Is it even possible? To quit counting calories? In the recovery community there are a lot of people claiming, that you will never be able to look at food as you used to as a little child. Food will always be somehow seen as numbers or macros. You probably won´t forget how many calories are in a banana. But you also know how to use the rule of three, but most people never ever use it after finishing school. You know how it works, but you don´t make use of it. And this is what you want to achieve in your food-freedom journey as well. You want to come to a point, where you realise, you don´t have to track every single calorie, but still can make use of your knowledge in a healthy way.
How counting calories influences your intuitive eating
It is not a rare thing, that people claim to eat intuitively whilst counting calories. But when you are eating intuitive there is actually no reason, why you should track your calories at all. Just take a second and think about, why people track their calories:
- to make sure to not eat too much
- to hit a certain amount of calories (f.e. bodybuilder in their bulk-phase)
- to eat within a certain makro-nutrient distribution to support your athletic performance
But the goal of eating intuitive is, to eat the amount of food your body needs today. This can very from day to day, whilst calorie-goals are the same every day or vary due to your activity level. Another goal is to maintain your happy-weight (set point weight). Because that´s the weight you´re functioning physically and mentally the best. Unless you are not a competitive athlete, the knowledge about which foods contain protein/carbs and fats, is enough to fuel your body properly. By using the principals of gentle nutrition within intuitive eating, you will automatically choose foods that will leave you feel and make you perform best (at least 80% of the time).
But by counting calories you immediately suppress you intuition (unconsciously). Before having a meal you might think about whether you saved enough calories over the day for this, or you neglect your fullness cues – because you already counted/tracked the calories for the whole portion. It might be healthy in a aesthetic or even physique way, but being obsessed with hitting a certain number every day will leave your mind restless.
“how many calories have I already eaten”, ” how many more do I need”, “I should eat more/less”, “Tomorrow I should have less”, “I need to move more”, “this option has less calories”, …
Steps to make quit counting calories easier
Saying: I am just not going to count anymore is easy. Not counting calories and not being stressed out because of it on the other hand is not so easy. I remember how I have been in a vicious cycle of deleting and re downloading calorie calculator apps. But at the end I made it, and I am no longer convinced, that I need these apps in order to live and look healthy (yeah, … health has no look :D)
Step 1: reorganise your home screen (and menu)
On your home-screen, where is the calculator located? You could probably open it in your sleep right? Then it is time to place it somewhere else. Somewhere where it actually takes a little bit more effort to get there – this way you´ll have a few more seconds to rethink your action and maybe hold in. My recommendation is in the last slide/at the very bottom of your menu in a folder on the second or third page. Also decline all notifications, the app wants to send you.
Step 2: Stop tracking certain foods you feel comfortable with
Maybe you are tracking every single food right now. Even vegetables and fruits. If so – start slow and stop logging in the foods you feel comfortable with. You really don´t have to track your cucumber or the dash of milk in your morning coffee.
Step 3: Start with not tracking one meal or snack a day
Once you´re already a little bit less obsessed with counting every single calorie, you can start with not logging in one meal or snack. Start with the one you feel the most comfortable with. Maybe you are even eating the same for breakfast every day – so you know the amount of calories anyways. (if not -even better)
Step 4: Stop tracking the other meals/snacks one at a time
Once you realised, nothing bad is happening when you are not tracking (the afternoon snack) and that it makes eating actually less stressful, you can start with not logging in another meal. Do this step by step, until you didn´t track for a whole day. If you did it for a whole day – you can do it for another one as well. Don´t you think?
Step 5: delete the app and resist the urge to download it
Delete the app. And the more difficult one: Keep it off your phone. Resist the urge to re download it. No matter how strong it is. No matter how bad your body image is. Keep it off. Counting calories and seeing how many more are left/not left will only put you under more pressure.
Step 6: Quit counting calories in your head
This one takes time. A lot of time. After tracking calories for some time, you just know them. Even the numbers of different protein bars are stuck in my head. But this no longer bothers me. It´s one thing of being aware of a thought or acting on it. Yes, an apple has less calories than a banana, but a banana is more likely to give me quick energy for a workout or relieve any cramps, whilst the apple will give me slightly digestive issues – if consumed right before a workout. Yes, I can order at a restaurant the option with less calories, but if it is not my preferred choice, it won´t satisfy my cravings, which will leave me thinking about the missed food option. It is not just about the calories but also if it satisfies you. The more often you are reminding yourself of it, the less often you´ll think about the amount of calories.
when the guilt kicks in anyways
Even when you are actively doing the work of letting go of counting calories, it can happen, that you are sitting at a café, having a great conversation with your friends and suddenly this one brain cell reminds you of the consumed calories. You probably will tense up and feel the guilt rising up at first, but this one thought, doesn´t have to ruin your day or even lead to a full relapse. It will take quite some time until you´ll stop counting calories completely.
- book health at every size: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda: 9781935618256: Amazon.com: Books
- book intuitive eating: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach: Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, Elyse Resch, MS, RDN: 9781250255198: Amazon.com: Books
- podcast: Stop Counting the Darn Calories! featuring Regina Black – Colleen Christensen Nutrition