As a Westerner, you have been programmed to be terrified of calories. And for that we can blame a guy called Professor Atwater, a lady called Dr. Lulu… oh, and your parents.
The unit of energy we call a “calorie” was discovered and defined in the mid-1800’s. Then, in 1890 Professor Atwater and his team took this science and tested a tonne of different foods to determine how many calories each contained. His scientific suggestion to the world was that if we didn’t want to get fat, we should watch how many of these little energy parcels we consume.
Dr Lulu agreed with him and in 1919 wrote the first ever calorie counting book. This was the birth of the 1200-calorie diet. It was also the end of food being thought of as just food – from this point it was fuel to power our human body shaped machines; “hereafter you are going to eat calories of food. Instead of saying one slice of bread, or a piece of pie, you will say 100 calories of bread, 350 calories of pie” Dr Lulu Hunt Peters. Thanks for nothing, Lulu!
This calories in, calories out, mantra has been around for so long now that we accept it as fact… it has a feeling of truthiness (noun: The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true) about it. The problem with this fact is that it neglects the truer fact that our bodies are not machines. They are very human, with very human reactions to a lack or an excess of food. Far from being helpful, the view that science like this can be accurately applied to lives has caused us to lose trust that our body knows what’s best for us.
Yep, once more the Game of Culture has done a spectacular job in fucking things up. Here’s how:
History: The way humans eat has nothing to do with biology or evolution and everything to do with the era they happened to live in. Eating three meals a day wasn’t decided upon because it’s how our bodies function best, it was made-up to fit in with a rising industrial culture.
Breakfast was popularised by factory owners and schools in the industrial revolution when they decided to formalise eating times to make production more efficient. Before that people ate either when they were hungry or when they could afford to. In fact the ability to breakfast was often used to prove how posh a person was.
History again changed our eating habits when in 1970’s people moved away from family sit down meals. Young folks were spending more time out of their houses, which left a gap in the market for foods you can eat on the go… the food industry invented snacking to fill this gap, and then spent billions convincing us that we really should be doing it. Clever, hey?
All these changes stopped us eating when our stomachs told us to, and instead moved humans into an era of only eating when the clock said it was OK to.
But it wasn’t just meal timing that was being fucked with, the amount people ate was too. Industry also invented a huge variety of ways of packaging food. Armed with the science of calories and industrial boners for putting things in cans and plastic, the food companies started to control portion sizes. Before this people would bulk buy whole foods and eat as much as it took to satisfy their hunger. But this shift took the emphasis further away from listening to our bodies and instead more towards letting other people tell us how much is acceptable to eat.
Birth: Babies instinctively know exactly how much food energy they need. They’ll cry when they’re hungry and will turn their face away when they’re done. Simple… until science gets involved.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to establish a ballpark figure for the amount of milk a baby should be having. It means parents can pick up potential developmental problems early on. However, it is also the first time that humans are introduced to the idea there is the universally ‘correct’ amount of food, and that this amount applies to everyone as standard.
Childhood: How we behave has a lot to do with the rules that our caregivers gave us. It happens with every generation. Unfortunately, this passing down of behaviour standards has given us some screwed up rules when it came to food. Our parent’s generation was the first in recent history where food shortages were not a problem, but I don’t think they got the memo to change their eating rules to suit this advancement. They were taught, and so we were taught not to waste food.
I was rarely allowed to get down from the table until I’d cleared my plate, which effectively taught me to consciously ignore my fullness signals. But conversely, I was also told things like “you can’t possibly be hungry, you’ve just had breakfast”, or “no you can’t have another biscuit, you’ve had three already”.
This let me know that my hunger signals couldn’t be trusted either.
Our caregivers thought they were lovingly making sure we ate the correct amount. But this only took us further away from our innate ability to eat the right about for our own individual needs.
Adulthood: Governments tell us that the average woman should eat 2000 calories per day, but they don’t tell you that there is little scientific fact behind this figure. They also fail to mention that even if 2000 calories was right, that it’s only an average. And averages don’t mean anything when it comes to individual people. Knowing an average doesn’t help you if you happen to be the one person who needs to eat far more or far less.
Our inability to stick to a set calorie amount is never attributed to our bodies natural desire to eat the correct amount of food for us. Instead our willpower or motivation is blamed. Until we learn to ignore the Rules of Eating set by the Culture Game and learn to listen to the Rules that suit our personal Gameboard, we are destined to stick in this cycle of famine and feast forever. And that is not fun for anyone’s physical and mental health.
It’s time you thought about your own eating habits, but maybe not in a way that you’re used to. We often look at what we eat in terms of whether it is good or bad. Instead, I want you to take a look at your eating habits in terms of when and what you eat.
Do you eat breakfast because you’re hungry or because Mr. Kellogg created a snappy slogan that convinced society that it’s the “most important meal of the day”? Do you eat his cereal because that’s what your body wants in the morning? Or is it just because society has told you that a full roast dinner isn’t acceptable breakfast food?
We’re going to wipe your food habits sheet clean and start again, but first, you need to be clear on what Rules you are currently playing with. Fill in the worksheet below to find out what rules the Game of Culture has created for you.
Unlike most other coaches, I am not going to tell you what to do right now. That’s not going to help. I mean it hasn’t before has it? Only you know which suggestions for change are likely to fit in with your life, your brain, and your budget.
Instead, I am going to give you the information and let you decide. Of course, I am here to help, if you need me. But the decision, in the end, is all yours.
Are you ready to write your new rule? Hopefully you should have completed some or all of the exercises, and have had a go at creating and testing some new habits. This gives you the framework you need to write a new rule which will lead to the life you want and the future version of you that you want to live it.
Don’t worry about getting this right or wrong, because unlike Culture’s Game, we can change our rules as often as we like. Use the worksheet below to create the rule that feels right for you at the moment. Come back and update it whenever it stops working out for you… as we level up in life our Rules have to as well.