In The Elements of Investing, Burton Malkiel and Charles Ellis make a dieting analogy to explain a money concept:
When I wrote about the third space in the dieting world, I wrote about Concrete Diet Thinking and Abstract Diet Thinking. The former is where food is an algorithm of calories and maconutrients and each day is an opportunity to perfectly match the food algorithm with the daily needs of your body. The role of emotions, society and culture is minimized. In Abstract Diet Thinking, emotions, society and culture lord over food choices and the dieter's job is to peer inside to seek out the body's true nourishing desires. There is value in all of it.
The mindset described in The Elements of Investing and by Hendershott are, at first take, likely Concrete Diet Thinking. They are mathematical and calories are analogous to dollars. Don't spend/eat more than you earn/burn and you will be good to go. You have a personal responsibility to keep yourself in check, even as your world is inundated with high calorie garbage food and exercise in your neighbourhood is dangerous.
But I actually think the core idea belongs in the third space, which is one of livable wellness. Here is what I mean: What if discipline around food and/or money is not a cage but a launchpad? What if that cool analytic approach to hunger is liberating? The disciplined and analytic eater realizes that eating beyond satiety is uncomfortable, puts a high metabolic demand on the body and takes away from feeling good in your body. That is such an appealing idea! Keep your head on straight, eyes on the prize and you will live a long life at an ideal, healthy size.
The evidence for dieting is poor. Most often, people fail caloric restriction of any kind - high fat, low carb, low fat, high carb, high protein, no protein, no cooked, no sugar, etc. When they succeed, weight loss is short lived. Yoni Freedhof over at Weighty Matters comments on this his Lancet piece. There are a lot of compelling metabolic and neuroendocrine reasons for diet failures in the subset of the population that is morbidly obese. I can talk about these another day.
Some people have a high Body Mass Index (BMI) without any appreciable disease. Some people can stay this way as they age. Obesity is a risk factor for the development of disease, but not is certainly not a prerequisite for the development of disease.
This dieting process is utterly demoralizing for us. It leads to a sense of poor self-efficacy, even if the rest of our life is one of discipline and accomplishment. I am a cool, analytic thinker who thinks about things for a living. And I still am not that detached when it comes to food. Dieting leads to depression and anxiety, as does our fat-phobic society. Dieting can easily change people's lives for the worse and this is the rule rather than the exception.
So why do I think there is a role for analytic calorie tracking when I just said that calorie restriction fails almost 100% of the time?
Because continuing to remind oneself that food is food by virtue of its unique macronutrient composition and caloric value is helpful in remembering that food is not love. Food is not extra time before a deadline. Food is not stress relief. Food does not fix bad relationships. Food does not fix your crappy job.
Food is food and your body needs a certain amount every day. Beyond that, eating is something else: culture, community, numbing, loving, nurturing, staying awake at night to treat people in the emergency room, surviving a natural disaster or just a tonic for mediocrity.
It is ok to remind each other of this without falling in line with the disastrous cult of personal responsibility from which fatphobia and fat-shaming emerged. I think I can be body positive and also calorically-aware. I don't see those as contradictory things which is why I am ok with the idea of a daily calorie bank as long as my sense of self-worth is independent of said bank.
I can ask my patients to be conscious of their consumption just as I ask them to be conscious of their mood, their stressors, their sleep and their movement. And I can ask them for consciousness without putting the blame for obesity squarely on their shoulders because I know it is about complex neurosociobiology and public policy as much as it is about their individual calorie consumption.