Activity Equivalency Labels: The Two Sides

The latest proposal to add activity equivalence labels to food items as a way to help overweight individuals make better food choices has wonderful intentions, but it also has a darker side. Activity equivalence labels would show consumers the amount of exercise necessary to “burn off” the calories in that particular food item. The argument in favor being that this would help reduce obesity by reminding individuals who need/want to lose weight how much exercise would be required to compensate for eating it. However, the danger of activity equivalence labels for driven individuals cannot be overlooked.

The Problems For Those Prone To Anorexia Athletica

One of the problems with activity equivalency labels is that individuals burn calories at different rates depending on their physiology, their metabolism rate, and their body composition. Doing the same exercise for the same amount of time at the same intensity level does not equal the same amount of calories burned. For instance, someone who weighs less and has a lower metabolism rate will burn fewer calories than someone who is heavier and has a higher metabolism rate. This fact makes the labels inaccurate for most individuals. And, given the obsessive nature of anorexia athletica, those who suffer from it already have this knowledge and will use it to their detriment.

A second problem is that activity equivalency labels can encourage harmful overcompensation behaviors in individuals who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and anorexia athletica/hypergymnasia. The labels provide one more tool for those at-risk for these disorders to lose weight and can contribute to their fears related to weight gain and food. These labels can be triggering to individuals who have a tendency to engage in disordered eating and exercising behaviors.

Someone already prone to over exercising is likely to take these labels to heart and engage in compensatory exercise behavior above and beyond what the label dictates. Someone prone to disordered eating may think “If I’m going to ‘binge’ on this, I will need to exercise this much to make up for it,” leading to an episode of what has been termed “exercise bulimia.” Or, the individual may think that the food item is too risky to consume so they label it as “bad” and restrict it from their diet.

A Solution: Developing a Healthier Relationship to Food

Reminders to exercise enough to burn off calories consumed is not likely to help obese people lose weight without addressing the underlying psychological factors that influence their relationship with food. A better way to approach weight loss would be to follow the practice of eating three balanced meals daily (including a carbohydrate, a healthy fat, and protein in each with either a fruit or vegetable) and listening to your body’s hunger cues. If you’re physically hungry between meals, have a nutritious snack, being mindful of proportion size and don’t label or prohibit any foods or food groups from your diet. In other words, develop healthy eating habits to replace your unhealthy ones.

A healthier relationship with food is gained by eliminating the fear, shame and guilt associated with food and the compulsion to burn off every calorie consumed. Don’t forget that your body needs a certain amount of fuel just to survive and carry out every day activities. A good place to start is to explore your relationship with food, assess what it means for you and how it influences your choices and behavior. Once you determine the factors supporting your disordered eating and exercising behaviors, you can begin the work of changing that relationship to a healthier one.

To prevent and/or recover from disordered eating and exercising behaviors it’s important to know what triggers your unhealthy thought patterns associated with these behaviors and to develop alternative responses. Adjust your relationship with food, find a balance between healthy and unhealthy exercise, and increase your mental and emotional fitness. Find the courage to reach out for help if you’re unable to make changes on your own. Your physical, emotional, and mental health are at stake.

Be on the Look Out for the Upcoming Self Help Book:
“Anorexia Athletica & Hypergymnasia: When Exercise Becomes An Obsession”

*Article originally published on Visit website to schedule a FREE Coaching Consultation or sign up for FREE Support via weekly blog posts.

Author's Bio: 

Stephanie Eissinger is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Certified Professional Coach, and a self help book author. She has spent her professional career empowering individuals to overcome life’s challenges to lead happier, healthier lives. She’s the author of many self help books including: “The Fitness Goal Triad: How to Successfully Reach Your Fitness Goals,” “How to ‘Rock’ Your Body Image: Improve Body Image & Self Confidence,” “Stress Management: 40 Tips For De-Cluttering Your Inner Closet,” and “Journey To Self Empowerment: Increase Self Esteem & Self Confidence.”