I have been wishy-washy about whether or not it's good to track food.
When I first joined SparkPeople, and before I started participating in the community, I lost twenty pounds by using the tracking feature on this site. Tracking worked very well for me that first year, and I was happy with my weight loss.
Then lots of stuff happened, I wasn't emotionally strong enough to handle it all, and I turned to food and alcohol to help me get through. I would track all day long, but then everything would fall apart at night, when I would figure I deserved to do exactly what I wanted to do after having done all day long things that made me feel like a servant. Every day I do a million things that make other people's lives easier, I would think at the end of the day, and I "deserved" a reward in the form of a beer or a big bag of chips. So my twenty-pound loss was gradually reversed, and there followed years of repeating the same old ritual every day--starting off refreshed and motivated in the morning, tracking carefully all day long, only to make up for the saved calories at night with a binge of some sort. I would go a few weeks here and there doing very well and losing five pounds or so, but I always eventually lost sight of my goal and completely forgot why it was I wanted to lose weight. I avoided looking at images of myself, but sometimes I would be caught by surprise. Occasionally seeing myself in rogue mirrors or storefront windows, or in photographs taken by others, and often waking up mornings with joint pain so severe I could barely walk--these would be little reminders along the way of the reason I had originally joined SparkPeople and had worked so hard at the beginning to regain my health and formerly attractive appearance.
Somewhere during those years, my younger daughter was diagnosed with anorexia, received counseling, and was assigned the book Intuitive Eating, which advocates the approach of paying attention to your body's hunger signals and ignoring numbers. It's dieting that has made us all so fat, the book said, and I could see the point. Making rules and weighing myself and all my food suddenly seemed extremely oppressive, like a punishment, and instead of helping me to lose weight, only made me want to rebel and throw tantrums by bingeing. Around that time, I saw many of my Spark friends achieve success with the Beck Diet Solution. I remember ordering the book, starting to read it, and immediately balking at all the thinking I would have to do if I were to follow the program. It had homework! The advice offered by Dr. Beck seemed opposite to what the Intuitive Eating book was encouraging me to do, which seemed to be to stop thinking about food and weight.
It's been a while since I opened either of those books, so I can't say for sure, but my thinking about them has changed. It strikes me this morning they have the same ultimate aim--to set readers on a path toward freedom from the destructive mental habits and behavior that we have mindlessly trudged along for years. Though the books have different approaches and focus on different kinds of cognitive training, they both seek to lead the reader to a healthy life of freedom from obsession, guilt, despair, and physical suffering.
While the Intuitive Eating book helped my daughter overcome anorexia, regain a healthy body, and develop a healthy attitude toward weight and eating, I realize that for me, at this time, I need the structure of clear limits on eating. So far, whenever I've tried "intuitive eating," I've become confused about whether I'm hungry or just tired or bored, and I've stretched the limits beyond what's possible for weight loss. Therefore, for now, I will humbly and earnestly go back to the tracking method here on Spark, which worked in the past and which allows a great deal of flexibility and choice of nutritious foods within the assigned calorie range.
A period of restriction and discipline can lead to a type of freedom that would not be possible without it. An analogy comes to mind. Twenty or so years ago, I took my elementary school-aged children to the US for a few months because I wanted to spend time with my mother, who was ill and not expected to live very long. I enrolled my children, ages 10 and 8, who had been going to Japanese public schools here in Japan, in the elementary school in my small hometown in Georgia. There were many differences in the curriculum and educational style between the two countries. Japanese schools provide excellent musical education for all public school students, no matter the district. Music education is a nationwide given, unaffected by budgets, always provided for every student. My children learned to play the harmonica in first grade, the recorder in second grade, and other instruments in the years after that. But while I was delighted that my children were taught to play various instruments, my impression about Japanese music education (and in other subjects as well) was that it was all very rigid and allowed for little self-expression. I mentioned my concern to the music teacher at the rural Georgia elementary school, a talented young man who could play several instruments and was impressed that my children could already play the harmonica and recorder. "Well, yes," I said, "they can play the notes, but can they express themselves with the music?" And the music teacher had a quick reply, which felt almost like a reprimand. "Oh, that comes much later," he said."First they have to learn the skills! They can't show any feelings until they learn how to play the notes automatically!"
And that's what I'm remembering now, at age 61, starting over again to try to learn the skills of eating properly and taking care of my body. Take time to learn the skills. Pay attention. Freedom and joy will come later.