I don't know why 1,200 managed to be the magic number of calories women should consume if they want to lose weight.
I don't even know how I know of this number. Only that I know it, and my friends know it, and my mom knows it. Somehow, somewhere along the road, I was taught that if I want to have a flat stomach and tight tushy, I need to limit my calories to 1,200 a day and do cardio. I don't know how it got into all of our collective brains, but somehow it did (if any ladies remember how or when they first heard the 1,200-calorie rule-of-thumb for losing weight, please let me know via comment box).
What I do know is that 1,200 is the general number of calories health professionals say women cannot drop below without suffering negative health consequences.
Interesting, isn't it? 1,200 calories. The line between health and what they call "starvation mode." 1,200 calories. The dangerous tightrope that many women are trying to walk, because they think this is how thinness is achieved.
... means your body realizes it is not getting enough food -- calories -- and it thinks you are starving, and slows down your metabolism to a crawl to conserve energy. Because it thinks you are starving, when you do feed yourself, your body will try to store more of your calories as fat, because those are your long-term energy deposits.
A long term calorie deficit can mess with your blood sugar levels, reduce bone mass, cause weakness, fatigue, cold intolerance, irregular menstrual periods, dizziness, constipation and swelling of the hands and feet. If a woman decides to get thin by maintaining a steep calorie deficit (1,200 calories is very steep) and pairs it with long sessions of steady-state cardio, it can result in thyroid issues. "Too little T3 (hypothyroidism), and the body accumulates body fat with ease, almost regardless of physical activity level. Women inadvertently put themselves into a hypothyroid condition when they perform so much steady-state cardio."
Women: If you are trying to go about your business during the day, on only 1,200 calories, and perform cardio to burn those dreaded calories, you really are not going to succeed. You will most likely pass out.
It is unfortunate, then, that there is one -- and only one -- message the majority of weight loss campaigns use to when targeting women:
Calories, calories, calories.
More specifically, fewer calories.
Calories are the enemy. You must either reduce your consumption of them, or obliterate them via exercise. Calories are the devil. Calories must be avoided at all costs. Calories must be burned away pronto, quick, before that one cookie turns into a lump of fat on your thighs.
For example, this check out this Yoplait yogurt commercial (which was actually pulled off the air due to complaints that it promotes disordered eating):
... or this Trop50 commercial that I found not only to be a completely demeaning portrayal of women as complete airheads, but perpetuates the message that women should strive to look like they "had work done":
One of my main issues is how health and nutrition is marketed to women vs. men. Do a quick Google search on women's health magazines vs. men's health magazines and you'll immediately see the difference in keywords. Women's magazine covers frequently use terms like "drop X pounds fast!" and "calorie-torching workout!" and "low-calorie foods." Men's magazines use keywords like "build," "power," and "strength." In my bit of searching, I never once found a men's magazine that talked about burning or cutting calories, or losing pounds.
For anybody who knows anything about weight loss and nutrition, you will immediately recognize how shallow, and ultimately harmful, only focusing on calories can be. That is because:
1) A healthy body cannot be measured simply by poundage; and
2) Fewer calories do not equal good nutrition.
It is especially saddening because of the blatant misinformation fed to women by the media about how to be fit, or even, what fitness is.
"Toned" is MUSCLE, goddammit, just call it by it's effing name! Muscle.
When women want to get "toned" they are saying the female word for "muscle." They often don't know that "toned" actually means "muscle," and they would never actually say, "My health goal is to build muscle." But what is a round, shapely butt made out of? Muscle. How does an abdomen stop being jiggly? Muscle. How do you get a back that doesn't produce bra-bulge? Muscle.
Women want a body that looks "toned," unaware that this "toned" look is achieved by building muscle.
I have never seen any weight loss campaign targeting women that informs their audience that muscle is more dense than fat.
I have never seen a women's magazine talk about fitness other than pounds on a scale -- as if body fat, muscle mass, and skeletal composition are completely negligible to a body looks like. The end result is all these women trying to lose weight the wrong way -- by cutting calories in their diet and trying to burn as many as possible, aka cardio.
Women are, for the most part, unaware that if they are exercising right they will be building muscle and their weight might not change very much. In fact, if they are doing everything right, their weight might even go up! And that's totally OK.
Even more infuriatingly, I have never seen any women-oriented campaign that says the word "muscle."
"Muscle" in woman-land is like a dirty word.
You know Vanessa Hudgens? Wanna know how she got that bod? Deadlifting heavy and building muscle.
Last year's Miss America got this bod by... yep, lifting heavy and building muscle.
Now, I'm not trying to say that the only way to get a great physique is by lifting heavy. What I'm saying is that great bods look great because they have muscle.
Adriana Lima, Victoria's Secret Angel and one of the most successful supermodels in the world, works her perfect butt off by boxing. She's not a twig, and I would bet good money that she could literally beat the crap out of you! See all that supa' fine definition on her midsection? That's muscle.
I should also note that the aforementioned women/AngelsWalkingOnEarth also make looking bangable their full-time job. They have the time and the money to hire professional trainers, exercise every day, and eat the best of the best foods. The is such a thing as an unfair advantage and this is it. Sorry, but you are probably never going to look like Adriana Lima. And yes, this depresses me too. All the time.
Back to my point: If you want a rounder, firmer, tighter, shmexier anything, it requires building muscle. Simply burning fat and cutting calories is only one part of the equation of sexiness.
Sophia's Equation of Sexiness:
Sexiness = Nourish your body with fresh, whole foods + strength train to build shapely physique + choose your amount of cardio depending on how much body fat you want to lose or keep.
What look do you want to achieve? Below is an image that shows what the male and female bodies look like depending on body fat percentage:
(Let's all take a moment to appreciate that the female body naturally carries about twice as much body fat as men. That is because testosterone increases one's ability to gain lean muscle mass, while estrogen increases the storage of body fat. It is much more difficult (many more cheezeburgers must be nommed) for a man to reach 40 percent body fat than a woman. Knowing this, it becomes increasingly aggravating when society continues to judge fat women far more harshly than fat men. Oh, the irony.)
I've mentioned my disdain for Special K, before, but I'm really going to lay into them now. The messages Special K spreads to women about how to be healthy are so freaking misleading. I want to poke my own eyes out whenever I see one of their commercials. That is because they market their products as healthy meal options.
What makes them so healthy? Oh, only that they are low in calories.
Nothing about the quality of the ingredients, or even, what the ingredients are. Are they synthetic, are they made from whole foods, are they full of fillers?
I mean, what is even in Special K?
RICE. WHEAT GLUTEN. SUGAR. DEFATTED WHEAT GERM.
Those are the ingredients in Special K cereal. The only healthy thing about this cereal is that it is pumped full of additive vitamins and minerals (you could just take a multivitamin) from unknown sources.
Then they promote eating like this:
Breakfast: One serving of Special K cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit.
Lunch: Repeat breakfast meal or substitute a Special K Protein Meal bar.
Dinner: Eat your normal meal.
Snacks: Eat two snacks each day of Special K products (bars, cereal, snack bites) or fruits or vegetables.
Absolutely nothing about quality of calories, only quantity. Nothing about proper nutrition, only less. Everything is about reducing. Reduce your calories by reducing the amount of food you eat.
Even more infuriating is how women are advised to exercise by popular magazines. The image below is from Shape magazine:
I mean, the moves are OK... I guess.
... if you want to waste a lot of fucking time at the gym flapping your arms around and wondering why you don't look "toned" yet.
If you're trying to strength train... why don't you use your strength? Why isn't this fitness model, who obviously got her fitness model body by lifting heavy, showing heavy lifts?
There is no reason women should strength train differently from men. Man muscles are not alien tissue. Man muscles and woman muscles are the same. They are human muscles. They respond to the same fuel and the same stimulus.
This is why women's workouts bother me.
Women should be shown the same fitness routines as men. We should be exposed to the same messages of eating nutritious food, with lots 'o protein, and enough calories to build our bodies into goddess-like proportions. We should not fear muscle. We should not shy away from the weight room because it is perceived as "odd" and out of place when a woman approaches the squat rack.
This is why I had to write a whole goddamn blog post complaining about the misinformation that is spread to women. I am so tired of watching my girlfriends get mislead by the media on how to be healthy. I am so annoyed by this skinny obsession -- which literally robs women of their power.
I think anorexia is a metaphor. It is a young woman's statement that she will become what the culture asks of its women, which is that they be thin and nonthreatening. Anorexia signifies that a young woman is so delicate that, like the women of China with their tiny broken feet, she needs a man to shelter and protect her from a world she cannot handle. Anorexic women signal with their bodies 'I will take up only a small amount of space. I won't get in the way. They signal 'I won't be intimidating or threatening.' (Who is afraid of a 70-pound adult?) -- Mary Pipher
And hungry people are -- let's be honest -- complete assholes. I don't know about you, but when I'm hungry it means I'm unfocused, cranky, distracted, grumpy, irritable, and generally miserable. Snickers did get something right: You are not your best self when you are hungry.
I've lamented about this before, and I will again: Think of all the potential that is thrown out the window when women deprive themselves of food on their quest to be thin. What great things could women accomplish if we weren't fucking dieting all the time?! It's saddening.
It is time for the misinformation to stop.
Please do not skip meals. Especially if you are under the age of 18. Part of the reason I wrote this whole thing is because I see a lot of really young girls on Tumblr asking advice like, "I've already reached my calorie limit today -- should I skip dinner?" NO! Your body and mind are still developing, and they need fuel! Please do not limit your calories under 2000. Eat unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables. Eat eggs, lean meat, even dairy in moderation. Eat a variety of foods with nutritional value. Stop with the empty calories! And the soda pop. Seriously, the soda pop is the devil's piss.
My main point is this:
Please do not throw your own physical -- and mental -- potential out the window by starving yourself into skinny bliss. It's not worth it. And trust me, it's not bliss.
For ladies that have been wanting to venture into the weight room, but find it intimidating, I wrote this guide to the weightlifting room for Cody, the health & fitness app I work for.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Sophia is a Seattle-based writer and blogger. This post first appeared on her website, sophieologie.me