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Perhaps as a former anorexic, I'm extra sensitive to the word “healthy.” But, it does seem that society these days believes that “healthy” means paying an absurd amount of attention to the things that we consume, the paces we walk, and the calories we burn. I am not, of course, advocating shoveling food into your mouth without glancing down to see what it is, but imagining that you can, under any circumstances, control and monitor what you eat down to the very last kcal is, by very definition, unhealthy. It doesn’t matter if all your app registers is kale and kombucha; the very fact that you devote that much time to deciphering your nutritional intake, especially (but not exclusively) if you’re within a normal weight range, renders any numbers the app may spit back at you irrelevant. As for apps that claim to be able to tell you what is in a meal made at a restaurant, it’s important to take into consideration here that this is certainly impossible to calculate. Let’s say you order chicken Milanese, a traditional dish consisting of chicken breast dredged in breadcrumbs and topped with arugula. Sometimes the dish includes an onion, and sometimes cheese, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s very basic: chicken with breadcrumbs and arugula and little dressing. But, a little is how much, exactly? A half-cup? A cup? Is it made with low-fat oil? Was the chicken baked, or sautéed in a pan? How many ounces is it? If you happen to be using one of these apps, how will you input the information? Guess as to the weight of the breast, or ask the waitress for a small food scale, and endure (I hope, at least) a withering look in return? At that point, you — regardless of your girth — may as well be me, or one of my eating disordered compatriots from hospitals gone by, because the behavior is almost identical.
Throughout treatment for my eating disorder, psychologists and other care providers would always say, “Eating disorders aren’t really about the food.” It’s the kind of platitude that most sick people brush off as optimistic therapeutic dreck. But, once one becomes more distanced from illness, one realizes the metaphorical aspect is the most meaningful thing about it. Yes, of course we want to make sure that everything, down to each grain of rice, is accounted for, with all its existential implications. But surely, we must understand that no matter how hard we clench our fists, we simply cannot reign over everything, and that oftentimes the best thing we can do is just let go.
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This post originally appeared on Psychology Today.