Are You Ready?
As you work your way through the healing process, there might be some specific goals you’d like to pursue. Even though you might’ve achieved some improved fitness, health, and weight loss by overcoming your struggles, you might want even more of these things, or even something else. This is where intentional calibration comes into play.
During the healing process up until this point you were still calibrating – it just wasn’t intentional. The changes that happened to your body, health, etc, were just natural side effects of you healing your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind.
Intentional calibration comes AFTER you’ve achieved a version of your Ideal Body. Let’s call this your Ideal Body version 1.0. It is the body you have once you’ve healed your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind.
Notice how intentional calibration is the last chapter of this book. That’s because it should come last – after you heal. Diet Culture does this backwards. It starts with an extreme form of calibration and doesn’t even get to the healing part.
It’s important not to start intentional calibration until after you’ve healed, for a couple of different reasons. First, healing is what will drive the majority of your progress. Too many people are eager to get through the healing so they can start calibrating. But healing will net you 80% of your results. If you’re still struggling with things like emotional eating or motivation with exercise, then healing and overcoming these struggles will have a much bigger impact on your health, body, and life experience. So don’t try to skip to the end. Stay focused on what matters most.
And the second reason to wait to implement intentional calibration is because during this process you’re going to have to be self-aware enough to recognize when adjustments you’re making are taking you out of alignment with the Ideal Body Formula. If you haven’t healed yet, then you won’t know what a healthy relationship with food, body, etc feels like. So it’ll be hard to know when you’ve taken things too far and things are getting dysfunctional again. If you’re not there yet, that’s OK – healing is still calibration, and will still result in fitness, health, and body changes.
At version 1.0 of your Ideal Body, these relationships might not be perfect, but you’ve improved them enough to understand them, and you’re well on your way to being happy, confident, and living a fuller life experience. So feel free to experiment with intentional calibration at this point.
Notice how I’ve been talking about version 1.0 of your Ideal Body. This is because your Ideal Body isn’t static. It will continue to change and evolve as you do. Remember, your Ideal Body is a side effect. That means any changes to your behaviors or mindset have the potential to create changes to your body.
If you suddenly find a love for running and start training for a marathon, you’re very likely to burn more calories, and that is going to influence your energy balance and your body. This new change in behavior might take you from Ideal Body Version 1.0 to Version 2.0.
Or maybe you discover a new fondness for smoothies or salads, and this ends up displacing some other more calorically dense foods in your diet. You weren’t necessarily trying to eat fewer calories. However, that was the result of you trying new foods and wanting to continue eating them. This then influences your energy balance and potentially changes your body. Now we’re on to Ideal Body Version 3.0.
Over your lifetime you are going to potentially have hundreds or even thousands of versions of your Ideal Body – each one simply being the side effect of new thoughts and behaviors that remain in alignment with the Ideal Body Formula.
Understanding how this process naturally works, we can use it to pursue our individual goals in a healthy and productive way. This is what we call Intentional Calibration.
While weight loss could potentially be a goal for you, it is far from the only goal you might have. I’ve worked with clients who wanted to use calibration to improve their health, to build muscle, to work on specific exercise goals, or to even gain weight. The point is that there are any number of goals you might want to pursue, and calibration is the process you’ll use to ensure you’re approaching them and progressing in a way that always keeps you at your Ideal Body.
So if you want to lose weight because your joints are hurting or because it’ll make you a faster runner, you can. If you want to build some muscle because it makes you feel empowered, you can. If you want to improve your health because you want to live a long life, you can. Or if you just want to have a certain look, you can. You have the autonomy to direct your life without feeling guilted or shamed for having these goals.
But what you need to understand is that there are limits to how far you can take these goals before you take yourself out of alignment with the Ideal Body Formula. And once that happens, your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind start to become dysfunctional again, and your life experience begins to suffer again as a result.
So it’s going to be essential that you know when to push and when to pull back, how to go about making the changes to your behaviors, and when it’s time to accept that you’ve done all that you can reasonably do.
Your goal in the calibration process is to make small changes to your eating, exercise, and mindset – all while staying in alignment with the Ideal Body Formula. That means you make a small adjustment to your eating, gather feedback, and assess whether your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind remain in a healthy place.
This is in contrast to Diet Culture’s process that focuses on the outcome and tries to white knuckle changes to your diet and exercise. Its process starts with the question of something like “how much weight do you want to lose… 1 pound or 2 pounds per week?” If it’s the former then you cut 500 calories from your diet, set a calorie budget, and you hold the line. If it’s the latter, you cut 1000 calories and double down on willpower in order to maintain that arbitrary calorie intake.
With the Ideal Body Formula, if you want to make an adjustment to your eating, you look for places that it makes sense. For example, maybe you want to lose weight, which would require you to eat less than you are now – all else being equal.
Your number one priority isn’t to eat less. It’s to stay in alignment with the Formula. That means first and foremost, any changes you make need to ensure that your diet remains satiating, satisfying, and nourishing, and that you don’t feel restricted or deprived, and your eating doesn’t become a means to an end – that it makes you feel your best, and you don’t start obsessing over calories or your eating as a whole.
Yes, you might need to eat less, but eating less doesn’t have to mean restriction. Restriction is a feeling – a mindset, not an action.
You can eat less without feeling restricted. In fact, you can eat less and feel even more satiation, satisfaction, and abundance surrounding your food. That’s the goal. In fact, that’s the only way you’re going to succeed with body transformation goals for the long term.
When I was looking to lose some weight, I first assessed my diet as a whole. Were there any places I felt like I was maybe a little too overfull? Was there any meal that would be easier to adjust than others?
In my case, I was feeling a little too full at night, yet I really enjoyed having a little something that was satisfying while I watched TV. Normally I was having some greek yogurt with granola and frozen blueberries. But while I loved the meal, I was still kind of full from dinner a couple hours before.
I also had another problem – I really liked my nighttime meal and didn’t want to give it up. So I looked at my other meals and asked myself if any of them could be swapped for the greek yogurt. My afternoon meal of chicken, beans, corn, rice, and cheese was probably my least favorite meal. When my goal is to eat less, I start cutting out foods that I DON’T enjoy as much. That seems like such an obvious thing to do, yet most people do the opposite – assuming that if they like a particular food a lot that it must not be good for losing weight. But it’s so much easier to let go of the foods you don’t enjoy than it is to sacrifice all the ones you do. So I swapped that meal out for my greek yogurt meal, and at night I decided to have a cookies and cream frozen greek yogurt bar instead.
This had a very interesting effect. My afternoon chicken meal had been around 500 calories, but it wasn’t very satiating. I was always really hungry when it came dinner time. Ironically, when I swapped it out for my 300 calorie greek yogurt/granola/blueberry meal, I ended up more satiated and more satisfied on fewer calories. And when nighttime came, I felt a perfect level of hunger to have my cookies and cream greek yogurt bar, which btw, was 200 calories less than the meal I used to have.
So what happened here? By prioritizing my body’s needs I was able to eat 400 calories less each day while also improving my satiation and satisfaction. Not only did this fulfill my goal of losing weight, but it improved my consistency and it was easier to adhere to.
This is why it’s so important to not prioritize calories and eating less at the expense of your body’s needs. When that happens you end up honoring your weight loss over your needs, and consistency and adherence will always suffer in the end.
Now, had I made that adjustment and my satiation, satisfaction, or nourishment had decreased to levels that lead to feelings of restriction, deprivation, or more inconsistent eating, then I would have simply gone back to how I was eating before. You assess the data, ask yourself if you’re in alignment, and then determine whether to continue with the new plan or go back to the old and try something else.
Never do you veer from the Formula, which means never are you not at a version of your Ideal Body. Your Ideal Body joins you every step of the way through the calibration process. In contrast, Diet Culture has you making arbitrary, outside-in slashes to your calorie intake to try and take you from a body you’re ashamed of, to a body that conforms to societal norms. But in the end, you just end up ashamed, undervalued, inconsistent, and a continued victim of Diet Culture.
100 Calories = 10 Pounds
Diet Culture teaches us to cut 500-1000 calories from your diet, depending on whether you want to lose 1 or 2 pounds per week (who ever chooses just 1 pound btw?), engage in some kind of workout that melts the fat off your body, implement a no excuses mentality by doubling down on willpower and discipline, and all your struggles from the past 20 years will be wiped out in a few months. Right?
Wrong. Look… I’d love if that were the case. And sometimes the math seems to justify that thinking on paper (2 pounds per week times 10 weeks equals 20 pounds, or 2 pounds a week for a year is over 100 pounds). But rarely does that ever play out in the real world while also maintaining those results for the rest of your life. Yes, there will always be an example of someone doing it, but remember to not confuse the possible with the probable.
Remember, weight loss isn’t the same as transformation. Transformation is about change of identity. That is permanent. The pursuit of weight loss directly via the arbitrary restriction of calories is not transformation – it’s body change. Many people will say they don’t care and that they’d be happy with just the body change, but body change is fleeting when it isn’t the byproduct of transformation.
Your goal during the calibration process, whether your desire is to lose weight, gain weight, build muscle, get stronger, get healthier, build endurance, or any other goal, is to approach it with the understanding that small changes done consistently over long periods of time are what lead to the outcomes you want.
Most of the negative consequences we’ve experienced with our health have been the byproduct of years of accumulated thoughts and behaviors. Most adults have gained weight gradually over the years. It only takes a 100 calorie daily surplus to gain 10 pounds in a year. Over 5 years that’s 50 pounds. In reality, a 30lb weight gain over 30 years is the result of just a 10 calorie surplus per day. That’s it.
Of course, you probably didn’t experience weight gain so linearly. Most likely there were periods of ups and downs that coincided with the diet cycle you’ve been stuck in for a lifetime. Lose 10 lbs over a couple of months. Gain 12 back over the following one. Rinse and repeat for 30 years. Or experience a sudden gain of weight over a few months to a year due to a life situation, and then never really recover from it.
The point is this – if you want to reverse this process, you have to start thinking differently. You have to get away from Diet Culture’s idea of express delivery of outcomes and instead look at goal seeking as a long-term calibration process built upon an underlying foundational principle of consistency.
It doesn’t take huge changes to reverse the trend of weight gain. It doesn’t take huge changes to reverse the trend of suboptimal health. It just takes small changes done consistently from this point going forward – forever.
Just a 100 calorie daily deficit accumulated over a year is the equivalent of 10 pounds. Change a few small things to your eating and movement and you have the potential to lose a lot of weight without feeling like you’re dieting.
Fix the 1400 extra calories you eat every weekend because you feel restricted, deprived, or the need to cope with your emotions using food. There’s 20 pounds right there.
Burn an extra 200 calories a day because you start doing exercise you enjoy and get consistent with it. There’s another 20 pounds.
This is what healing your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind accomplishes. Its goal is to get you consistently making the best choices for yourself again. In doing so, small changes to energy balance, movement, food choices, emotional coping strategies, body image, etc, incrementally add up over time and change you.
So understand that a daily smoothie for the next 20 years will have more of an impact on your health than a perfect 2lb/week weight loss diet done for 3 months followed by 6 months of “regular” eating. Understand that a 100 calorie deficit created naturally because you’ve neutralized your emotional eating by directly addressing your needs will have more of an impact on your weight than a 10 week fat loss diet blitz cleanse no excuse challenge.
Get consistent by healing your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind, and then remain consistent while you calibrate and make small but sustainable changes. Then set it and forget it. Changes are happening in the background while you live your life.
You started off your Ideal Body journey by ditching the scale and giving up calorie counting. This was necessary in order for you to heal your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind.
When you’re first starting on this new journey you are very susceptible to a past of Diet Culture thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. These tools keep you anchored to that past life and prevent you from turning inwards and getting in touch with your body.
But as I talked about in their respective chapters, the scale and calorie counting are just tools. They are neither good nor bad. Using them successfully is completely dependent on the person using them, their state of mind, and where they are in their journey.
Since we are now in the calibration chapter, that means you’ve already ditched these tools, healed your relationships, and are at a version of your Ideal Body. That means this is the time to consider reintroducing these tools.
However, based on the experiences of the countless people who have been through our program, once you’ve learned to live and thrive without them, it’s possible you aren’t going to want to use them again. You start the program having a hard time letting them go, and finish the program not wanting to have anything to do with them.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. There is a certain subset of individuals who use the scale and calorie counting to some degree and will thrive using them. I am an example of one of those people. Deanna, on the other hand, cannot use them without them pulling her back into food and body obsession.
When it comes to our clients, I’ve found that about half of them end up using at least one of those tools. But more times than not, it is not a daily use kind of thing, but a targeted tool when the situation calls for it.
Consider calorie counting, for example. There are different levels of counting, from calorie awareness, to quantifying, to targeting – all the way to calorie budgeting. And I’ll break these down in the next section.
You might decide to experiment with calorie counting in some way at some point. When used right, this process will be less about suppressing how much you eat and more about understanding your food better. Maybe you just want to understand how much you’re eating relative to your hunger signals. Or maybe you need a little more information about your food so that you can make a more educated adjustment.
Whichever level you use, you don’t have to take any of them to the extreme. In other words, there’s a difference between adding up the calories to a single meal because you’re curious, versus tracking every last morsel of food that goes into your mouth, every day for the rest of your life.
My preferred personal use of calorie counting is using it when I want to change up my core meals. If I know my current core meal at lunch is 500 calories (because I quantified it), then I can create and try out a new meal based on that nutrition level. If weight loss is a goal I can try to find a 400 calorie meal. If weight and muscle gain is a goal, I can try to find a 600-700 calorie meal. Whatever the case, the meal must at least equal, but preferably improve my levels of satiation, satisfaction, and nourishment. And rule number one is if any use of calorie counting pulls me back into Diet Culture and food and body obsession, I kick it to the curb – immediately.
What about the scale? How can that be used in a way that keeps you in alignment with the Ideal Body Formula? Similar to calorie counting, it can be used at different frequencies (daily, twice a week, once per week, etc), or at different times in your life (that random week in the summer vs the 2 weeks during the holidays) to help you understand yourself and your behaviors better.
Weighing yourself shouldn’t result in an emotional drive to change your behaviors. That’s what used to happen to you before you healed. A number on the scale would trigger you to compensate by changing your eating. You’d end up using outcome based behaviors in an attempt to control the scale, instead of addressing the dysfunctional relationships you had with food, body, exercise, and mind, that were creating your struggle.
Instead, the scale should be a neutral data point – a tool that gives you an additional layer of information to help you achieve your specific goals. Remember, this might be weight loss, but it could also be weight maintenance or weight gain, depending on your health, performance, or even physique goals. The key is knowing when the tool goes from being an asset to a liability, and being able to be honest with yourself so that you can give it up when it causes problems.
About half my clients will use the scale at some point over the period that we work together. And only about 20% will use it daily for that whole time. So as you can see, the scale isn’t an all-or-nothing tool. It has a purpose depending on your goals at that time and where you are in your healing journey.
There are dozens of use cases for these two tools, all of which can be used successfully so long as you are already healed and at a version of your Ideal Body, and you’re able to stay in alignment with those healed relationships during the calibration process. If you can’t, then these tools should not be used. There are plenty of people who can use these tools in a healthy way and have them benefit their life. Similar to how tracking steps, sets, reps, and other aspects of your workouts can help you make informed decisions on your goals, calorie counting and the scale can do the same when layered upon healthy relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind.
The Calorie Counting Hierarchy
Just because you haven’t been counting calories up to this point, it doesn’t mean you’ve been lacking awareness of your food. There’s a huge space between being oblivious to what you’re eating, and thinking you need an honorary PhD in nutrition in order to eat well.
I like to think of calorie counting as a hierarchy. There are 4 different levels – each level building on the one below it. So let’s take a look at all 4 levels, and the ones you need to be focusing on.
The first level is called Calorie Awareness. During the healing process this is where you spend all of your time. For many people, they will never go beyond this level. This is not a bad thing. The levels above this one aren’t better in any way. In fact, for many people the higher levels are worse – triggering them and dragging them back into Diet Culture.
In level 1 you are simply aware of the energy density (calories) and the general nutritional makeup of your food. It requires a basic understanding of eating and a very basic education around food. This is all you will need to succeed with your eating. You don’t need to spend hours or years studying nutrition to reach your goals. And for many people, they already have the education they need, as they’ve spent a lifetime educating themselves on nutrition and biology thinking that was what was necessary to lose weight.
Level 1 means you know what kinds of foods are higher in calories and which foods tend to be lower. You know which foods tend to be higher in nutrients, and which foods tend to be lower. With this very basic knowledge you can make the best choices for fulfilling the 3 variables of Intentional Eating – satiate, satisfy, and nourish.
This level means you know that peanut butter tends to be more calorically dense than an apple. It means you know broccoli is more nutritionally dense than rice. It means you know a chicken breast has more protein than oatmeal. And it means you know that cheese or nuts tend to be higher in fat than beans, or that pasta tends to have more carbs than cauliflower. None of these foods are better or worse for you. They all serve a purpose that can meet your individual needs. You will use this level 1 awareness to take you all the way through the healing process and achieve version 1 of your Ideal Body.
The second level of the hierarchy is called Calorie Quantifying, and it is where you’ll start if you choose to utilize calorie counting as a tool during the intentional calibration process. This is the process of quantifying how much you’re eating once you’ve already healed your relationship with food. You are essentially putting a calorie number onto how much you already eat naturally. Quantifying shouldn’t influence your eating in any way. It is a completely independent process from your eating. Pretend like you’re just eating naturally in a way that makes you feel your best and someone, without your knowledge, was watching you eat and adding up how many calories you’re eating. This is quantifying. It’s an extra layer of information for your eating and can be used to understand your food a little better and to help you make more educated calibration decisions once you’ve healed.
The third level is called Calorie Targeting. Again, this is exclusively used for calibration after you’ve healed your relationship with food. And it’s only used if you want to use it or if you’re able to without it pulling you back into old Diet Culture thinking and behaviors.
Calorie Targeting is layered upon the previous two levels of Awareness and Quantifying to help you direct your eating to whatever goal you have. If quantifying your food intake showed you that you were eating 2000 calories, and you have a goal to gain weight, you can set a calorie target of 2300 calories as a way to create some directed intention behind your eating.
Calorie Targeting means that the target you set for yourself is a guideline or suggestion. It is not a line in the sand. If you set a goal to eat 1500 calories and nighttime comes and you are hungry – you eat. You always honor your body’s needs without exception. If you go over your target, then you should feel neutral about it. If you feel guilty or feel the need to compensate, then you are not ready to use calorie targeting.
But again, you will ever only need the first level – calorie awareness, to succeed at achieving your Ideal Body. The other levels are reserved for calibration AFTER you’ve already healed. And used only if you can utilize them without falling back into Diet Culture. This is when specific goals come into play that could benefit from additional awareness tools. But they are never required.
The final level of the hierarchy is Calorie Budgeting. Interestingly enough, this is where 99% of dieters start, and it’s the reason why they keep failing. You will likely never use this level – even after you’ve healed your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind, and have achieved your Ideal Body.
This level is reserved for the .01% of the population. That’s 1 in 10,000 people. These people tend to be fitness competitors or need their body to be in a specific condition by a specific date. This might mean an actor getting ready to play a role in a movie, a bodybuilder who is competing in 122 days, or a few select other situations.
Calorie Budgeting is not a permanent solution. It completely disassociates you from your body’s needs and aims to force your body into a certain condition. The people I listed above know this and they accept the resulting weight regain that comes as a consequence of calorie budgeting. A fitness competitor puts a lot of weight back on after a competition. An actor doesn’t stay in movie shape permanently. They can’t. Their body doesn’t let them.
This level is reserved for a select few, yet nearly all dieters start there. They set a calorie budget of 1200 calories and try to hold that line at all costs. Hungry? Ignore or suppress it. Full? Eat anyways because you haven’t hit your budget yet.
This process takes them further and further out of touch with their body’s cues. And after a lifetime of doing this, they have no idea what hunger actually feels like or how they should be eating to meet their needs.
So remember… of the 4 levels of the calorie counting hierarchy, you will likely only ever utilize the first 3 levels. And of those 3 levels, you will only need the first level to succeed in healing your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind, and achieve your Ideal Body. Levels 2 and 3 are there as tools for calibration if or when you want to use them, or are able to without slipping back into Diet Culture.
Letting Go Of What You Can’t Control
Too many of us worry about the things that are completely out of our control. When I was in my early twenties I started losing some of my hair along the temples. When I first realized this it was all I could think about.
I buried my face into the computer screen and researched all I could about hair loss and how to prevent it, or even better, regrow it. I spent money I didn’t have and time that could have been used doing more productive things instead of trying to solve a problem that was mostly out of my control.
I tied my identity to my hairline and I was miserable as a result. My self-worth plummeted, my confidence dried up, and I thought my social life was over.
A good year later, after realizing the products I bought weren’t doing a thing, I decided to give up on them. I stopped treating my hair in the morning and night and in the shower. I stopped checking my hairline for signs of hair regrowth every time I walked by the bathroom mirror.
And once I stopped doing that, I realized that I was the same person whether I had hair or not. That I chose to make myself miserable from that situation.
I eventually adopted the mantra to not worry about the things you can’t control. And this mantra is just as relevant during your Ideal Body journey.
There might come a time on your journey when you’ve done all you can do to intentionally calibrate without falling back into food and body obsession and Diet Culture strategies. If or when that moment comes, you have one thing to work on – acceptance.
We’ve already talked about body acceptance. This is done during the healing process. It’s about working towards accepting your body unconditionally as it is right now so that your behaviors come from a place of self-love and self-care. This makes it easier to eat and move your body in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable. Whereas hating and rejecting your body pushes you into outcome-based, punitive behaviors that are rooted in Diet Culture. These behaviors don’t address your underlying struggles, and instead attempt to just slap a surface level bandaid (dieting, cutting calories, burning calories, willpower, etc) over your problems. Of course as you’ve probably already experienced numerous times, these behaviors don’t last, and they keep you stuck in the diet cycle.
Body acceptance isn’t the type of acceptance I’m talking about here. If you’re at a point that you’re calibrating, you’ve already healed and embraced the body you’re in. You might still have goals to change it, but you’re ok with whatever outcomes happen during this process, as you’re already at a version of your Ideal Body.
The type of acceptance we’re talking about here is situational acceptance. This means being ok and at peace with your life knowing you’ve made your best effort possible given your current unique circumstances.
This is not the same thing as giving up. It’s the opposite, actually. It’s about going all in – on you. You embrace yourself and all that you’ve accomplished. And learn to be OK with the outcome.
That doesn’t mean you don’t stop trying to improve and grow as a person. It just means right now in this moment, given your psychology, personality, circumstances, and genetics, you’ve pushed to the boundaries of what’s reasonably possible for you. You understand that pushing yourself beyond this boundary carries negative consequences.
Because here’s the thing – it’s normal to want to weigh less, look or feel younger, be healthier, have more muscle, or be fitter. But it won’t always be possible to push these goals as far as you desire without negative side effects showing up elsewhere. And you have to be OK with that. You have to be OK knowing that you’ve done your best. And you have to respect yourself enough to know that pushing further creates more problems than it solves.
And that boundary is always changing. Maybe you’re raising 4 small kids right now and you don’t have as much time and energy to devote to your training goals. But in the future when they are grown or out of the house, you might have more time and energy to devote to yourself. If you stay in alignment with the Ideal Body Formula, you will be able to take advantage of changes in your life circumstances. But only if you honor what is best for you in any given moment of your life.
Nothing is permanent, but the now doesn’t change. So you have to learn to accept and embrace your situation of the now so that you’re always living your best life possible for YOU – in any given moment.