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Counting calories can take the joy out of eating. You may have started counting calories in an effort to lose or gain weight, get healthier, or feel in control of your diet—but if counting calories is taking up too much time and energy, you may want to stop. Changing how you eat and reassessing your relationship to food will help you break the cycle of compulsive calorie-counting. After all, food tastes far better than numbers!
Method 1 of 2:
Changing How You Eat
1Work with your doctor to come up with a healthy eating plan. Talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or dietician about crafting an eating plan that doesn't rely on counting calories. Tell them your goals and, together, come up with a plan that works for your needs and lifestyle. X Research source
- A nutritionist or dietician can give you recommended grocery lists and non-calorie-focused eating plans that help you manage a variety of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gastrointestinal disorders, and food allergies.
- Some nutritionists and dieticians will even help you practice intuitive eating during your appointment, if you like.
- For instance, you might say, “I’d like to lower my cholesterol and manage my diabetes better without having to count calories” or “I’d like to enjoy going out to eat without tallying up numbers in my head.”
2Avoid buying pre-packaged meals with nutrition labels. Resist the urge to buy “safe” foods that have a label. Doing so will only tempt you to tally up your caloric intake. Additionally, studies have shown that nutrition labels aren’t an accurate reflection of how many calories you’re taking in due to everyone’s unique gut biome and metabolic rate. X Research source
- Eat homemade meals or go to restaurants that don’t list the nutrition data on the menu or on their website.
- If you get the temptation to rack up calories by each ingredient, distract yourself with something else or give yourself a gentle reminder that calories are not your enemy.
3Take a minute to assess your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 10. Checking in with how hungry you are will help you be more engaged with your meal. You’ll be more likely to stop when you’re satiated instead of having to count calories in order to eat less (that is, if you’re trying to lose weight). Pause and rate your hunger according to the following scale: X Trustworthy Source University of Wisconsin Health Integrated healthcare system of the University of Wisconsin focused on treating and providing support to patients and public health initiatives Go to source
- 1 - Starving to the point that you feel weak and dizzy
- 2 - Very hungry to the point that you’re cranky and low-energy
- 3 - Pretty hungry to the point where your stomach is growling
- 4 - Starting to feel hungry
- 5 - Satisfied, not hungry and not full
- 6 - Full and energized in a pleasant way
- 7 - Full to the point of mild discomfort
- 8 - Stuffed
- 9 - So stuffed that you’re very uncomfortable
- 10 - So stuffed that you feel sick
- Eat when you feel 3 or 4 and stop when you feel you’re at 5 or 6.
4Eat without distractions. Food tastes better when you’re fully engaged! Be present with your meals, paying attention to the temperature, texture, and flavor of your food. Turn off or put away all distractions like your phone, TV, or radio. Eat sitting down and breathe deeply for 5 to 10 counts before the meal to calm your mind and get into eating-mode. This is especially helpful if you regularly restrict or binge. X Trustworthy Source PubMed Central Journal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Go to source
- Chew your food thoroughly to savour each bite.
- Calming yourself before meals will help relieve any anxiety you may feel about taking in calories.
5Make each meal last 20 minutes or longer to increase your enjoyment. Eating at a slower pace and with more attention will lead you to feel more satisfied on less food. This is especially important if you’re counting calories in an effort to lose weight. Make note of the time when you sit down to eat and try to stretch your meal to last 20 minutes or longer. X Trustworthy Source PubMed Central Journal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Go to source
- Eating slower has shown to maximize meal satisfaction and reduce caloric intake without having to count calories.
Method 2 of 2:
Reassessing Your Relationship to Food and Your Body
1Seek professional help if you think you may have an eating disorder. Obsessive calorie counting may lead to orthorexia, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). If your calorie-counting has affected your social life or your mental and physical wellbeing, seek help from a psychologist or registered nutritionist (or both) who specializes in eating disorders. While this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, you may have an eating disorder if you: X Trustworthy Source National Eating Disorders Association Nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and communities affected by eating disorders Go to source
- Are preoccupied with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat, and dieting.
- Refuse to eat certain foods or cut out entire food groups (e.g., “no carbohydrates”).
- Feel uncomfortable eating around others.
- Abide by food rituals like not allowing different foods to touch, chewing excessively, slicing food into very small bits, or eating foods only from one food group.
- Regularly skip meals or severely restrict your intake at meals.
- Withdraw from friends and family.
- Frequently check yourself in the mirror for fat or weight gain (or weigh yourself obsessively).
- Experience extreme mood swings.
- Have menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea due to extreme changes in body weight.
2Overcome your fear of food based on its caloric density. It’s easy to call a food “good” or “bad” based on how many calories it has, but that means you’re missing out on perfectly healthy foods that happen to be high in calories (like avocado). When having a food that you know is high in calories, remind yourself of how beneficial that fuel is to your body. X Research source
- Remind yourself that calories are not evil—your body needs calories to function!
- Women need at least 1,200 calories per day and men need 1,500 calories to stay healthy. X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School's Educational Site for the Public Go to source
- For instance, if you’ve avoided having pizza for its high calorie count, remind yourself that your brain and body will benefit from the fats, carbs, and protein. And enjoy your pizza!
3Journal about any anxiety you may have around high-calorie foods. Journaling will help you pinpoint any sticky emotions that might be behind your obsession with calorie-counting. Write by hand or type it up—looking over what you’ve written later on will help you spot any unhealthy thought-patterns that you may want to work on. Here are some journaling topics to get you started: X Research source
- Why do you feel the need to count calories?
- When did you first become aware of calories? Why might you see them as good/bad/neutral?
- What foods do you consider to be off limits?
- What foods are “safe” (low calorie) foods? Are they satisfying?
- How do you feel after eating low-calorie meals? Deprived? In control?
- Does your caloric intake affect your self esteem? If so, how?
- Do you perceive yourself as being “good” or “bad” for staying within or surpassing a certain range of calories?
- How does counting calories affect your enjoyment of meals?
- Does counting calories affect your social life? If so, how?
- What would your life look like without counting calories?
4Don’t buy into fad diets and popular myths pushed by the diet industry. The diet industry is just that—an industry! More often than not, diet-focused companies make money by pushing fad diets that typically cast calories as the enemy. While your caloric intake affects your weight and health, that doesn’t mean you have to keep track of them all the time. X Trustworthy Source National Eating Disorders Association Nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and communities affected by eating disorders Go to source
- When you see menus or packages that advertise the number of calories on the front, remind yourself that it’s a marketing scheme and that you don’t have to pay attention to it.
5Avoid social media that pushes calorie-counting or extreme diets. Social media is rife with advertising and unhealthy mindsets about dieting and body image. In fact, social media usage has been linked to a higher degree of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. If you follow certain users that advertise low-calorie products or post thin-spiration photos, unfollow them. X Research source
- Thin-spiration (or “thinspo”) photos typically glorify the bodies of underweight, low-weight, or exceedingly fit men and women. They’re meant to inspire people to change their habits in order to lose weight or shape up.
6Avoid using calorie tracking apps or websites. Calorie tracking apps can be useful for people to reduce their daily intake, but it also makes it easier to become obsessive about tracking numbers. If you have a calorie-tracking app or calorie-calculator on your phone, delete it! Block any calorie-tracking websites as well, if you need to. X Trustworthy Source PubMed Central Journal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Go to source
- Calorie-tracking apps can also have features that might cause you to feel bad about yourself for going over a certain amount.
- If deleting the app gives you anxiety, reframe how you view the app—it’s not your friend or personal nutritionist, it’s that person sitting at the table judging you for your choices.
7Foster trust in your body’s ability to manage its energy needs. Counting calories is another way of saying that you don’t trust your body’s ability to use, store, and burn calories according to its needs. Remind yourself of what an incredible machine your body is and that it works hard to maintain equilibrium (no matter your weight). X Trustworthy Source National Eating Disorders Association Nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and communities affected by eating disorders Go to source
- For instance, you might recall a time when you had a high fever and you started to sweat profusely—that was your body taking care of itself by lowering its core temperature. Your body does the same thing with its energy intake and expenditure.
- A registered nutritionist can help you change the way you relate to food and your body.
- Studies show that reducing your caloric intake may not help you lose weight over a longer period of time. So don’t stress over calories and focus more on giving your body nutritious foods. X Trustworthy Source PubMed Central Journal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Go to source
- Ignore calorie-talk from fellow diners. If someone you’re eating with brings up how “good,” “bad,” or “fattening” a certain food is, change the topic!
- ↑ https://gsas.harvard.edu/student-life/harvard-resources/nutritionists-and-dietitians
- ↑ https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/science-reveals-why-calorie-counts-are-all-wrong/
- ↑ https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/actionset/healthy-eating-recognizing-your-hunger-signals/zx3292.html
- ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/
- ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/
- ↑ https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms
- ↑ https://more-love.org/2017/01/21/stop-calling-food-good-and-bad-offer-dessert-a-few-times-a-week-or-every-day-and-other-advice-from-dietician-alex-raymond/
- ↑ https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/calorie-counting-made-easy
- ↑ https://www.recoverywarriors.com/why-you-should-keep-a-journal-and-how-to-get-started/
- ↑ https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-eating-disorders
- ↑ https://eating-disorders.org.uk/information/the-media-eating-disorders/
- ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737215/
- ↑ https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/what-does-intuitive-eating-mean
- ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5639963/