Since when did healthy get a formula?

I was a biochemistry major in college. I sat through many tortuous 8am lectures, and even one Saturday morning lab. Much of it was erased through the haze of starvation and sleep deprivation, but some of it (I hope) stayed with me.

Biochemistry is the foundation of all health sciences (psychology and psychiatry seem to be unfortunate exceptions). You can learn a lot about health in a biochem lecture, provided your professor's accent isn't so strong and handwriting so messy that you begin to drool on your notes. I can tell you about enzymes Co-Q, the citric acid cycle, the aerobic and anaerobic production of ATP. There were many formulas- you get an average of 31 ATP molecules for every glucose molecule ingested. And so on.

The health industry ("thindustry") pounces on the idea of formulas as a way to measure health. Count your fat grams. No, your carbs. What about the glycemic index? Crap! Then wait, no, it's the total number of calories you consume. On top of that, you have to exercise.

So most of these companies (and the federal government) have created little charts telling you how much to eat and drink and exercise to maintain an "ideal" weight.

Now, I'm not much of a fan of our current government, and a cynic by nature, but why the hell should the government be calculating the ideal size of my butt? It makes no sense.

Digging a little deeper.

These formulas are attractive. My little OCD reptilian brain loves to count calories. It latches onto those numbers, stashes them away in a little cerebral filing cabinet where the information can be retrieved upon Ed's request. The thing is, our bodies do not work on math alone. Magazines tell you that if you eat this many calories, run this many miles, do this many crunches and leg lifts, then you will look like this model/celebrity by Memorial Day. I'm assuming, of course, you purchase the issue at least 24 hours before Memorial Day begins. It makes no sense. First of all, I will NEVER look like the person in the picture because I'm probably too short. Secondly, I'm not that person. I don't want to look like a celebrity, and I certainly don't want to be one. I hide at the mall when I see someone I know because it's usually a hassle to talk and explain what I've been doing in the past 6 months ("Oh the psych unit is really should visit. It's so rejuvenating!").

I could get up on my soapbox at this point and do the bra-burning feminist chant of I am so much more than my body, but I won't. I know it's true. That was never the issue.

But formulas. They don't make sense. Your body doesn't burn calories at an equal rate every single day. The same person of the same height and weight will not burn the same calories at the same workout. Formulas give us the illusion that if we can just get things to add up, then we can have whatever someone else has. The whole grass is greener on the other side of the fence deal. Life is messy. Formulas are nice and neat.

Health isn't nice and neat. Health is a little of this, a little of that, some play time, some sleep, some creativity, some love, some annoyance, and so on. A healthy life for me isn't going to be the same as for someone else. I like to go hiking. My mom doesn't like any activity without a flush toilet within 5 minutes walking distance. My cat doesn't like any activity that involves moving. Yet we're all reasonably healthy. There's no magic number or formula.

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Thomas said...

I think you really hit on it with "There's no magic number or formula."

People are terrified of not being in control. Formulas give us the illusion of control. "If I want to make X take this value, then all I have to do is input Y at this level."

Toss in the cultural obsession with food = morality, and how figure is one of the few things that it is PC to discriminate against, and its a "formula" for all kinds of bad things.

The concept that there is a single ideal anything that fits all people is pretty silly when examined. It works about as well as those "one size fits all" clothing items :P

Sarah said...

Hmm. This makes a lot of sense to me. Yet, I feel like if I stop using my formulas, charts, etc then I'll completely lose control. I feel like the small happinesses I have about my body are all due to these concepts.

I don't have an ED but just want to have a healthy lifestyle. I don't know how to do that without being very strict. I'm like an all or nothing person.

Lindsay said...

Hi Carrie, it's Lindsay from Gurze. Just wanted to say Hi and that I'm enjoying your blog. You inspired me to start writing my own, which has been very healing. The other day I was thinking about making beaded jewlery to sell and then I opened your blog and saw you were doing the same thing. Very inspiring!

Danyel said...

I loved this post. It was extremely interesitng and I agree with you.
Everyone's body is different, therfore having and "ideal" weight/size/etc... is almost irrational and impossible.
You go!

mary said...

It can't help that you've invested so much in learning these formulas Carrie! Shall we hold you upside down and shake this nonsense from your head or tap the wand 3x AGAIN!
People are different, very much so! Balance for me will not be balance for you which is why when we learn to listen well we can learn to follow our needs. Maybe at this point you need to say "oh be quiet" to the counter and "yes" to the wiser woman within that knows she deserves to eat and that it will keep you healthy long enough to take those hikes and enjoy life! It's the hi-pro glow we're shooting for! /*

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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