The Octopus eats more than 400 calories
part of a loose series on weight, wellness, and what it all means
I'm continuing my exploration of weight, wellness, and what it all means by taking a first look at the concept of the 400-calorie meal (the short version: it’s BS).
First, a request: If you feel that this exploration would be unhealthy for you, please practice good boundaries and unsubscribe or stop reading. I know for many of us, and this certainly includes past-me, ANY conversation around weight can be triggering and upsetting. I don't want to cause problems for you, and would much prefer that you unsubscribe than find yourself in an unhealthy place because of something that I've written.
Here's what I've covered already if you want to catch up:
And now, the real meat of the matter:
The 400-calorie meal. I see this sometimes--there's a few cookbooks bouncing around with "400-calorie" in their titles. It gives the impression that 400 calories is the right size for a meal. We should probably be aiming for that, maybe, or at least try not to exceed it by too much. Certainly, this all implies, eating a whole lot more than 400 calories--1000 calories in a single meal--would be unhealthy and gluttonous.
Actually, there aren't just a few cookbooks. A quick Amazon search turns up page after page, all of which imply (or even promise) effortless weight loss and weight maintenance. Never eat more than 400 calories and you can be skinny forever.
Which isn't a particularly articulate or sufficient response, so instead of just smashing my head into a wall repeatedly, I'll unpack it a bit. (But really, "ugh" sums it up.)
First of all, I just want to say that whenever anyone, in regards to health and wellness, says, "it's easy, all you have to do is..." I'm immediately suspicious. Generally, that means that they've oversimplified something, are out to sell you the key to this "easy" solution, or don't understand the science. Or all three. So this concept of 400-calorie meals (or, as I've seen in other places, 300 or 200 or even 100) immediately raises that red flag.
Famine in the brain
Second, as I said in an earlier newsletter, our bodies don't know what our brains know--that there's plenty of food available at the store, we're just choosing to eat less because we've decided to do so. Our bodies understand the truth of what we experience. The truth of hunger, the truth of fullness. Based on this information--have we eaten enough today--our bodies act to make sure that we'll survive. Without getting enough to eat, our bodies know that we're in a famine and that in order to live through it, our bodies will have to take drastic measures.
Third, not all meals are equal. The idea of the 400-calorie meal makes a few assumptions--that no meal should exceed 400 calories, that it's sufficient for the main meal (or meals) of the day to be limited, and that we're eating three 400-calorie meals a day (maybe four, if the authors are being generous).
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Which means that next week I need to write about meals and how we can structure them to better serve us, before I can really pull together the reasoning on why the 400-calorie concept irritates me so much.
Plus, I need to write about satisfaction and fullness. So many things I want to cover.
For now, I want to give you a very solid take-away from this:
You are allowed to eat until you're full and satisfied.
You don't have to stop after one serving, or after a certain number of calories, or whatever other metric. Your body is very smart, smarter than your brain. If you eat until you're full and you feel satisfied, you'll be doing great. It's not a flaw in your programming, that you're still hungry after eating "rabbit food," or that you're still wanting to eat even after you've finished a meal that the calorie counter says is sufficient.
You're allowed to eat until you're full and satisfied.
For those of you who've taken a nutrition/eating workshop with me, you've heard me talking about this before. For everyone else, pay attention to the foods that help you feel full and satisfied. What meals makes you feel content and happy? What meals leave you standing in front of the fridge, maybe with a full stomach, still wanting something more to finish it off?
Know that paying very close attention to these two different sensations, fullness and satisfaction, is the key to knowing how much to eat, and what to eat.
And no matter what you see in your Instagram feed, remember:
You're allowed to eat until you're both full and satisfied.
Thanks for reading this series on weight, wellness, and what it means. It's a topic that I feel very passionately about, and that I think most people get very wrong. There are a lot of components that going into understanding it, and I'm grateful that you're sticking around for the ride. Not a subscriber? Sign up. Already a subscriber? Consider supporting my work by sharing it with a friend.