My history with counting calories goes WAY back. I started counting calories as a senior in high school – that was about 10 years ago. Not a day went by after I started that I did not calculate every bite of food that went into my mouth. adding, combining, rearranging to make sure I hit the “perfect” number of calories for the day. It started slow, and pretty casual. Generalized numbers, loose rules, just an idea was fine for me. But as the years went on, the more anal I got with my counting. I couldn’t even chew a piece of gum without adding in the <5 calories into my total amount.
My journey with counting calories started with the hopes of losing a little weight – as everyone tells you, it’s all about calories in vs. calories out. And that’s true – to a degree. BUT, little did I know that counting calories would lead to extremely disordered thoughts and habits around food. Habits that would be so hard to shake, to remove from my daily routine, to rid myself of. You see, counting calories provides so much control. It allows you to account for every little thing going into your body. It ensures that you stay “in control” of your body – but it also leads to losing control of your mind – at least it did for me.
What started as an innocent way to track food, turned into a habit, which then turned into an obsession. Obsessions are STRONG, they can dictate what we do, how we act. And counting calories dictated my life for far too long. If I was unable to track the calories for a meal, I either wouldn’t eat it, or would break down in an extreme panic attack after consuming. If my calories consumed exceeded the amount I had set for myself, cue another panic attack. Basically, if the calories didn’t add up to the special number I had in my head, chaos would ensue and the day would be ruined.
I’ve counted calories for the last 10 years of my life. That is, until about 5 months ago. And let me be the first to tell you, this switch did NOT happen over night. I didn’t magically decide to stop counting and then all of the numbers fell out of my head. When you’ve counted calories for so long, it becomes engrained, second nature, almost instinctual. We all know how hard habits are to break or change, and this one is no different. If anything, this habit is WAY harder to break because it’s completely reworking your thoughts and ideas about food and how it works in your body. It’s letting go of the “calories in vs. calories out” idea, its loosening your rules and guidelines, and it’s most likely increasing the amount you eat (sometimes by double or even triple). None of this is EASY or FAST!
Stopping counting calories is a JOURNEY! It takes time, effort, hard work and a lot of focus. It has taken several different steps to get me to where I am today. And where I am is not perfect. I still have those numbers in the back of my head. Whenever I see a meal (my own or someone elses), the calculator in my head still goes off and starts rattling off numbers. This may be something that never stops. I did it for so long, its like my brain is hard wired to count when it sees food. BUT, I no longer measure out or weigh each piece of food and calculate the calories associated. I no longer add and re-add every bite of food that goes into my mouth. And I no longer have a set number of calories that needs to be consumed during the day.
My journey to stop counting calories started over two years ago – so like I said, it takes TIME! I wish I could give you 3 easy steps to just STOP doing it, but that’s not how it works. It will take so much effort and awareness and patience. But I can also tell you to be free of the numbers feels AMAZING! I’ve never felt more in control of my body now that I am NOT counting! I want to share some of the things that helped me get to where I am (which again, I am not completely free of this), which will hopefully help at least one other person break free from this habit or obsession.
“I feel more control now than I ever have before without counting or tracking calories”
Take it slow! And I mean as slow as you need! It’s not a race 🙂 if I had just tried to stop counting all together when I was just starting recovery, I would have completely freaked out, felt completely out of control, and probably would have relapsed very quickly. Taking it slow made me feel more comfortable and in control of the progress I made.
Incorporating meals where you can’t count the calories. Whether that means going out to eat, or having someone cook a meal for you, try to include meals where you aren’t in control of what’s in them. This may be scary, I understand, but facing the fear and realizing that you even when you don’t know the calories in the food, nothing bad happens, is pivotal.
Facing fear foods. Eating those higher calorie foods that were for so long off limits. The only way to do this is to just DO IT! Start with a bite of the food, then work your way up to an entire serving. This helps with realizing that the number of calories you have set in your mind isn’t the end all be all. You can and should eat those higher calorie fear foods if they are what sound good and make you feel good.
Give yourself grace – you will continue to count even when you don’t want to. You will fall back into the old habits even when you feel like you’ve come so far. You will get frustrated every time you continue to calculate even though you’re trying so hard not to. So cut yourself some slack when these things happen. And then move forward. You are trying to rewire your brain, and that’s HARD WORK!