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Calorie Bazaar: Quantifying Bites and Negotiating Trades at the Dinner Table

There’s an Assyrian saying about eating in front of someone who’s not eating, “sapee khjboonelah” or “you’re counting my bites.” It’s bad manners to be at the table and be the only one eating, so I guess this is supposed to encourage others to eat too. My mom came over for dinner yesterday and pointed out how this expression literally came true in my house. And she’s right. Ever since turning, well, not in my early 20’s and graduating school to lead a sedentary, cubicle way of life, my body has paid the price. Same for my husband, who’s even more not in his early 20’s than I am. So we decided to take, what is for me, drastic measure. We decided to


Which is insanely tedious, especially with my husband the engineer who weighs all our food. To make it less tedious we’ve been using the Lose It! app, whose interface isn’t that awesome, but it’s one of the better apps for the job that I’ve come across. The funny thing about counting calories is that you’re putting a number on something that is less than precise. You make a goal based on whether you want to lose or maintain weight, and it’ll tell you to eat 1800 calories a day or whatever. Then you go about looking up food items in the app’s database, trying to decide if you ate a medium or small banana and whether you think you had 1/2 cup of asparagus or 3/4 cup. The units of measurement aren’t always how we tend to think of food. Some items are just confusing. I looked up roasted chicken and it said one unit was 250 calories. What, like the whole chicken? Wow. See what happens. I didn’t mean to take us down this rabbit hole of detail, but that’s what happens when you count calories all day. It’s inherently obsessive if you want to do it “right.”

So you go about your day entering in what you ate, and if you do any exercise you get those calories back. (Which, don’t even get me started on the mental f*ck of trading exercise for food. Yesterday, I ran 6 miles so that I could have a beer. Sad. Lame.) ANYWAY, you’re going about your day and maybe you get to the end and you’re in the red. Literally, the total turns red. It turns red whether you’re 1 calorie over or 1,000 calories over. Well, this feels BAD. And this is what happened yesterday at dinner when my mom (who started us on the whole calorie counting thing which maybe she wouldn’t want me to say, woops – but whatever, she’s winning anyway) and my guy were comparing notes.

“You put too much for this chicken,” my guy says to my mom, looking at her calories for the day.

“Oh yeah? Fix it!” She responds, excited because maybe this means she won’t be in the red.

“I’ll give you 110 for the chicken.”

“Hmm. 90 would be better.”

“OK, OK, we’ll do 100.”


“You’re counting 90 for this bulgur wheat?”


“Well, I think you’re lying a little.”

This continues on for about 10 more minutes before we turn our attention to Cut the Rope. It’s exactly like being at the bazaar, negotiating every calorie, trying to stay honest while trying to get yourself the best “deal” possible. You can play with the food amounts and if that doesn’t get you there, you can massage the “exercise” calories for the day. “Hmm,” I’ll say to myself. “I probably walked for 10 minutes while I was grocery shopping earlier, what’ll that give me?”

“It’s supposed to build awareness,” my brother says watching and judging. “Then why is it red?! Why are there so many numbers!?” I exclaim. He doesn’t have to count calories, because unlike the rest of us, he actually is in his early 20’s. Just wait, on his first trip to the calorie bazaar, he’ll ask to use my mad negotiating skills to get him the calories he wants.

3 thoughts on “Calorie Bazaar: Quantifying Bites and Negotiating Trades at the Dinner Table

  1. Haha, I love how mom’s bazaar negotiating skills translate to our western world. There is not always room for it, people don’t really do it here. Also, I don’t think you are supposed to do it with calorie counting, haha.

    It is especially hard to count calories with middle easterners! Not only are they shoving food down your throat every second, from likhma chada to sarshir, every meal is a big pot of something like stew or soup. How do you count how many servings that is? It could be 20, it could be 6. I may have to start counting calories again but I reallly don’t want to. I find myself using less ingredients when I cook so I don’t have to put them in my log.

    1. One time mom and I counted calories for a whole pot of boushala and our serving unit was the ladle. Although, this too is problematic because it’s not homogenous. What if I’m getting all barley in the ladle and no veggies? So hard!

  2. This is great. I’ve been totally on that train all year. Guessing the weight of my meat got old (and who wants to be over their goal, if they really aren’t?) so I got a $20 food scale at Costco. I enjoy your writings every time! Thanks!

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