“Mon, we’re all getting breakfast sandwiches, you want one?”
“Okay…” I say, thoughtfully, thinking about what exactly a breakfast sandwich meant. It meant a lot of calories and fat as my first meal of the day. It meant blowing my calorie limit out the window. Basically, it meant starving.
“Well, what kind?” he asks.
“I don’t know. What are you getting?”
He kind of just looks at me with a face that says, “What does it matter?”
So, I just tell him sausage, egg, and cheese. Or maybe I said bacon. I don’t remember because the alarms in my head were going off. Just five minutes earlier I had hopped off the scale in his bathroom. It read 100 lbs – the lowest I had been since junior high.
I start to get dressed and tell him to go downstairs; I’ll meet him down there. Then the panic begins. I am starving. I went out last night and couldn’t find anything healthy enough for my standards on the menu. I wound up splurging by eating 6 chicken wings.
But I can’t eat that sandwich. I know I can’t. There will be a lot of cheese, a lot of grease, and a lot of carbs. I can’t do it. I don’t even want to know the calorie count.
I rush downstairs and throw six dollars in his direction and tell him I have to leave. He looks confused and kind of hurt, wondering what he did wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong. I just couldn’t eat it.
As I drive home I realize I am starving and have no food in my house. So I stop at Dunkin’ and get the low-cal breakfast sandwich – turkey sausage and egg whites. Then I drive to my apartment and set it on the counter where it sits for five hours, untouched, until I finally throw it away. By the time I eat at 3pm I am shaky and dizzy.
Flashback a few years and I’m sitting in a restaurant. I want to order the chicken wing wrap but I already know the calorie count. It doesn’t matter anyway. He’ll probably mention it if I don’t first.
After a painful deliberation between a chicken wing wrap and a salad, in which we discuss calorie and fat content so I can make an informed decision, I choose the salad. Then when the waiter comes I quickly change to an order of wings and fries. I eat six chicken wings and leave four for lunch tomorrow.
At lunch the next day I eat all four of them, and then I cry. I’m ruining my body. I’m feeding it unhealthy food. I’m out of control. Little did I know that I was out of control, just in different ways.
It’s eight months ago and I am at a rest stop between Philadelphia and Scranton. I had no chance to eat, yet. My options are a burger from Roy Rogers, greasy pizza from a nameless place, or a pre-made grilled chicken sandwich that has more chemicals in it than I can handle. I spend a half hour at this rest stop, walking and walking, trying to find something that is not automatically ruled out by my strict diet.
I find a granola bar that is 110 calories and leave. My trip is set back a half hour and I’m still starving.
I can’t speak for everyone when I say that featuring FDA-mandated calorie counts on menus nationwide is more harmful than it is good, even though that’s exactly what I believe for myself. I will tell you that the panic is starting to set in. It’ll be a year before this goes into effect, so I have time. It’s just that, I spent the past 6 months teaching my brain not to care about calories, and this feels like a bit of a blow. I can’t lie and say I’m not a little scared.
I did some research to see the affects of calorie counting on eating disorders. It turns out Harvard University opted to remove the calorie counts from their dining halls in 2008 due to the impact it had on students with eating disorders. Other than that, I didn’t spend much time researching. Our disordered-eating-obsessed country has many more articles on how to lose weight in unhealthy ways than articles on eating disorders. It’s just the way it is.