I am fully aware that this is a topic that has been written about extensively in the eating disorder community, so it’s not novel by any means. Yet, calorie counting continues to be an ongoing problem that I witness every day, so we need to keep talking about it.
Counting calories is often something that starts with the best of intentions. Something that sounds oh-so-useful at the time…
Until it becomes an obsession that you can’t escape.
The basis for counting calories is rooted in distrust of your body.
Consider this: if you trusted your body to tell you how much to eat, then calories would be irrelevant. This is what babies and young children do when they haven’t yet learned not to trust their bodies.
Imagine you walk into a bakery and smell the delicious scent of all the baked goods.
You peruse the display case, looking at all the wonderful creations, trying to decide which one you want to have for a snack.
Then something catches your eye - a little paper card next to each item, listing the name of the pastry -- and the calorie content. (insert face palm)
Suddenly you are completely disconnected from your body and it’s desires, and you’re stuck in your head, trying to decide if it’s “worth it” to eat one of these baked goods.
Your snack just became a math problem.
At this point you narrow it down to 2 choices: 1) eat a pastry, knowing the calories, and feel guilty about it after; or 2) don’t eat the pastry and feel relieved you avoided the guilt but also bummed and deprived of what you wanted to eat.
Neither of these choices seems very pleasant. It’s essentially a lose-lose situation.
Imagine if you weren’t concerned about calories. You could choose a pastry based on what sounded good, and eat it without guilt or shame. It would be super satisfying. I know this is easier said than done.
Once we are aware of the calories in various foods, it’s hard to un-know that information. Clients often tell me that they want to stop obsessing about calories, but it’s already burned into their brain and they can’t escape it.
A few simple strategies to move away from counting calories….and back into your body:
- Incorporate some foods with an unknown calorie content. There are many ways to do this. You can ask a loved one to remove the product from its packaging, so the calorie label isn’t available. Or you could make a home cooked meal or baked good.
- Eat at non-chain restaurants. These small businesses aren’t bound by the calorie labeling rules that large chains are. Thus, local restaurants don’t have to post the calorie content on their menus. If you do eat at a chain restaurant, ask a support person to read you the options so you don’t have to see the calories listed on the menu.
- Eyeball your portions. When your portions aren’t precise, neither are the calories. Practice flexibility with this “close enough” approach when you plate your food.
- Practice intuitive eating. Stay fully present with your food and check in with your body throughout the experience. Every time you catch your thoughts wandering to calories, bring them back to the present moment. Use your senses to experience the color, smell, taste, and texture of the food.
Now, these strategies certainly won’t magically cure you of your obsession with calories. After all, they are all around us, so it’s hard to escape the topic completely.
With practice, the calories will eventually hold less power over you and will take up less space in your thoughts.
As you grow to trust your body, you will find that you don’t need to focus on calories to gauge how much to eat. You will start to have peace of mind that your body will tell you as long as you listen. Be brave. Give it a try.