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Numbers Game

I’m a numbers person. I always have been, even in the times when I had my struggle with fractions and thought I hated math. One example is one time in late high school when I was packing up Oreo cookies for a camping trip, and dividing them between various bags. To make sure they were exactly even, I counted them out neatly by 2’s, and my dad commented, “It’s good you’re going into computer science.”

It’s primarily that I like things that are neat and organized, and numbers mostly are (leaving aside things like irrational or imaginary numbers for the moment). And so it’s not surprising that when losing weight, numbers became even more prominent, particularly since it’s something that society advocates as well. For instance, some snacks are now packaged in 100 calorie servings, the nutritional breakdown of foods is displayed on the packaging, all broken into neat little numbers. Weight Watchers uses a points system, and South Beach and Atkins diets are specific about how many grams of carbohydrates you can have.

For me, the numbers game starts first thing in the morning when I step on the scale. I know, I know, most weight loss programs don’t advocate weighing yourself every day, but it’s oddly addictive. In the early days, I wanted that daily confirmation about my weight, and in fact sometimes weighed myself two or three times throughout the day. Not anymore, thankfully – now it’s just the morning weigh-in, and that’s mostly to confirm how I think I’ve done.

Then there’s the numbers of calories, a running total that I often keep in my head. I know it’s obsessive and not really healthy, but I can’t seem to help it. Since I know that I can only eat so many calories per day, I keep this in mind whenever I eat – it’s also part of the reason that I plan my menu well in advance, so that I know roughly how much I’m expecting in a given day. The numbers of grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat are also running tallies.

The problem with all this, apart from the obsessive factor, is that it reduces food to numbers, when it’s so much more than that. It can make it difficult to enjoy, and to some extent takes away my sense of responsibility about what I’m eating. If I know how many calories are in it, and how those are broken out, I don’t pay as much attention to how I actually feel after eating, if I’m still hungry, or if I’m not hungry even if I haven’t eaten as many calories as I think I should be able to.

What’s interesting is that when I’m taken outside of my normal routines and schedule, without access to my scale or nutrition information, I find that I do pay more attention to what my body is actually telling me. I still have a pretty good sense of how many calories I’m consuming, just based on experience, but I’m more focused on if I feel hungry or not. And more often than not these days, I discover that when I get home and jump back on the scale – I haven’t gained any weight.

So I’m thinking of experimenting on taking a vacation from the scale, and give the numbers a rest for a little while. It might be nice to have fewer things running around in my head, and take more ownership of what I’m doing, and be fully focused on my body. Wish me luck.

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