Happy Monday, friends!! I hope your weekend treated you well – we had a really productive one with unloading more boxes and two rehearsals (starting the Saturday before a show, you rehearse EVERY.SINGLE.DAY until opening night. It’s exhausting… but worth it.)
Today I want to share an email I received from a reader. I get asked this SAME question a couple of times a month so I think that the topic is worth a post.
CALORIE COUNTING. To count or not to count? Is it healthy or obsessive? How do I stop when I’ve met my weightloss goal? So many questions and the answer really depends on the PERSON. Here’s the exact email I received:
I have really found it quite refreshing and I wish I could get to the point that you’re at now. I realize that it would be impossible for you to succinctly explain how you got to where you are but I would love to know what you eat or how you exercise to look so amazing, all without having to get on the scale in the morning or track what you’re eating. Lately, I changed my diet and was at a calorie deficit and saw some weight loss but more noticeably body fat % loss. But now I’m scared to remove myself from this calorie deficit because I don’t want to gain the weight back. I would also love it if I didn’t feel like I had to track my calories or get on the scale every morning to make sure that I was maintaining my weight. I am exercising 4-5 times a week with small group classes that include TRX/Kettlebells and Proformer work or a fusion of the two. I have gotten stronger, so I know the classes are working.
I guess the overall theme of this email is – how do you do it?
I’ll share my response below. Please note that it’s more of an “idea” response and not a “do steps 1 through 5” response if that makes sense. Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve gone from anorexic to bulimic to calorie restrictive to “weird food girl” to where I am now. It’s taken time and a lot of prayer and refocused thinking. I can say that without a doubt my outlook on health/food/exercise is leaps and bounds better. I just had to stop thinking so much.
First, thanks for reading and for reaching out! I still find it hard to believe that people read about my little old life and it makes me smile a little bit. So thank you.
To answer your question, it has taken me YEARS to find out the right balance for my body, MY being the operative word. I experimented with so many ways of eating and exercising – Atkins, Zone, only running, only strength training, low calorie, low fat. You name it- I tried it.
When it came to counting calories, I think a light switched when I got pregnant with my son, Henry.
I was no longer focusing on ME, but rather this child that I had to nourish. My body was growing and I was happy about that. I was hungry – I had to eat. I KNEW I shouldn’t step on that scale because the number had little to do with how able I was or how healthy he was. So I started CARING LESS. Putting less time into thinking about food and exercise. I made healthy choices because I liked the taste of healthy food, but I also started to just eat whatever was given to me – BEING THANKFUL FOR FOOD. Small portions but it didn’t matter if it was a cheeseburger or a salad. I just ate and nourished my body.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that a big turning point came when I started THINKING LESS about what I was/wasn’t allowed to eat. And I just ate when I was hungry. The body is so incredibly smart. I get hungry every 2-3 hours and I eat something pretty healthy. I’m not counting macros or calories. When we get our brains involved too much, obsession comes in and it can become an idol in our lives. I don’t want that anymore. I just want to BE. Without all the food and exercise rules.
I’ll be praying for you and this battle. Know that it will take time to stop counting – it becomes a comfort for us. I pray that you’ll find that same comfort in knowing that your thoughts aren’t consumed with something so trivial. There are SO many more important things to think about.
Reach out anytime!
QUESTION: Do you count calories? If so, is it healthy for you personally? Any applicable tips for someone looking to STOP counting?
Trapped in a lot of this. Lots to comment on . Wow. Such a good blog. Just read your “wiaw” post. I really like that post. I’m currently struggling with unbalanced hormones/adrenals, stress burnout, lots of digestion issues (constipation) , and fitness burnout (as in, nothing…unless slow walks in stifling heat count and honestly they seem to tire me out more). Also an emotional eater, so that’s why its 11:30 pm and I have 2 ounces of dark chocolate bar wrappers and an empty tub of pineapple at my feet.
Would love to chat with you if possible. But I understand everyone is different. Still an interesting concept nonetheless!
This made me cry!
The other day I went to my Doc and discovered I had lost MORE weight. I currently am almost 10 lbs underweight for my body type, naturally. Then when you take into fact that I have more muscle than anything else…
So, they’ve put me on a weight gain diet. They being my DOC and the Nutritionist.
I’m totally scared, but I am fully committed.
We can all do this guys. :)
I’ve never counted calories but I used to be obsessed with weight watchers – and i just became too much work and I wasn’t happy. I’m much happier eating for me!
I never counted calories or macros but when i had gestational diabetes I had to count both calories (to make sure i was getting enough) and macros (so make sure i was eating the right number of carbs alongside the right number or protein and fat so my blood sugar wouldn’t spike). It was really hard to get out of that habit after i had my daughter even though the diabetes was gone. it does become an obsessive thing. I literally had to distract myself and force myself not to think of macros every time i ate so i could break the habit and get back to intuitive eating.
I love your answer. I think you could think about it in a similar way even if you’re not pregnant. There are much more important things in life than what your body looks like (for starters, how your body functions! and that’s not even where I was getting at). I found that when I was finally able to quit counting/tracking (calories, reps, speed, distance, weight, etc.) that I’ve had such a positive outlook on life and people around me have noticed a huge difference.
The long and short of it: yes, calorie counting has it’s place (if you’re seriously at an unhealthy weight, or if you have something you’re training for but realize that you can’t sustain that end-goal body/fitness level forever). It should be temporary. Not a life-long, life-consuming thing.
What I focus on now: feeding myself nutritious and delicious food, and finding my point of satiety. I’ve also started focusing on how my body feels to decide what workouts (or rest) I should do each day. I went to a 6 AM yoga class this morning because I seriously needed hot yoga. Never, ever would that have happened 6 months ago, and my body thanks me for it.
I was 16 when my disordered eating began. It developed into anorexia and everything else in between. I am now 42 and I have finally tasted freedom. I only knew how to eat with so many do’s and dont”s, rules , restrictions etc….I thought that was the way to keep the “monster” in check- keep it all in control. What I found was I never listened to my body my hunger, cravings and what my body has needed. Finally after all these years I’m listening and enjoying feeding my body what it so desires- the curious thing is I’m not over eating or over indulging but just enjoying the taste of food and listening to my body and when it’s full it’s full. No regrets no guilt- eating healthy and enjoying treats without restricting and then binging.
I’m living proof that it is never too late- thank God for that.
I love this post! I have been back and forth with calorie counting and it can get draining and nerve racking when you “go over” your calories. I remember a time when I was able to maintain a great weight without calorie counting, so I know it’s possible. It’s just going to take some time. Thanks for such an encouraging post!!
Great response Lindsay! It is so important to listen to your body and give it what it needs. I try to tell this to my clients, but also to myself. It takes time, patience, and experimenting, but being able to listen and nourish yourself is so important for you physically and mentally. I’ve counted calories and it can become way too obsessive and time consuming. I think when you are first starting on your fitness and health goals, counting calories is a good way to learn what you need, what works, etc., but eventually you need to get to a point of what feels good inside and out and enjoy life.
I used to religiously count calories and keep a food journal. It was a game for me. But I became obsessed. It consumed me (ha, pun intended) and soon enough all I could think about was how many calories X had, etc. I finally NIXED that habit and I couldn’t be happier. I have so much more space in my brain to think about far more important things!!! I am so much happier as well because I don’t feel tied down by numbers. I am not a numbers girl anyways. Now, I won’t lie, I am still a calorie master and generally know how many calories are in foods but that’s not WHAT I LOOK AT when I buy products anymore. I look at their ingredients. If there are foreign or unhealthy ingredients (hydrogenated oils) they stay on the shelf… But if it something like Chicken, Salt, Pepper, Oregano and Thyme, then into the cart it goes! I don’t care about calories, I care about my health!
Its so strange-funny how your body reacts to growing a baby! Especially right now while im in my first trimester and battling morning sickness! in the months before I got pregnant, I did the Fitmixer bootcamp, and started counting calories for the first time since my teenage/ballerina years…I ended up losing about 10 pounds which brought my BMI from the upper end of a healthy BMI to right smack dab in the middle. Then I got pregnant shortly after this, about 8 weeks ago, and sometimes everything looks gross, but more often I just crave certain things…and mostly healthy! I used to consider chocolate practically a food group, but now just a little bit makes me feel sick.
There are some foods obviously I have to avoid while pregnant, but generally if I feel like I can eat, I eat what sounds good, and i’m just trying to make as smart of choices as I can. Mixing half soda water with juice to settle my stomach, stone ground wheat crackers instead of saltines in the morning…frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, and blending my spinach into yogurt and fruit smoothies to get veggies in.
I’m doing what I can when I can, and my portions are pretty small, but my weight gain so far is a healthy amount…not too little, not too much. The last thing on my mind is counting calories…i’m more concerned with getting healthy foods in when I can eat! Totally different perspective from before!
I’m so excited for you Christin!!! Congrats!
thanks!! Me too!! :)
Eh, sometimes I do, but often I don’t. It really depends on the day and my mood. I guess I could to keep myself on track but not really to actually track anything. Hmm, that probably doesn’t make a lick of sense. haha
Great response- I think the “ten years” says a lot too- it doesn’t happen overnight! I was a calorie counter in college and it took me years to drop the habit. Even when I didn’t want to, I’d find myself tallying numbers at the end of the day out of curiosity. I think pregnancy was a huge turning point too- and being content in my family and marriage relationship, knowing I am loved as I am… there’s nothing a few pounds would change about that!
What you said about calorie counting becoming an idol, and also a comfort, is so true! When I was in ED recovery, my biggest obstacle to overcome was the automatic calorie tabulating I did with everything that I put in my mouth. Definitely OCD, too! I prayed and prayed about it, and 10 years later, I can honestly say that whenever I even try to count calories in my head, I picture a brick wall. God is telling me, “Don’t go there.” And I really can’t! However, I have used the various calorie counting apps on and off to keep myself on track for short periods of time. But I have also deleted them if I see it becoming a focus ;). Still a work in progress for the THINKING to go away, but maybe it always will be. Just a reminder to me that I can’t do it alone, yes? Only HE can take it away and only when my focus is on HIM!!!
I have a terrible relationship with food and was a counter for a very long time. I recently decided that I want a healthier relationship with food and I want to stop the obsession. I have not counted calories in almost 1 week and I also have not weighed myself. I have a bad relationship with the scale as well. I was weighing everyday and multiple times a day. I have lost 85 lbs by counting calories and exercising but I am at a place where I want to feel more normal and not obsessive. I still have about 10-15 more lbs to lose and its hard to trust myself. I feel like i can maintain my weight but don’t know how I could lose if I am not counting. Any suggestion’s?
Love your response!
Being thankful for food & focusing on getting stronger/fitter helped me in many ways to lose the worries about food. You can’t get stronger/fitter if you don’t eat/fuel well!
And now being pregnant? I’m so grateful that I learned all this before I had another person to nourish. xo
i don’t count calories but i the reason i don’t is because of this. I can see it becoming an idol. Not good, like you said. Prayer and pregnancy saved you. Blessing indeed friend! you look great and lovely as usual.
I’ve counted calories at first but got out of control. I deleted the app though I still know how many calories are in most foods because I counted for so long. I know how to eat healthy, but often, it’s making sure I eat enough.
Thanks for sharing this! I can totally relate to stopping the calorie counting when I got pregnant with Hunter. Recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea helped prepare me and I started caring less at that point, but it REALLY changed when I got pregnant. I cared less about all of the numbers, and more about what was going into my body. So much more freeing now! :)
Thank you for sharing your tips…It is hard to let something like that go when you’ve been doing it ALL YOUR LIFE like I have been. Especially when I am a very Type A personality and feel like I have to be in charge of everything all the time…It’s a battle every single day but over the last few years, it has SLOWLY been getting a little easier :)
Counting calories is addictive. It’s like any other addiction that makes you feel like you’re in complete control. But after awhile, if you’re not careful, the counting controls you.
I think when I finally hit rock bottom with my eating disorder after years of hospitalization and failed treatment, I think I just had to let go. Stopping the counting and learning to trust. Like was said here, learning to trust my body to digest food and use it efficiently as the nourishment it was meant to be. Learning to trust myself (probably the hardest part) to make good choices of foods that will nourish my body and make me strong and healthy. And probably most importantly, trusting God to make up the difference when I got off track, to give me wisdom in eating and exercising in moderation, and to trust him that he had made my body beautiful and functional. When I made the choice to “just stop” it was seriously like a trust fall. It was terrifying. But I found that I could trust my body, I could trust myself, and I could trust God.
I also learned different ways of reading labels… I learned how to read them for nourishing qualities and not for caloric count or making sure I was staying below a certain “number”.. Instead I started trying to reach a certain number each day to keep myself balanced – of protein, fiber, good carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. This helped me make the transition from reading every label to learning what “health” looked like on a plate. :) soon, I didn’t have to do that anymore either, because eating well for my body became second nature.
I also agree with the food journal idea — I was in intense therapy at the time of all of these changes, so I had ample opportunity to talk about my feelings in regard to food, but if you don’t have that “luxury”, a food journal and a good friend holding you accountable o NOT count calories (preferably not someone who IS a calorie counter, but someone who models a balanced healthy lifestyle, complete with a monster sized bowl of ice cream every now and then) is just as good!!
I’m sorry I got on a soapbox. I’m passionate about this stuff!! Good question!
For me, the only thing that worked was “intuitive eating”. I read the book about it and while it took an adjustment period, it really helped me to trust that my body would get hungry, and allow myself to eat whatever I wanted when I was hungry. I naturally want to eat healthy, unprocessed food, so I just had to start trusting that my body knew when to say stop. Because I had counted calories for so long, it was really hard for me to 1) wait until I was hungry (it always seemed like I had a “right” to eat if I had calories left in the day) and 2) to stop eating when I wasn’t hungry anymore. But with patience and practice I figured it out. I also had to just not get on the scale during that time. Also like Lindsay, I really had to depend on God throughout this time that He would help me get to the place where He wanted me to be.
Good luck! It isn’t fun while you are going through it, but it is so freeing when you are out of it.
I love your response. I have never been a calorie counter b/c it’s just not me. I hate tracking anything, actually, including my running miles. But for eating, I am intuitive–eat when I need to and I eat full, nourishing meals that help me last until the next. Focusing on good food rather than on calories is an easy way to switch it up and might help her.
I do count calories, but I do so to maintain my weight. Since becoming a trainer, it’s actually helped me make sure that I eat enough to fuel the work I’m doing I’m not obsessive about it. My counting is more of a tracking system than an exact calorie count. It also helps me keep track of my macros so I know I get enough protein. I am not currently eating meat and with my food allergies/intolerances, I need to make sure I don’t just eat all the fruits and vegetables, but also get my protein in there. I simply track my meals and snacks in a notebook, so it really isn’t an exact number, but more of a quick reference. I don’t use an app or anything for specifics…that would drive me crazy.
I counted calories for the longest time. For me, counting calories turned into an eating disorder. I used apps to track every bote of food I had and if I went over that 1,200 mark, I would jut eat less the next day. Eventually, I was PROUD of only having 300-500 calories a day because I knew that meant I would lose the weight. I stopped having periods and was so moody no one wanted to be around me. Then, I made a major life change by moving 1,000 miles for love. Everything seemed to fall into perspective…I still counted calories for a few months, still ate only 500 calories during the day but I began binge eating every night. I would stand in the kitchen, alone and crying, and put away 2,000 calories in a matter of minutes. This vicious cycle was the worst part. I had a real talk with myself and figured out what I really wanted. I wanted to be healthy and enjoy fitness. I began lifting weights (which allowed me to eat more calories to build muscles.) I began running, doing yoga…all these things that I enjoyed and STOPPED thinking and obsessing over food. It seems like all women deal with this issue but personally, I will never count another calorie or macro again!! My personality does not mix with this practice. Now when I look at food, I look for nutrients and chemicals to stay away from, never looking at the calories. Ive stayed around 154 pounds for a year now. I love my body for what it can do and when I step on the scale (about once every 2 weeks) I am happy when it goes up because I’ve gained muscle not because I’ve gained fat.
It’s HARD to stop counting calories, but I just got the point where I was so sick of it. I literally couldn’t force myself to pull out the tablespoon measure for my peanut butter, or the 1-cup measure for my vegetables. My brain got tired of counting everything. It’s the most freeing, liberating thing!
A commenter above mentioned counting servings of fruits and veggies instead of calories, and that was going to be my advice as well! In the past 12 years I, like Lindsay, ran the gamut from anorexic to compulsive over-eater, and I was obsessively counting calories all the while. The slow transition to health involved a lot of things, but making sure I ate 5-10 servings of fruit/veggies a day gave me a loose framework to wean myself off of the need to know every calorie that went in my mouth. It was nice to focus on adding something rather than depriving myself (also, aim low at first, like at 5 servings a day. Otherwise you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment).
Finally, throw the scale away! Truly. I know it sounds drastic, but you just don’t need it! If you really want to know, weigh yourself every Friday morning at the gym. Otherwise, most healthy-ish young adults really don’t need to know a daily weight. Too many mind games involved!
I used to track my calories, but the stress it caused trying to keep it at a certain amount was too much for me. Now I just make sure I eat healthy balanced meals and eat when I’m hungry. Every now and then I will track what I eat for a couple days and how I feel just to make sure I am getting enough calories and to reign in any unhealthy thoughts surrounding food. It’s definitely something I work on daily, but try to enjoy food for what it is- fuel!
when I was preggo, I had such bad hyperemesis that I just tried to eat anything that would stay down, because nothing wanted to.
i don’t count because, frankly, i think itz too much work haha sometimes i think it would be helpful to keep me from overindulging all the time and as a reminder that all those little bites add up! however… i can’t get on board with it. sidenote: that pic of you with your preggo belly is adorable!!
Wow, do I ever identify with this. I counted calories for 3-4 years, during my worst anorexic days. I am currently in recovery and TRY not to count calories. It is a constant fight every day, but you are right, life is so much better when you’re not worrying about every calorie that passes your lips. You begin experiencing true freedom. I’ve found that I have to focus on what IS truly important like family, relationships, experiences, etc. Because, let’s face it, in 10 years am I going to care more about how many calories I ate today, or an awesome experience I got to have? While I am no where near fully recovered, I think I’m getting closer daily. You’re an inspiration, Lindsay, so thank you!
I used to count calories (like, every single calorie that passed my lips) but it wasn’t, by any means, healthy for me either. I quickly got obsessed with it and was anxious about its accuracy all day long. I realized fast that I needed to stop – that counting calories seems like the “healthy” choice but was actually very unhealthy for me to be doing.
Like mentioned by Miz, I started to food journal. I wrote down what I ate and how I felt after eating. It really made me put my healthy living focus on what foods were best for my body rather than how much of certain foods I was allowed.
For a while, I also made goals for each day of having # servings of veggies and #servings of fruits, etc.
And I completely agree with you Lindsay that we each have to pay attention to what’s best for our own individual bodies!
I dont—but I never really did.
my best tip would be to start food journaling ALL ABOUT HOW FOOD MAKES HER FEEL.
light heavy tired depressed itchy etc :-) and take the focus OFF calories slowlyl