Counting Scallops

New York Magazine had a fascinating cover story this week on the practice of “CR”, or “Calorie Restricting”. The idea behind CR is that if you reduce your calories to some bare minimum (I am still not sure what that bare minimum is), you will be able to (something like) double your life expectancy. This is based on studies of lab mice (Ahimsa?) and anecdotal evidence provided by the practitioners of the CR lifestyle. Among these practitioners is April, a 31-year old woman and blogger, who looks fairly normal, and not particularly gaunt by Ashtangi, or for that matter, Hollywood, standards, at least.

In a strict CR lifestyle, every, and I mean EVERY, calorie is counted. Meals are prepared using digital scales, calculators and even software. Arugula leaves are counted. Four scallops are placed on a plate, and then one is removed when it is remembered that the meal will include a 45-calorie serving of cheese. One practitioner of CR eats exactly 639 calories for dinner each night. Each. Night. Ad infinitum. This particular guy stands approximately 6 feet tall and weighs approximately 137 pounds.

The obvious question: What is the difference between CR and anorexia? From what I can tell, it would appear that there are more similarities than differences, particularly when you factor in the high level of obsessiveness with food that both CR and anorexia involve. However, CR advocates maintain that anorexia is about appearance, while the CR lifestyle is about health, that anorexia is about deprivation, while CR is about what you put into your body (i.e. the nutrients, which are as carefully counted and measured as the calories). To wit, April does not have a single photo on her blog, from what I can tell. There is not even a hint of “thinspiration” to be found.

The CR lifestyle and the Ashtangi lifestyle appear to have quite a bit in common as well, namely eating efficiently (in order to absorb the most nutrients from the least calories), the exertion of a great deal of restraint, employing methods of fasting and cleansing, reliance upon meat substitutes for protein (CR-adherents use something called “Quorn”), as well as the begging another question: Is this actually just another manifestation of an eating disorder?

I have to admit, I am intrigued. I already am fairly restrictive in my eating. It’s a way of life that is so engrained, I hardly notice it. Last night, while watching a rerun of Sex and the City, I was shocked and appalled to see a commercial for KFC (I think that’s what they are now calling Kentucky Fried Chicken these days, which I have NEVER eaten in my entire life, I kid you not), which, get this, has created a “salad” composed entirely of fatty, starchy, kill-you-within-an-inch-of-your-life “favorites”. Imagine, if you will, a bowl into which is slopped a big ole mountain of mashed (and I am sure, reconstituted) potatoes and melted butter (or, more likely, the cheaper and more trans-fat loaded substitute therefore, margarine). On top of that, a thick layer of creamed corn. Layered over that is a layer of fried chicken “tenders” (which I am pretty sure is a euphemism for a reconstituted, extruded mixture of white meat, dark meat, organ meat, soy and breadcrumbs). Over that, I don’t know, you tell me: what’s your favorite side at KFC? Coleslaw? Potato Salad? Buttery Biscuits? It’s your choice!

This advertisement appeared twice during the Sex and the City episode. The first time, it merely skimmed the outer layers of my consciousness. The second time, my eyeballs bulged. It seemed like one of those fake commercials they use as filler on Saturday Night Live, like “Mom Jeans” or “Colon Blow”. But it wasn’t. It was real.

My mind was reeling. Do people really eat like this? If so, why? Why would anyone want to eat a gloppy mess of disgustingly fatty foods all thrown together in some satanic version of a composed salad? Then I began to wonder, a la Carrie Bradshaw (who is ALWAYS depicted scarfing junk food – strawberry milk shakes, McDonald’s apple pies, big slabs of Ray’s Original – notwithstanding muscles so shredded that my dog cowers from the t.v. screen whenever I have the show on, and whose scapula are so sharp that one time they cut a slice right through my flat-screen TV – okay, that part is not really true – I don’t actually have a flat screen TV): Am I thin because I find that sort of food repugnant….or have I merely coerced my mind into believing that that sort of food is repugnant so that I can BE thin?

All of which begs the obvious question: could I pull it off? Could I partake in the CR lifestyle? Today I saw that Yogamum is planning on participating in a Write-a-Novel-In-November event. I certainly don’t have any faith in my ability to pull THAT off. But eating less? I could DO that. Obsessing about nutrients, calories, input and output? Totally. I wrote the book on obsessing. Or one of them, at least. Many of you out there have also written quite a bit on the topic!

To tell you the truth, I would much rather write a novel in November than start counting arugula leaves and weighing Quorn on a digital scale. But what would I write about?

Nothing EVER happens to me.



10 Responses to Counting Scallops

  1. CJ says:

    I disagree about anorexia being soley about appearance, it’s mostly a control mechanism in lots of people. When life gets out of control, you control the one thing you really can: what you eat.

    There’s way too much obsession about food in our culture in a negative way. Is it really in an effort to stay healthy, or is it vanity? Sure, limiting fat and sugar intake to a healthy (medically recommended) level is good and necessary, but honestly what’s wrong with a piece of apple crumble (with cream!) once in a while?

    I’ve had numerous people say to me that they are too fat for yoga. What image are we projecting?
    Having a big meal a few hours or so before practice is quite uncomfortable, but after practice? Well…eat. Not enough food means not enough energy. You don’t have to be skinny to do ashtanga or any other yoga. Being healthy helps though.

    ok, sorry, rant over!

  2. Vanessa says:

    Maybe I am missing something, but 639 calories for dinner doesn’t seem so restrictive to me. If the three main meals are that “size”, the daily ingest would be 1800 cals, which is low but not that low really for a female.

    Although I agree: focusing on making it exactly 639, no more, no less, is very obsessive.

    Have you heard of orthorexia? This is what I’d compare it to, rather than anorexia.

  3. yoga chickie says:

    V – it’s a 6 foot one inch man! Caloric needs for that are something like 2,500 or so. And yeah, agreed that the problem is the exactitude of the number, more than the number itself.

    What is Orthorexia?

    CJ – I do think that the appearance is tied very much in with the control aspect. as in CONTROLLING the appearance…anorexics will typically not care how ugly their severe skinniness makes them; the only thing that counts is the skinniness, which then, in their minds equals “acceptable appearance”. At least, that’s how I think it works.

  4. CJ says:

    Yea, I agree with that, there’s control of appearance but I also think it might stem from elsewhere maybe not to do with that.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i do not think it is only a matter of counting c.s, but also making sure you get enough of the other nutricients, so you can’t compare it to anorexia, i do think, that people here, in general, would be better of, if their food intake was a bit less than
    the american standard, 🙂

  6. Julie says:


    “Imagine, if you will, a bowl into which is slopped a big ole mountain of mashed (and I am sure, reconstituted) potatoes and melted butter (or, more likely, the cheaper and more trans-fat loaded substitute therefore, margarine). On top of that, a thick layer of creamed corn. Layered over that is a layer of fried chicken “tenders” (which I am pretty sure is a euphemism for a reconstituted, extruded mixture of white meat, dark meat, organ meat, soy and breadcrumbs).”

    HAhahahaha I saw that commerical last night and thought “Well, now if I was really really stoned, I bet that would be really good!”

    Of course, I’ve been indulging in whatever I want lately … all that changes next week. Silly combination but there you have it.. my way of getting through the mandatory no yoga times.

  7. CJ says:

    Great post btw – I still reckon newsworthy stuff does happen to you though!

  8. boodiba says:

    I’m a Carrie Bradshaw eater. I eat like a snake rather than grazer, tending toward fewer, larger, more fatty and calorie laden meals eaten in one go. Andrew has been amazed with my consumption of streak frites and cheese plates, nacho dishes and entire large sides of sour cream. Meeting his cousin who asked if I was vegetarian, I laughed and said no, “I’m on the whatever the fuck I want diet.”

    The CR lifestyles sounds about as much fun as raw food veganism.

    I’ll take my waffles and bacon with extra butter…

  9. yoga chickie says:

    Linda – I am sure you realize them thars fightin’ words. You have now officially become the most hated woman on the planet!

    Julie – I totally hear you. I was just now thinking about the fact that I am LOVING my doctor-imposed sloth. Is that wrong?

  10. Julie says:

    It’s not wrong… it’s just one of the few ways to get through it 😉

    Hey, raw foodism is really fun… you should try it some time 😉

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