Archive for April 26, 2012

Fuzzy math: the truth about calorie counters

My boot camp class is running a “summer shape-up” program that asks participants—among other things—to track their daily calorie intake. I don’t think I’m willing to track my calories—I wouldn’t call that “dieting” per se, but I think it might cause some of the same negative effects as dieting: obsession, denial, etc.

But when my boot camp instructor sent all of us a calorie calculator that determines how many calories we should eat a day, I couldn’t resist taking a look at the thing.

Recently I had a “discussion” with a friend named Miley about how many calories we should all get a day. Miley told me she was trying to stick to 1500 calories a day to lose weight, and she happily admitted that she considered that dieting—because it would be difficult to stick with those kind of numbers over the long haul.

Miley was unhappy because she wasn’t losing weight, and I told her I thought she was getting TOO FEW calories because, when we reduce calories that much, our bodies freak out and start storing calories rather than burning them. This is what started our debate—and my research—about how many calories are appropriate for a healthy and active adult woman.



When I looked at the calorie calculator shared by my boot camp instructor told me that I needed 2500 calories a day to maintain my present weight. That seemed about right to me, but I was also frustrated because the options for my activity level didn’t really fit my life. The choices were as follows:

  Sedentary:  At work—you work in an office. At home—you’re usually sitting, reading, typing or working at a computer. Exercise—you don’t exercise regularly.

  Light Activity:  At work—you walk a lot. At home—you keep yourself busy and move a lot. Exercise—you participate in light exercise or take long walks.

  Moderate Activity:  At work—you are very active much of the day. At home—you rarely sit and do heavy housework or gardening. Exercise—you exercise several times a week and push yourself pretty hard.

  Very Active:  At work—you hold a labor-intensive job such as construction worker or bicycle messenger. At home—you are very active with heavy lifting and other rigorous activities. Exercise—you participate in physical sports such as jogging or mountain-biking each day.

But I don’t really fit into any of these categories.

I exercise every day for at least forty-five minutes, which puts me in the “very active” category, but I don’t “hold a labor-intensive job such as construction worker or bicycle messenger” or do “heavy lifting and other rigorous activities” at home. So I can’t really be considered “very active” according to the definition above.

But the “moderate activity” category is for people who only “exercise several times a week” and “do heavy housework or gardening” at home. I exercise more than several times a week, but thankfully I also almost never do heavy housework at home.

This left me feeling unsure about this calculator, so I decided to try a different one.



The calorie calculator at the American Cancer Society website gives me better choices for designating my activity level:

  Sedentary: Activities of daily living only (dressing, cooking, walking to and from the car, etc.). No purposeful exercise.

  Light Activity: Activities of daily living, plus the equivalent of walking 2 miles (or about 4,000 steps) per day.

  Moderate Activity: Activities of daily living, plus activities like brisk walking (15-20 minutes per mile), dancing, skating, leisurely bicycling, golfing, doubles tennis, mowing the lawn, or yoga 3-5 days per week.

  Heavy Activity: Activities of daily living, plus moderate exercise or vigorous exercise (jogging, running, swimming, singles tennis, soccer, basketball, digging, carpentry) most days of the week.

  Exceptional Activity: Activities of daily living, plus intensive training for an exercise event like a marathon, triathlon, century bike ride, etc.

I chose “Heavy Activity,” and this calculator told me me I need 4100 calories a day to maintain my current weight.

Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem right.

Even if I change my activity level to “moderate activity,” the American Cancer Society says I need almost 3500 calories a day.



Confused, I went to a third calorie counter—this one at Fitness Magazine—that had bascially the same categories as the American Cancer Society:

I chose “heavy” activity here, and this calculator told me I needed almost 2900 calories a day.


To recap, the calculator told me I needed 2500 calories per day, the American Cancer Society calculator told me I needed 4100 calories per day, and the Fitness Magazine calculator told me I needed 2900 calories per day.

Which brings me to my point—how can we possibly consider these calculators reliable if they all give us such vastly different information?

And if we know that these calculators are just making educated guesses—and wildly different ones at that—then shouldn’t we also know that caloric intake is much less important than good old fashioned healthy living? And by healthy living I mean eating until you feel satisfied, sticking to mostly whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep and water, and exercising every day.

I’ve long believed—in fact, this blog was created because of this belief—that our American obsession with dieting is one of the leading causes of the obesity epidemic. For it’s only when we obsess about our diet and deny ourselves regular cravings that we eat too much. If we listen to our bodies and eat when we are truly hungry—rather than just when we want to feed our emotions—and stop when we start to feel full, it’s pretty unusual to take in too many calories. And the variations in these so-called calorie counters prove just that to me: the more we try to turn eating into a controlled science, the more unhealthy—mentally and physically—we will be.

The Incredible Shrinking Nudes: The “Ideal” female body is here today, green tomorrow? . . . a guest post by Marianne Hale

Italian artist Anna Utopia Giordano performed a sort of visual liposuction on famous nudes found in the work of folks like Sandro Botticelli and Diego Velazques, turning voluptuous Venuses into much thinner versions of themselves that fit today’s standards of female beauty (see some of them in this post and all of them here).

The shocking revelation? Something we technically already know: thin hasn’t always been in. But seeing these images side-by-side is a truly telling (not to mention fascinating) visual representation of how ideas about female beauty have evolved over time.

This reminds me of other beauty trends that have changed throughout the years for whatever reason, often socioeconomic ones. In the Edwardian era of “Downton Abbey,” brunettes, not blondes, were en vogue (poor Edith), but I know plenty of ladies (and gentlemen) nowadays who reach for the bleach. Fair skin was once considered desirable, but fast forward to the 21st century when my junior high self felt pressure to fake bake my freckle-filled skin.

So this is what I take from Giordano’s reimagination of classical beauties: We really should start loving the skin we’re in, because whatever hair color, skin color, height, weight or body type society is currently obsessing over today, the “ideal” beauty might have green skin and tentacles tomorrow. OK. Maybe not green skin, but you get the idea.



Marianne and her boyfriend, Cody, at the Space Needle.

MARIANNE HALE is a Seattle-based writer and current editorial assistant at Seattle magazine. Originally from Kentucky, she enjoys exploring her new Pacific Northwest home by visiting as many art exhibits, indie concerts and restaurants as possible. Still, she refuses to be turned into a coffee drinker.

Come out of the darkness and into the light

A friend of a friend—Let’s call him Jerry—used to say that all women gain weight after they’re married. Jerry would laugh when he said this—like it was funny—and then shake his head—as if disappointed.

Around the time I started I Will Not Diet, I read about why some people gain weight after they’re married. The theory goes that new spouses sometimes gain weight as an unconscious way to test their partner—and their relationship—in order to make sure that the person they married really does love them and really will stand by them through better or worse.

The idea of gaining weight as a form of resistance is certainly an interesting one. We could gain weight to test how much our spouses love us or we could gain weight to show that we reject the idea that one must be thin to be beautiful. Still, no matter the reason, gaining weight—on purpose, no less—is no healthier than losing weight to be someone we’re not.

Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for questioning why we all seem to buy into the notion that dieting—and the unyielding need to aspire to thinness–is good for us.

As you know, I don’t buy into the notion that dieting is good for us, but let’s be honest—most people do. And most people think I’m nuts when they hear I have a website devoted to rejecting dieting. Sure, they laugh at first, but then they look at me with critical eyes, wondering, “What is wrong with her?”

So why do Americans hold fast to the notion that dieting is good for them when statistics show that those who diet weigh more than those who don’t and when organizations as reputable as NPR and The New York Times have featured experts arguing that dieting is bad for us?

I think it’s because, like any other tool of oppression, dieting is something we can’t see for what it is. We can’t see that it is actually bad for us, that it is actually making our society collectively more obese. We exist so far inside the dieting mythos that we can’t possibly see what’s on the outside of it.

We’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone: Brides-to-be start using feeding tubes

You are now entering another dimension . . . a land of both shadow and substance . . . you’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.


Sometimes there are days when I feel like throwing in the towel—when I feel like shutting down this blog and screaming from the rooftops, “That’s it! I give up!”

Those are usually days when I meet people who are in the throes of a major diet (and just for the record, by “diet,” I mean a temporary reduction in calories).

Maybe they’re starting to lose weight and feeling really good about their decision, not knowing it’s all going to come back and haunt them later since 90% of the people who go on diets gain back more weight than they originally lost.

But this week I saw something much worse than a person on a diet. I saw what might possibly be the most disheartening thing I’ve ever seen.

Thanks to my friend Julie, I saw an article about women who stop eating for ten whole days in order to lose weight for their impending nupitals.

What’s worse is how they do it.

They give up eating by having a feeding tube put in their nose.

Yes, these women have given up eating and are getting their nutrition from a feeding tube for the sole purpose of losing weight for their upcoming wedding day.

I’m sorry but there is no other way to say this—that is simply fucked up.

Not only will these women start gaining back the weight as soon as they take out the feeding tube, but they will also be starting the most important relationship of their lives based on an ideal they will likely never again be able to achieve. They will forever feel that they will never again be as thin (read: beautiful) as they were on their wedding day. In other words, they will never be able to measure up—to themselves.

And it’s not just the health and psychological implications of this new trend that are so disturbing. It’s also the sacrifices these women are willing to make to do it. Because in order to partake in this ridiculous charade, they must have a feeding tube put in their nose and walk around that way for ten days! The whole time looking like they are sick—which they obviously are—or dying just to drop a few pounds. As one participant admits, “sometimes I had to give excuses to people who were asking are you sick? And I was like, ‘No, I’m not sick, I’m not dying, I’m fine.'”

And, of course, there’s the not eating. These women are not eating an ounce of food for ten days. That’s not only unhealthy—proven by the fact that they have weird side effects like constipation and bad breath—it’s sadistic.

Let me just be as clear about this as I can—nothing is worth not eating. No man. No fairytale wedding. No perfect body. Nothing.

Oh, just leave the poor girl alone: Crystal Renn faces more criticism for losing weight, raising the question, will we ever accept anyone?

Supermodel Crystal Renn showed up at a charity event in New York this week looking thinner (and blonder! as you can see in the picture above), and certain people have their panties in a bunch.

They’re upset because Renn—who was formerly the most famous plus-size model on the planet and a vocal advocate for body acceptance—appears to have slimmed down.

To understand this whole situation, you have to know Renn’s history . . .

. . . when Renn was twelve years old, a talent scout told her she could be a successful model if she lost about sixty pounds. She was five-foot-nine and weighed around 160 pounds at the time. Three years later, when she finally came to New York to pursue modeling, the fourteen-year-old Renn was a size zero, weighing in at an unhealthy ninety-five pounds (making her BMI a shockingly low 14).

About a year later—after starving herself and exercising up to eight hours a day to try to keep the weight off—Renn’s body revolted and started going back to its natural size. While the pounds were coming back, she made the difficult decision to leave the world of “fashion” modeling for “plus-size” modeling and wrote a book about her experience called Hungry:A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves.

Since then, Renn has slowly been losing weight as her body re-adjusts to eating normally and exercising in healthy rather than obsessive ways. Right now, Renn says, “I’m a 6, 8, sometimes a 10, depending on what designer I’m wearing. And that’s an interesting place to be in fashion, where extremes are the norm.”

I could not agree more.

But people are pissed. They’re pissed because they feel “betrayed” by Renn and claim, “We’re disappointed because she was our star fighting for equality and fashion for us, and now she’s going to their side.”

I certainly don’t think there are “sides” in our quest for body acceptance. Promoting body acceptance does not mean that only curvy bodies are acceptable or that curvy women should be pitted against thin women. It simply means that all body shapes and sizes are acceptable as long as they’re healthy.

If anything, I’m happy about Renn’s size. She’s exactly what we need to see more of on the runway—a regular-sized woman. As I said in my “No show with people who look like this Molly” and “What’s wrong with this picture?” posts, we don’t see many women in the middle when we look at our magazines and our TVs. For the most part, the women we see in the media are either very very thin or very big. It’s as if the woman in the middle doesn’t exist. So, from my point of view, the new—and, yes, thinner—version of Renn helps fill that void.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that Renn is no longer plus-size; what matters is that she’s not underweight and, therefore, not sending the message that the only way to look beautiful is to be unhealthy.

So I applaud Renn for her courage—the courage to walk away from the unhealthy world of fashion models when it was making her sick and the courage to allow her body to find a happy medium despite the pressure she’s under to always stay the same.

Ashley Judd refuses to relinquish her power, self-esteem, and autonomy. Bravo, Ms. Judd. Bravo.

Today a story about actress Ashley Judd has been making the rounds. In it, Judd, 43, responds to rumors that she has had plastic surgery based on the “puffy” appearance of her face a few weeks ago.

I won’t say much, except to encourage you to read Judd’s thoughtful, honest, and important response.

I will also call attention to one of Judd’s most important points: Why is it that anyone is having this kind of intense, probing conversation about Judd’s appearance at all? She’s an accomplished actress and an advocate for children with AIDS. Yet none of those things get the same kind of attention that concerns about her appearance do. Why is this?

Judd herself says it best when she says, “The conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us.”

Yes, these discussions about our bodies—ugly, unfair, unrealistic discussions—are an attempt to control us, but thankfully, we won’t let them control us. And, thank God, neither will Judd.

Read Judd’s entire brilliant response at The Daily Beast.

Happy birthday! Happy blogoversary!

Today is my 42nd birthday and the third anniversary of this blog.

To celebrate, I asked friends and readers to tell me one thing they love about the way they look. Here’s what they said . . .


Emily Threlkeld: My waist! No matter my weight, it stays small and lets me rock dresses like a 50’s movie star.


Kristie Key: I like my eyes too. And the dimple I gave myself when I jumped off the couch at age two.


Barbara Mayfield: I hate to be repetitive, but my favorite feature is my eyes. They are deep blue and reflect light so they don’t look dull.


Kristie Lowry: Let’s see… I have very cute feet, pretty good eyes, a nice smile, straight teeth that never required braces, and (with the right bra) great cleavage.


Nicole Steele: My butt.


David Bell: The naturally thin, bird-like legs I inherited from my dad.


Kara Thurmond: I like my eye color, which changes from blue to green with lots of yellow flecks. I remember a kid on the school bus once told me that I was the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. I also like my belly button. I have a deep innie.


Tara Scherner de la Fuente: On your birthday, I thought I would let you know that I have great feet. The toes are beautifully aligned with good nail beds, and they flaunt themselves during occasional pedicures. There are no bunions or oddities to inspire stares. They are good, solid feet. And they carry around a lot of weight with as much grace as they can muster. On your birthday, I wish you solid footing, and I thank you for helping to make the world a positive place. Happy Birthday!


Allison Millett: I love my my smile dimple in my right cheek that seems to grow deeper the bigger I smile!


Rhoda Locklear: My silver hair.


Marianne Hale: I’ve got a good set of gams that — however hairy, bruised or bandaged (see picture for Band-Aid) they get — remain some rather lovely legs.Surely they cannot compete with Dr. Bell’s bird legs, though.


Marie Guthrie: I love my dark wavy hair, still uncolored, unpermed and perfectly natural after almost fifty years, though now streaked with thin slivers of silver, my medals for surviving everything I once thought was overwhelming.


Jeff Steinmetz: Here’s the part I like: my beard of course!


Tom Hunley: I like my fingers. They’re good at typing, writing, and holding a tennis racket. They’re getting good at playing bass guitar.


Terri Hammond: My lips.


Holly Hudnall: Okay, I had a little trouble with this one because I couldn’t make a decision…my opinion of my “best” feature changes from day to day. So I asked my friends…WOW! All I can say is that I’m blessed with friends who love me. I like my eyes, I like my smile, and unlike most people with curly hair, I like mine. Or at least I do on a good hair day!


Laura Leigh Morris: I love my butt—it’s strong, cushy, and sticks out. It’s by no means little, and it’s great!


Chasity Woosley: My boobs.


Fallon Willoughby: The one thing I love most about my appearance is my hair because my mother used to always call it “Sleeping Beauty hair,” and I love all the colors it seems capable of being in different lighting.


Ralaina Hunley: It is hard to pick just one, but my favorite today are my lips. When I was a teenager my mom used to tell me not to wear bright colored lipstick because it made my lips look too big (why do moms do stuff like that to us), but since that time fuller lips have become more popular and sensual. I like that my lips look great and have their own color even when I am just wearing Chapstick, give me a great smile and are made for kissing.


Wanda Kashuba: My blue eyes.


Julie Mucillo: For your birthday, I will tell you – I like my hair because it’s shiny.


Wren Davis Mills: I’m in a bad place with myself right now, but no matter what, I LOVE my hair. I was blessed with natural curls, which is a good thing for a tomboy like me, because I sure as heck am not going to do anything to “fix” it on a daily basis. I also love my freckles, but they are only seasonal.


Erin Carlyle: Okay, I like the bone structure in my face. I like looking slightly elvish.


Jonahs Coel says he likes that all of his parts still work.


Susan Lynch: All day at work I chanted, “I like my hair, I like my hair” in your honor.


Megan Kearns: In honor of your special day…I like the color of my hazel eyes – that people think they’re brown at first but when they get closer they notice the dark green comingled with brown – and my thick, shiny hair.


Jill Higgins: I love my eyes, my boobs and my curly hair -on good hair days. I also love my smile. I think my smile is my favorite mostly because my husband always says how much he loves my smile which makes me want to smile more.


Barrett Griffin: The feature I am always most surprised to be complimented on are my eyes. I know that they are “pretty”, but I forget that they are most of the time until someone compliments them. I always really enjoy being reminded. I think because of this, they are probably my favorite feature.

All I want for my birthday is you! Or at least one piece of you.

We’re getting to that point in the school year when I have no energy left and cannot possibly fathom how I’m going to make it through the end of the semester in May.

And I’m sure many of you are feeling the same way, especially if you teach or have kids in school. Many of us are thinking, if I can just crawl my way to the end of the finish line, I’ll be happy.

To help us get there, I though it would be motivating if we all took just a moment to share something we each love about our physical appearance.

And since the third anniversary of this blog—the blogoversy—and my birthday are both this Thursday, I figured there is no better time to celebrate something we love about ourselves.

What I’m asking you for is a simple contribution: one sentence in which you describe some physical part of yourself that you love. You can comment below, on Facebook or Twitter, or email me at molly at iwillnotdiet dot com. (If you want to send a picture to go along with your sentence, you can email me that too.)

To get things started, I’ll go first . . .

. . . what I have always loved most about the way I look are my eyes, which are a smoky blue decorated with thousands of little lightning bolts.

Now it’s your turn.

After I get all of your sentences, I’ll share them here to celebrate the blogoversy and my birthday.

Thanks in advance for playing!

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