Friday, March 18, 2016

quantifying self-worth

i listened to a podcast today about quantified bodies: i.e. how health trackers are turning our lives into a numbers game.  as the podcast started, i almost switched to a different one for my run.  the very idea of listening to a podcast about tracking food and exercise seemed like it could be triggering for me: i've spent the past few years trying to STOP quantifying things in my life.  but, the hook reeled me in, and i listened.

and then i got mad.

i started tracking dietary and exercise habits from a very young age, way before there were tech things to assist the pursuit.  i slowly let go of several of these, though i secretly still keep a daily running calorie total in my phone, just so i know where i am for the day. someone saw me updating it the other night, which i usually try to do when no one is looking, and the shame hit me square in the face. i tried to play it cool, but i was so embarrassed.  

just so i can feel some pride in the face of admitting that, the things i have stopped tracking: 
writing down all food consumed and amounts; 
tracking daily grams of fat, protein, and fiber; 
cataloging exercise/activity i participated in each day on paper and then in an online calorie tracker; detailing written explanations for days taken off;
and i finally threw away the years of notebooks i had kept these things in.

and i'm sure there are more things that i've forgotten i used to track.

when i found out my iphone 6 was tracking all of my mileage, i panicked.  i had purposefully NOT gotten a fitbit when all of my friends did.  i do not have a smart watch.  i stopped using the map my run and runkeeper apps. yes, i still run a lot.  but not being as exact about my mileage means i can't try to be super exact with my calorie balancing.  truth: i now check the mileage in my health app on my iphone several times a day. 

let me get to the point: i think quantifying calories in/calories out is quite problematic.  i'm not talking about using a GPS watch to map a run when training for a race or doing a food diary for a couple of days to become aware of habits.  i'm talking about every day quantification. 

which is why this podcast made me so angry. 

there were people who called in with their stories of becoming obsessed and of letting the fitness trackers dictate their lives.  one man said that he got his 6-pack abs, but was left with no one to show them off to.  one woman talked about sneaking in extra steps around her kitchen in the middle of the night to try to beat her friend's steps for the day.  what the podcast didn't do was address the eating disorders that are developing in this new techy world.  when eating and exercise interfere with thought patterns or social plans or sleep regularly, that is an eating disorder.  

and to normalize these obsessive behaviors, to promote the extreme competition with one's self or one's friends, does everyone a disservice.  to act as if it is normal for us to all discuss each other's activity levels fosters a society that promotes eating disorders. 

i regularly get uncomfortable when people bring up their numbers for the day or week.  internally i begin to scream "lalalalalalalalala" to try to block out the voices.  i'm hearing the voice of my acquaintance, and i'm hearing my inner monologue berating me for not doing enough; telling me i should go out running again. not only is this triggering for people in recovery, but it is teaching this as "normal" to younger generations.  

normalizing disordered eating does not make it non-disordered.

my self-worth is not determined by how many steps i took today.  it is not determined by how many squats i did, how long my yoga practice was, or by how cleanly i ate.  it is not determined by a number on the scale or a fat/muscle ratio. 

yes, it is healthy to exercise.  yes, it is healthy to be aware of what you're eating.  the extremes of quantification and tracking are not.  exercise as many days as you can without sacrificing time with family and friends.  eat food that is good for you that you enjoy that you can partake in with your loved ones. 

but get over the tracking.  it's not healthy.  do things because they feel good and they make you feel good, not because some number isn't the one you think it should be.  numbers don't make happiness.  


  1. This hit home. Just because something is "normal" doesn't make it healthy. And as you pointed out, tying that unhealthy behavior to self-worth is exactly the problem. Well said.