Why I Stopped Counting Calories

Dietary numbers surrounded me most of my life--calories, fat grams, Weight Watcher points. The numbers were always there. So, when I wanted to lose weight after graduating college in 2009, I started counting calories. It seemed like the obvious choice.

I downloaded a little fitness app to my iPod Touch (I'm dating myself), and started counting. At first, it was such a rush to see the numbers add up. I loved adding in my exercises and seeing my deficit increase. I distinctly remember a day where I had consumed under 300 calories after adding in my exercise. And I was so pleased with myself.

But the habit wasn't sustainable. It made going out to eat incredibly difficult and awkward--seeing as I always had to type something in. 

It took me about two years to lose 25 pounds, and throughout that time, I switched on and off with calorie counting. Eventually, I realized how unsustainable the habit was, and stopped. But my disordered eating habits continued.

I frequently thought about food and used it as a weapon. I ate too much or too little. I chose food as comfort and did not choose foods that fueled my body properly. I demonized foods and labeled them as "good" and "bad." When I switched to a whole foods diet, I neared orthorexia and began to demonize all "unhealthy" foods instead. (I was terrified of things like white bread!)

Then, I wanted to lean out. 

It was 2015, and I began working with a dietitian to increase my muscle mass and lose body fat. She prescribed macronutrient numbers to reach--those are suggested ratios of proteins, carbs and fats. She knew about my history of disordered eating and I had convinced her and myself that I was over it. (Spoiler: I wasn't.)

70.3 Chuck Norris

I re-downloaded the calorie counting app--this time on my iPhone--and began to track. I did see some results from using my dietitian's suggested numbers. I started feeling much stronger in my runs. I felt well fueled. But slowly I started to obsess.

I planned out my day of eating meticulously at the beginning of every day. I tried hard not to go out to eat, and if I did, I tried to find foods and numbers that best fit what I could find via the app. I developed a phobia of certain foods--especially carbohydrates. I kept telling myself I was healed from my eating disorder days. 

To make this more complicated, I was training for my first marathon, and I followed this eating style to the T while training. My daily caloric base was around 1,800--again, while marathon training--and my dietitian told me I could lose a little weight. (I remember, I was under 128 pounds.) There was a rule that I could eat an addition 100 calories for every mile I ran over six miles. I looked forward to those days because that meant I could eat more.

After that race, I knew I needed to get out of this. I wasn't seeing the results I wanted. I wasn't "leaning out." So I switched dietitians. My experience with her was a good one and I was able to wean myself off of macronutrient counting.


Now, I just eat.

I try not to worry about calories, fat grams, sugar grams or macronutrients. I know how unsustainable counting can be. While some people may need to count macronutrients to reach certain goals (I'm looking at you, body builders), it's not a habit the rest of us need to undertake.

I do still naturally balance things like my carbohydrate intake (maybe I don't need bread at every meal), and I do consume more protein on days where I'm lifting very heavy. But, I have become much more fluid with my carbohydrate and gain intake--something I needed to do. 

My body has a good understanding of what it needs and wants. I listen to those cravings and callings. I still put emphasis one wholesome ingredients--but I let my body do the rest. Sometimes, I eat more. Sometimes, I eat less. I try to put emphasis on protein, fats and veggies first, and try not to worry about the rest.

By breaking my habit with numbers, I was able to continue healing from my eating disorder. Even today,  it's still an ongoing recovery process, but I know I'm doing right by my body. 

Do you struggle with counting calories? Are you ready to stop using tracking apps?