from being fine. I hated myself, I hated who I had and was becoming, and I was slowly torturing myself both physically and mentally.

That week was one of the hardest weeks of my life, because it was at that point that I had to come to terms with my eating disorder. Even if I was not willing to openly share it with others, I knew that I had an eating disorder. And it stemmed from the fact that I ever started counting my calories.

Yes, I am a now 25-year-old male who is willing to admit that I have been battling an eating disorder for the last six years. Six years of living by the guidelines of food, living in fear, and living in shame. Even though I have made tremendous strides with food over the last six months, my eating disorder is still something that I think about daily. Honestly, I don’t know if it is ever something that I will be able to forget.

The reason that I shared this story, is because I want others to see that there is more to life than dieting, counting calories, or worrying about your appearance. I want to help others out there who might be experiencing some of the things that I have. As a society, we do not talk enough about the various mental illnesses that most of us face on a daily basis. Especially eating disorders in the younger generations.

If there is one thing in my life that I could change, it would be ever starting to count my calories. Never in a million years would I do that again, and never will it be something that I recommend people do. I know first hand that the damage it can cause, and the addictive games that it can play with our minds.

Food is a necessity in life, but yet, it is something that I, and several others abuse because we conform to the beliefs of others. NO DIET is ever worth the damage that can follow from counting calories. No diet is ever worth developing an eating disorder, or torturing your body just so that you can lose a few pounds. And no diet is ever worth almost losing your life over.

I have spent the last six years of my life trying to get my mind straight from the damage that came from counting my calories. Six years of daily battles, self-hatred, and self doubt. If there is one thing that I could tell you, it would be to live your life, and just make healthy choices. Eat good foods, exercise regularly, but never count your calories.

A number on the scale and the number of calories that you eat will never define who you are as a person. So don’t ever let them. Live the best life that you can live, and be proud of the amazing person that you already are. That is far more important.

Michael Bonnell

11/6/2018

 

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