Weights & Measures

heartmeasureslgYesterday Lee over at For the Love of Peanut Butter (one of my favorite blogs about one woman’s amazing recovery from her ED) raised some really insightful and thought-provoking points about the dilemmas surrounding weighing and measuring food.

She notes that, as a former restricter, once she was out of her treatment, she initially weighed and measured meticulously, wanting to be sure she wasn’t going over what was recommended by her meal plans. Naturally, there was still that fear of eating too much.

Then, as time went on, she has gotten to a happier, calmer, more comfortable place where she feels she can eyeball some foods and simply doesn’t want to/need to rely on the tools anymore.

She doesn’t want to be tied to measuring cups and spoons and food scales, and she wants to trust her body — not rely on a measuring spoon to say, “too much PB today”!

I admire her a ton for her honesty and her insight, and say “Way to go!” for her determination to find freedom through leaving her utensils in their respective drawers.

Yet as a devoted Weight Watcher (who has admittedly never dealt with true restriction — Weight Watchers has minimums and I have never came close to those Points values), I’m mixed on how I feel about this approach for me.

Weighing, measuring and even food journaling are a double-edged sword. They are all tools of my success, … and they also fed my disordered eating behaviors. It’s like I am two people: someone still trying to lose weight and someone struggling with DE. I can’t decide which category I most fit into, especially since one led to the other (losing weight –> my DE thoughts/behaviors)

On the plus side, they’ve helped me more or less keep my figure (even with weight gain) and keep me faithful to the program.

But as an anxious, Type A person, I also recognize that these very tools that I credit with my success could also be taken to the extremes, leading to my DE thoughts and/or behaviors …

Still, on the whole, I don’t view them as a chore or as an obsession anymore, and feel more comfortable doing them than not.

No, I don’t weigh things like fruit or vegetables (in fact, I like to load my plate with veggies first because they’re healthy and filling for few calories).

But I do still usually measure (or eyeball, if I’m out) grains, bread, oil, sauces, meat, treats, milk, dry snacks, PB, nuts, etc.

I usually count a Point or two for a bite of dessert out, depending on what it is and I know what a serving of meat or pasta looks like. This is part of being on WW for so long; the knowledge doesn’t just “disappear.” Even if I’m not actively obsessing over it, in my head I know what a serving is or how many Points I am consuming.

And I always journal — I can’t help that; I love it. It’s a game for me.

I’m not extreme — I don’t bring my measuring spoons, cups or food scale out with me — I think that would be an extreme — but I do pay attention because not paying attention to serving sizes is how I was heavy my whole life in the first place!

(Rationally, I know a little extra PB or 1/4 c. cereal isn’t going to make me “fat.” But those little things do add up, and I’m still unable to lose right now … so I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.)

That said, Dr. G. wants me to embrace my personality, my anxious persona … to capitalize on it instead of working against it, especially since she knows I would like to get back to my comfy weight. So in my case, it doesn’t make sense for me to give these things up; even if I am not losing right now, I’m still more calm and successful within certain boundaries than I am without.

Like she says, if we were practicing flooding, she’d make me take away all those behaviors and just trust my body. But these behaviors (weighing, measuring, journaling) aren’t, as we’ve discussed, necessarily behaviors I really want to change because they are inherently healthy when done in moderation … and they keep me in line and make me feel good.

So instead, we’re focusing on getting me to the place where my anxiety about food, body image, life, etc. is lessened through changing my thought patterns.

And though I have my up and down days, I think I’m really getting to that place where I’m more comfortable in who I am — anxieties and all. Plus, I’m learning to make the distinction between rational and irrational thoughts and I say that’s mega-progress.

While I see both sides to the weighing/measuring/journaling issues, personally, I will continue to do them. If I find things getting obsessive again (like when I was journaling on Sparkpeople in addition to journaling on WW last summer) then I’ll reassess and maybe take Lee’s liberating approach.

But for now, I’d like to view these behaviors as assets, recognizing that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t do them … but knowing I personally feel more comfortable when I do, indeed, do them.

Don’t get me wrong — I can certainly see why putting the kibosh on those potentially dangerous behaviors is such a blessing for those struggling with a former life of severe restricting — once they stop obsessing, they feel liberated — that makes perfect sense to me.

I admire that “trust your body” approach a ton, and there’s a part of me that longs to be feel liberated too. Because of my experiences on Core, I’ve learned to trust myself in some capacities. For example, I don’t eat past satisfaction much anymore (even at holidays and events), and I’ve learned about “the sigh” when I’ve had enough. Those signals have helped retrain my head that sometimes I am satisfied with less than a serving.

But there’s a bigger part of me that, trust aside, likes living within boundaries. A part of me that knows success on WW came to me by being diligent — not too obsessive, but not lax, either.

So I’m going to be assertive here and put it out there — try as I might, trusting my body completely is just not for me at the moment. And that’s ok. Different things work for different people, and we’re all in the same battle together: to be as healthy as we can be.

Cheers to all, to good health and happiness, and living healthy “your own way.”

PS–Lee, thanks for inspiring me with your journey. We might be going about it in different ways, but we’re both on the road to freedom. Thanks for inspiring this post, too!

How about you? Do you weigh/measure your food or keep a food journal? Have these habits led to your success, driven obsession, or a little of both?


26 thoughts on “Weights & Measures

  1. Wow. This entry speaks to me.

    I have a question: have you experienced success on weight watchers? Do you like it? It seems like we have similar eating patterns and I’ve recently considered going as I’m finding tracking without maximum restrictions… not conducive to losing (surprise, surprise). Anyways, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the program from someone with an ED.

  2. Kelly, WW was the first and only weight loss program I ever tried in 2004 and I’ve never stopped since. I have kept off about 20 of the 30 I lost, depending on the day. I still journal every day.

    I came at it from the opposite side though — success on WW led to obsession and created my DE if that makes any sense … things are calmer now for me, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it for someone with an existing ED or recovering from it as there IS that huge emphasis on Points, but there too is the emphasis on healthy balanced eating and there ARE minimum Points to meet … so if you’re truly following the program in theory you could never under-eat. But it IS possible to overeat if one isn’t careful. Good luck to you!

  3. It’s so interesting that you (and so many others) use weighing and measuring to make sure you’re not getting “too much.” When I weigh and measure, I generally see it as getting “not enough.” As a compulsive overeater, weights and measures are a limitation that I generally don’t even address.

  4. Definitely an interesting perspective, Mara. I’ve never been a compulsive overeater; I just used to eat the wrong things before WW. Even now, I use weighing to ensure I’m not eating too much. But I can see how it could be the opposite for you.

    But here’s my question — if you don’t weigh and measure, how do you follow WW accurately since part of WW is attributing Points to things based on servings. Do you eyeball?

  5. I journal and measure most of my food. The way I see it, I’ll always fixate on food in one way or another, and I’d rather spend the time and energy journaling and measuring than obsess over whether I’m eating too much!

  6. FitforFree, that was kind of my therapist’s point to me; use it to my advantage — so long as I’m not obsessing or restricting what I eat (which I’m not) — these things have been tools of success for me in terms of keeping most of the weight off. So if I’m going to spend the time journaling, etc., it’s a healthier outlet for me, personally, than not doing it and worrying about it. You said it more succinctly — thanks 🙂

  7. I always measure when it comes to cups, 1/2 cups, etc. I used to weigh all meat but now I eyeball it. I am definitely more successful at weight loss if I weigh and measure, but it is not a livable thing that I am going to do every single time you know. I helped me lose 130 lbs, but I think the eyeball and the wiggle room allowed on maintenance will allow me to keep the weight off. Good post.

  8. I do measure dry foods like cereal and oats but pretty much eyeball everything else. I don’t obsess, but it’s important for me to watch my portion sizes. Before I lost weight, I was eating so much more than I thought I was calorie wise. My measuring cups keep me in check, but I try not to go overboard. 1 or 2 TBSP of almond butter?…I’m not sure, but whatever…a little extra nut butter lovin makes me happy. 🙂

  9. I am just stepping away from journalling; I’ve maintained my weight for 5+ years, I hope the healthy habits are ingrained by now!

    I do use the scale or measuring cups for things that are non-Core (cheese, PB, deli meat). I try my best to be a little relaxed about it, though. I try not to do point packing (eating more, because the points would be the same).

    I have learned to listen to my body by being on Core; right now, I will admit, I am up a bit from holidays/travel. But back in my own space, I am back on track, and feeling good.

  10. When I am dieting I MUST weigh/measure everything. I am one of those people that have a hard time losing (thyroid and other hormonal issues, and just plain slow metabolism!) People joke that they didn’t gain weight eating carrots or what not but in my experience I have stalled weight loss by eating too many veggies and other healthy things. It all comes down to calories in vs out and whether you blow your calorie deficit by eating carrots or cake– the effect is still the same. I now weigh everything in grams/ounces on a food scale and while it can be tedious it is the only way I can lose right now. I dealt with an ED in the past but I don’t find that this makes me obessive, it just is what it is. Naturally when I eat out I just guestimate.

    When I am maintaining I can just “eye-ball” things. I have learned what servings of various foods look like over the years and that works fine. But losing is a whole other battle.

  11. Hi Run4Change, good point about being on maintenance and having wiggle room. I’ve never eaten maintenance points — though I guess I was, because I gained …!! Perhaps too much eyeballing.

    Hi Heather! Good to hear you don’t obsess …. like you, I ate more than I needed to pre-WW (or WL of any kind) so the measuring cups (or knowing how many servings are in, say, a lasagna pan) help. Love it — a little extra nut butter makes you happy 🙂

    Good for you, Susan! I have been guilty of point-packing … I never called it that but I have done it! Keep on keeping on!

    Hi Lara, I think that’s why I felt like I was toeing two lines: DE and WL modes. It really matters now what I eat. All I’ve done is gain, gain, gain the past four months. Not a lot, but enough to concern me. I’ve yet to post a loss; even maintains were met by subsequent gains (even if TOM-related they’re still gains). You’re right — carrots or carrot muffins, they’re still calories and our body will store them or use them.

  12. Wow, this post is amazing. I want to thank you for mentioning me and giving me a shout out. I look up to you as an amazing writer, an inspiration for all people, struggling or not. I feel a connection when I read your words…and you know what? Your doing great, all this writing, observing and just mere *Awareness* shows your strength at the core.


  13. I used to weight everything too, now its only sometimes, when im really not sure. To be honest, i think i dont even need to weight everything, because im so used to it, i can do it only by looking at it.

    There are some days where im wondering if i might miscalculate the portions, but i guess im not far from the real answer, because otherwise, i would gain weight.

    But one thing that is weird is… if i calculate something and put it in my plate and feel full before finishing it… i wont stop until i ate everything, because everything has been calculated and i MUST eat it. 😛

  14. Hi Lee and thank you so much. You’re doing some amazing things yourself, and I’m glad we can rally for each other! I’ve said it before, but you’re wise beyond your years — and your writing strength is incredible. Thank you for being the inspiration for today’s post!

    Hi Nikita, I am DEF. able to relate — I had a big issue with “Entitlement” — something I plan to blog more about later this week — I hate not finishing a portion, especially if it’s small! So I tend to order/choose bulky foods (veggies) that even if I lick the plate clean, it’s still a lot of volume for little calories. That said, I have a lot of trouble not joining the Clean Plate Club, especially when I’ve dished out or measured out a serving. I will be blogging more about this for sure 🙂

  15. Thank you for this post! I know a lot of people who think that weighing food and journalling MUST mean that you are disordered eater. But to me, like you, it’s more like a game. For me, because I track my nutrition, I mainly use my journal to make sure I am getting adequate levels of all my vitamins/minerals, and that I have a good distribution of proteins/fats/carbs. For example, iI can see by my journal f I’m low in C after lunch. That way, I know to eat something with C at dinner, or to make sure I get in some C the next day. I don’t feel anxiety attached to the journalling or weighing–I view it in a clinical way, as part of a healthy lifestyle.

  16. Rachel, I like that approach a lot — it IS part of a healthy lifestyle — when not abused … and so long as it’s not obsessive, which I was for a while there. Not now, but def. at my worst.

  17. Like Rachel said I also use the tracking to make sure I get all my vitamins/minearls and a good balance of carbs/fats/proteins. I think it can become DE when a person won’t/can’t eat anything that hasn’t been measured (like those who won’t eat out or at a friend’s house, etc) I just look at it all as data. The worst thing for me is to be “dieting” but not losing. That is when I get super frustrated and can go down the “binge” road. I thought I was “dieting” for months but wasn’t weighing or tracking and I felt kind of deprived since I was always ordering/eating what I thought I should order vs what I truly wanted, etc. That led me to some crazy binge episodes out of frustration. Some people on another message board suggested I try weighing and tracking all food, saying that most of us greatly overstimate our intake, even when we think we are cutting back. So I did and I was amazed, getting about 300-400 calories more than I thought. That is enough to halt any weight loss for me. So now I track carefully and plan out my daily meals. I track everything from lettuce to my daily square of dark chocolate. If I have stayed within my calorie goals for the week I know I have some wiggle room for a special treat or nice dinner out to satisfy the “pleasure center” of the brain 🙂 I think having that higher calorie day once a week also helps the metabolism.

    If someone can lose/maintain without measuring/tracking then more power to them. Unfortunately I am not one of them.

  18. Lara, that was the one pro I found about journaling on Sparkpeople — seeing that nutritional breakdown. Part of me wonders if I should go back to that and give WW a little rest because I can’t do both … (it becomes too obsessive for me) … hm.

    I weigh and measure and journal and still am not losing … (haven’t lost for 3 years, only gained actually) but I have a greater fear of not doing it than continuining to do it.

    I am with you — I’m not one of those who can maintain or lose without the diligence. So I’ll keep on keeping on!

  19. i really reminisce with what nikita said about having to eat everything that i’ve calculated. thats where i think a downfall to calorie/point counting comes in. whereas if i were “intuitively eating,” i’d probably stop 3/4 of the way or something. and its ironic b/c i’d probably eat LESS in the end that way, versus finishing the whole thing when calorie counting. anyway, looking forward to that blog post! 🙂

  20. Hi Madison! I agree that sometimes I’d stop intuitively with less … and that knowing what a serving size is (and being satisfied on less) is really hard sometimes to “accept.” That post is coming tomorrow — writing it now for tomorrow 🙂

  21. Lissa I use fitday and find it really helpful. Are you weighing all your food or using measuring spoons/cups. For example, a 1 TBSP serving of peanut butter is x amount of grams but when you scoop out a TBSP using a meausring spoon you often wind up with more from it getting packed down. Same goes for any other food you measure out. So that 1 TBSP of peanut butter might really be closer to the weight of 1.5-2 TBSP of peanut butter. And if that is happening with other things you are eating then it can really add up. Oatmeal was another huge eye opener for me. The 1/3 or 1/2 cup of dry oats I was measuring out was more than the gram weight for the serving size (which is the accurate way to meaure for calories)

    Again if someone is losing fine then no need to get so detailed but if not losing it is worth a shot.

  22. Lara, I do dry weights in measuring cups and I do measuring spoons. I’ve weighed cereal on a food scale but not my oats. For meat, I weigh on a food scale. You’re right that it could really add up. I guess I should put everything on the food scale. I guess since I’m not eating my APs (earning 28-32 usually a week) I figured any off-measuring would be compensated for … I don’t know!! Thanks for the advice though.

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