So, just for shits and giggles, I decided to plug my stats into this nutritional “daily needs calculator.”
32-year-old woman, 62 inches tall, 170 lbs.*, somewhat active lifestyle including 30 mins. of hatha yoga and 30 minutes of walking daily. (Note: the activity numbers are a fairly conservative estimate. Most days, I do at least an hour of yoga, but some days, I do none. The walking varies between 10 minutes and 90 minutes.)
So the first thing it tells me is that I have a BMI of 31.1, though it politely neglects to mention that this means I am OBESE!!!!!! And it does, at least, acknowledge that BMI by itself doesn’t necessarily mean squat. Still, I’m girding for the part where it tells me I need to lose weight, and that I need to do it by living on green tea and fresh oxygen.
Instead, it tells me that my body needs — are you sitting down? — 2498 calories a day.
Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, but in my head, it’s like they just told me that to achieve optimum health,** I need to eat an entire chocolate cake for breakfast with french fries dipped in mayonnaise on the side.
‘Cause, see, when I was obsessively counting calories, I was allowed anywhere from 1200-1700. On Jenny Craig, they start you at 1700 if you’re actually fat, then have you work your way down to 1200. (And after losing 65 lbs. on that, I went even lower to maintain for a while.) On Weight Watchers, my points range was, I believe, 24-30. Now, they claim there’s a complex mathematical equation behind the points system, but it’s pretty much 1 point = 50 calories. So, 1200-1500 calories a day.
And the thing is, for all the research I’ve done into fat and health, for all I talk constantly about how fucked up dieting is, for all I knew 1200 calories was obscenely low and 1700 couldn’t be much better, I still HAD NO IDEA my body might ever, under any circumstances, require more than 2000 calories a day. When that number came back, I nearly peed myself: 2500 CALORIES??
And even though I suspect I actually do eat just about 2500 calories a day, it turns out the brainwashing never really leaves you. ‘Cause those programs — especially Weight Watchers — are not “diets,” remember? They’re lifestyle changes. You are supposed to eat like this for the rest of your life. So basically, every day I’ve eaten more than 1700 calories — i.e., every day since mid-2003 — I’ve assumed on some level that I was eating “too much.” (I just didn’t give a rat’s ass if I was eating “too much” anymore.) I mean, I entertained the possibility that I needed more energy than that — since, you know, my body demands more — but again, I never imagined my daily needs could be more than 2000 calories. I’m 5’2″. My bones are teeny tiny. I’ve lived on less than 1200 calories a day, and I didn’t feel like I was starving!
Last weekend, I was out with The Cynical Girl and Gemellen, and we got to talking about weight. We all said what we weighed, and I was floored, because I would have pegged both of them for literally 20 lbs. less than their actual weights. And then I got pissed off, because why don’t we know this about each other? Why don’t I have any friggin’ clue what other women weigh? Well, probably because the only women who talk about their weight are actresses, and they’re all shaving off at least 20 lbs. (not to mention 5 years off their age). Even the most skeletal are probably not actually 5’7″ and 115 lbs., but those are the kind of numbers that seep into my consciousness.
Consider also that when I was 20 lbs. lighter than I am now and dating online, if I put that I weighed 150, I’d get very few responses. If I put that I weighed 145, I’d get plenty. 150 was the cut-off number for the vast majority of guys — including many who would say in their profile that they’d date women up to 7 feet tall, but only up to 150 lbs. (and some who were interested in 7-footers who weighed less than 130). Obviously, I wanted nothing to do with those guys, but seeing how fucking many of them there were was always a kick in the gut. People have absolutely no idea what real human beings weigh.
And even half-assed fat activists, apparently, have no idea what real human beings’ caloric needs are. I mean, one online calculator isn’t the be-all and end-all, and I’d have to submit to a more detailed analysis if I really wanted to know how many calories I theoretically require, which I don’t. But I’m pretty damned sure it’d end up being more than 1700.
It’s a bloody wonder I couldn’t maintain that “lifestyle change,” huh?
*Note: in the interest of total honesty, I should point out I don’t own a scale, have no intention of ever owning one again, and thus have no idea what I actually weigh. But comparing my body now to my weight(s)when I looked pretty much like this during my obsessed-with-numbers days, my best guess is that I’m somewhere between 165 and 180.
**Update: I should clarify that the calculator doesn’t say anything about “optimum health” — that was me getting all fancy with the writerly hyperbole. (See also: entire chocolate cake and fries dipped in mayonnaise.) What the calculator does is estimate “the number of Calories that you burn during exercise and daily living.” That’s why the fatter you are, the higher the number. So it’s not that my body needs 2500 calories a day precisely, but that I’m burning about 2500 calories a day just by being me, which is equally mindblowing.