Tackling the question of “how to stop counting calories” on the blog today along with and a guide to intuitive eating. Sharing a little bit more of my eating disorder recovery story.
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I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing this post, but here we are! Finally! My health journey was a rocky one. I’ve shared part one of my eating disorder story, why I broke up with my fitbit + instagram posts like this one, but my I find myself wanting to protect my heart with my entire story.
Here is a little bit more of it, though.
I went through a phase of meticulously counting my calories. Down to the mints or random pretzel throughout the day. (Yes… pretzel as in singular) Safe to say it was a VERY unhealthy relationship. I was spending way too much time thinking about where and when my next meal would come from and if I had “saved up” enough calories for it.
I was at a healthy weight and hitting all my goals (mainly aesthetic based) but my mind was restless with food thoughts.
As I’ve talked about before… I have an obsessive personality. It’s a blessing and a curse. I become hyper-focused on what I want to achieve and nothing can stop me. This is what happened when I wanted to lose some weight, tone up and get the “perfect body”.
I was in college studying nutrition and had to do things like develop meal plans for assignments, check macros for sports nutrition class or create recipes with nutrition labels… so I was kind of forced to learn the numbers.
I downloaded MyFitnessPal (the WORST) and was introduced to a whole new world! Literally they have the calories for anything and everything. It’s kind of ridiculous.
I assumed my weight loss + nutrition goals would be achieved if I just stuck with the good ole calories in vs calories burned method, which now I know is SO false.
Not every calorie is created equal or metabolized the same way. It’s silly to give each one the same amount of weight, but that’s a post for another day (if you want).
Before I get into it, I want to say that it’s REALLY hard to completely stop counting calories. You simply can’t forget how many calories are in a TBSP of peanut butter or 5oz of grilled salmon when you’ve been tracking those numbers for so long. I’d guess it all depends on how long you counted calories for, but I did it long enough that these numbers are unfortunately in my brain forever! The thoughts will become less and less and the numbers won’t control you, but it’s hard to undo knowledge, ya know?
NOW… let’s get into it.
How I Stopped Counting Calories and Got My Life Back
It wasn’t an overnight process and I only truly stopped counting calories about a year ago… on my honeymoon! (I talk more in depth about this on this podcast) Our honeymoon was SUCH a test for me and my health journey. I had ditched my Fitbit about 6 months before our wedding day with the intent of ending my food + workout obsession.
I knew that if I wanted to be fully present with my husband, I needed to get this whole calorie counting thing under control. Not to mention all the yummy food and drinks that were going to be there! We paid for an all-inclusive trip to Punta Canta. AKA endless one-of-a-kind drinks and food everywhere.
Before ditching my Fitbit, I had also deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone. I don’t remember exactly when, but it was probably 6 months before selling my Fitbit.
I wish I could say deleting MyFitnessPal from my phone was a breath of fresh air… but y’all, it made me incredibly anxious! That’s how I knew it needed to happen.
After deleting the app, I would intentionally order foods that I didn’t know the calories for or hadn’t logged before to hold myself as accountable as possible.
For the most part you will eat the same foods as you did before, so you’ll most likely mentally count your calories. That’s why it’s important to try to switch up your diet and eat things that you have no idea the calorie count on.
Let’s recap so far: delete any calorie counting apps, ditch your fitness tracker (if you find it to be all consuming) + eat new foods that you don’t know the calorie count for.
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In order to stop counting calories your body has to trust that you’re going to give it what it needs. This can’t happen when you’re limiting your intake of food or resisting the foods your body is naturally craving.
Something else I did in order to stop counting calories was replacing food thoughts with different thoughts or activities. It’s nearly impossible to quit something cold turkey. It’s a lot easier to replace bad habits or thoughts with new, healthy habits and thoughts.
One of the reasons I started becoming obsessed with calorie counting was to avoid thinking about the bad things going on in my life. Why think about family issues when I could just think about food and calories all day?
Write a list of things you can do instead of focusing on food or calories. There’s most likely an underlying issue going on that maybe you need counseling for. And I support counseling 100000%!
I wasted so much of my time researching calories when I could have been channeling that energy into my blog, friendships, hobbies, etc.
What happened after I stopped counting calories
Once you’ve eased into this new lifestyle, it’s time to start REALLY getting in-tune with yourself.
Enter: intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is how I practice healthy living today and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s allowed me to have complete food freedom and enjoy all the foods I resisted because they were “too high calorie” or on my “bad list”
[ Check out this post on why food doesn’t have moral value to read more about this!! ]
WARNING: you will most like binge on the foods you deemed as “bad” at first!
Not the best news.. but it’s true. When you’ve been restricting foods or setting a calorie limit for so long, the foods that were “off limits” seem a million more times appealing than they actually are.
Peanut butter anyone!?
This has to happen and is part of the process. Your body is craving these foods and needs to know they aren’t off limits so the cravings can stop! Once you binge or overeat these restricted foods you’ll probably realize they aren’t as great as you thought they were.
What is intuitive eating anyways?
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to health and wellness that helps you tune into your body signals, break the cycle of chronic dieting and heal your relationship with food. In short: intuitive eating is normal eating.
There are ten principles of intuitive eating:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
- Honor Your Hunger
- Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
- Make Peace with Food
- Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing when you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.
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- Challenge the Food Police
- Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
- Respect Your Fullness
- Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
- Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
- Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
- Respect Your Body
- Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
- Exercise–Feel the Difference
- Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
- Honor Your Health
- Gentle nutrition makes food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
As I stated before, the ability to stop counting calories won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some serious time and effort to get out of this mindset, but it’s SO worth it.
Focus your attention more on getting proper micronutrients, honoring your hunger + being as mindful as possible when eating instead of focusing on the calories in your meal.
I hope my experience can help you even if it’s just a little bit!
Questions? Leave em below on or on my latest instagram!