Quit Counting Calories!

Quit counting calories?!

If you would have said this to me a month ago I would have thought you were nuts. I have calculated everything that has gone into my mouth (even tried to estimate in inpatient hospitals!) for years and honestly, I didn’t know if I could shut my brain off from its counting routine. Why? I can’t answer exactly why, what day or how I began the obsession, but one thing I can say for sure is I like measurable success, numerical terms to evaluate how I am doing. In school you could ask any of the four boys I lived with, I was fanatical about getting A’s; obsessed to a really unhealthy point where I literally never went out my junior year. My life was the gym, school work, being a waitress, and cheerleading. I barely interacted with my roommates, teammates or other friends when they begged me to come hang out for a few hours and now looking back, I missed out on some pretty good times.

The pattern continued when I began my weight loss venture my senior year. Cheerleading was over so I was no longer doing my daily gym session and having practice. I was spending more time being sedentary, glued to a seat in the library, still working hard for those A’s, and I was getting married in less than a year, so of course I needed to look good in the dress. At first I cut down on the snacking. I really didn’t need the extra fuel anymore since I wasn’t as active and I think I had snacks more out of habit than hunger. And after a few months I lost about 10 pounds. During this time I also started running and Ryan and I signed up for our first 5K. I have mentioned in other posts that although I knew I wouldn’t be super fast, I still felt like I needed to set a goal (a numerical assessment of my progress, of course) and work towards it, which my competitive mindset turned into “RUN EVERYDAY FASTER, FARTHER, DON’T STOP!!!” So these two things jump started my brain into the desire to learn more about nutrition. I have also said in other entries how my household growing up had relatively strict diet rules….no caloric beverages, fruits and veggies at every meal, fat free salad dressing only, no chips or other “bad” snacks, we skip the cheese, etc. so once I really began to evaluate my daily eats, I decided to rule out a lot of choices, and become more portion savvy.

The weight continued to drop and I felt great! Every time I would go in for a fitting at the wedding dress boutique the little old greek woman would tell me she had to take it in again. It was another measurement of success. To this point I did not weigh myself, or count calories. The calorie obsession began when I downloaded the app Lose It! to my iPhone. This handy dandy little tool (NOT!) asked for my stats such as height, weight, gender, activity level, and produced the amount of calories I “could” eat in order to keep losing.

Around the same time I read an article about determining accurate portions by using a food scale and measuring cups/spoons. Well what do you think I did? How could I be perfect in assessing my caloric intake without these things? I drove to the store and immediately got a the scale, and two sets of measuring cups so I could keep one in my purse in case I was ever in an emergency situation where I would need one (seriously, tell me this isn’t abnormal?!…remind me to tell you a pretty embarrassing story about Ruby Tuesdays, the salad bar and my measuring spoons!)

So now I had a computerized log to plug my meals in and tell me if they were appropriate, and some new gadgets to make sure I was doing everything properly. I told you I like numbers, and I obviously have a bit of perfectionism instilled in my brain, as evident by the ridiculous studying rituals, so put all these things together and it is a recipe for disaster. And it continued to get worse! I could not eat unless I knew the exact portion I was having. I didn’t go to restaurants because heaven forbid they would put oil on my vegetables! I literally avoided any social situation where there was food. Like my obsession with getting good grades, this prevented me from having a good time! But I didn’t care because as long as I was still strict with my caloric values, and the number on the scale was going down, I was successful. It was a measurable way of telling me I was doing something “right.”

Obviously you can’t maintain this lifestyle when you are in a hospital. They prepare and serve you all your meals so really, you have no control on what you get (control is another post in itself, so stay tuned for that). To make me, and all the other patients, stop obsessing the dieticians in the hospital gave us a meal plan based on the diabetic exchange system. But as eating disordered individuals we feel like we can outsmart the professionals. Duh we know a starch is 80 calories and 15 grams of carbs! We know everything! So I could easily convert the exchanges into calories and figure out my meal plan. I had a fit when I discovered the “ridiculous” number they felt I needed, but for some reason eating in a hospital is easier then when you have to live with the choices YOU make at home. For some reason you can justify eating bigger meals when someone else tells you you HAVE to.

And when I got home, vowing to continue the meal plan I was prescribed, I just starting counting calories all over again. I mean really, what if I didn’t want that much fat! A person can have taste preferences, right? No one wants to stick to a rigid number of starches and proteins! (No eating disordered person that is! we want to stick to a rigid number of calories) Slowly I started cutting corners here and there and six months later the process began again when I went to residential, and repeated the next year at another stint in in-patient.

Trust me, DO NOT FOLLOW THAT PATH…I never ever want to spend another holiday in a treatment facility, have all my stuff searched, have to wait to use a phone because they take away your cell. It really isn’t a fun life, so please please please, if you can push through recovery!

But back to the main point to this entire, lengthy post. I have worked with the same outpatient nutritionist for a while. She has seen me go in and out of hospitals, different, facilities, etc. She knows my tricks, and I am very honest with her because, after all, she doesn’t watch me consume my meals and has no reason other than she is a kind-hearted person, to care one way or another if I listen to her advice. As long as I come to a session, she gets paid. So she knew my brain was hard-wired for calorie counting and she gave me a definitive number to hit every day. No questions, I MUST meet this number every day or I could not take my daily walk. (As for running, that was completely out of the question) I came close a few times but it never exactly hit, or went over the amount she wanted me to reach…Why?

Because when you count calories you become obsessed with keeping the number in a range you feel is “ok.” Her number was not ok! I thought it was preposterous that anyone could need that, but week after week my weight would stay pretty close to the same and she would say, “CJ, you can’t argue with science, or math, your body needs more because your weight isn’t going up.” (She obviously knows my obsession with numbers in general.)

So with some new found motivation I went into a session and told her I had to stop counting. If I didn’t stop counting I could never ever meet my goals. I couldn’t do it because after I reach a certain number I just cannot make myself eat more. It is unsafe, uncomfortable, and I panic.

She looked at me and asked how I thought I could stop counting and why did I not do it sooner? I guess I didn’t have a reason to do it sooner? You would think life would be a good enough reason but I guess it wasn’t for me. So for the past week, YES WEEK, I have not calculated a single thing that has gone into my mouth. For all you counters out there, I hope these things can help you too..

1. Buy food you do not know precise nutritional values for…

I love farmer’s markets and local companies for this because if you get bread at the bakery in town, or Great Harvest when it is not pre-sliced, you really don’t KNOW exactly how many calories you are consuming. You can guess, drive yourself crazy trying to estimate, but you don’t KNOW. So I am not eating foods mostly without nutrition labels, which seems to be better for overall health anyway.

2. Evaluate your hunger/fullness.

Similar to intuitive eating I operate on a hunger scale…1 being I am famished and could eat my arm off at any second, and 10 being so full I need to un-button my pants and roll away. A 7 is where most people feel comfortable and satisfied. I know in the weight gain process comfort is not the name of the game. I need to be at least an 8 to know I am eating enough.

3. Distract, Distract, Distract

Find something to do that occupies your brain other than calorie counting. Knitting and crafts didn’t work for me because my brain still roams back to destructive thoughts. Actually writing has helped me in the aspect of distraction. I usually blog, comment on other blogs, or do some work to prepare for school after meals and snacks to avoid over-thinking what I just ate.

4. Go with your first instinct.

I used to meticulously calculate every meal and say “Oh if I have these pita chips I can’t have a sandwich I need a salad.” WRONG. Sometimes I want a sandwich and the darn chips. There is nothing wrong with that! Go with what you are hungry for because 9 chances out of 10 you are going to be more satisfied and not agonizing over your next meal thirty seconds after you eat.

Your body seems to know best. It’s a pretty miraculous thing, actually, how well our bodies try to take care of us and sustain life. After all, look what it did when you were starving or undernourished. It slowed down your heart rate to preserve energy, gave you linugo to keep you warm. Trust it, and as my therapist tells me, don’t judge the process. It takes time and eventually everything will even out, it just requires patience. No one I have ever met that is fully recovered regret their decision to give up ED, but people in the process quit when it gets hardLet me tell you, every day is hard, but you can do it J

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

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18 thoughts on “Quit Counting Calories!

  1. Congratulations on not calorie counting this week. I am also driven by black and white, measureable “success.” I became obsessed with making good grades in college. I’ve tried using my fitness pal, but I quit using it almost immediately because I felt myself becoming obsessed with it. I’ve thankfully never had an ED, but I have had issues with expressing my emotions in unhealthy ways. Thankfully I’m in a good place now, and it sounds like you are, too. Thanks for sharing your story and your tips!*

    • I am so glad you are in a good place now! ED is really just another unhealthy way of expressing ourselves…a maladaptive coping mechanism if you ask me, but it is important to remember emotions are healthy and a natural part of life. I loved your post the other day on running, and how you just stopped because you werent feeling it. I had so many days in the past where I would push my body to the limit even though my heart just wasnt there. Thank goodness I have moved beyond that haha Have a great saturday! 🙂

  2. Wow, thank you so, so much for this blog post. I am only sixteen and, after losing 40 pounds on my own through calorie counting, I guess you could say that it is both my best friend and my worst enemy. I want to stop so badly. I became so crazy about it that, as you mentioned, I only stayed within an “ok-this-won’t-make-me-feel-fat” range which was far off than what I’m suppost to be eating. My recommended daily amount is about 2,000-2,400 depending on my activity level, & I have been eating 1,600-2,000. Not good. I’ve actually lost my period due to the weight loss and stress, but I think undereating has an influence, too.

    I went on vacation in July of this year, in which I told myself that I was not going to track my calories – I only guesstimated the overall amount everyday. (Ok, it’s a step in the right direction lol) And it felt so, so awesome not having to run to my laptop every time I stuck a chip in my mouth. I’m going away again this upcoming week in which I plan to not track at all. Of course, I’ll probably end up guesstimating but as long as I become less strict about it over time, I think it’s a good step in the right direction.

    I’ll definately be following your tips. I think I’m going to print them out, actually. THANK YOU! 🙂

    • Carly, I am so glad my post helped you. You are so young and really do need to feed your body in order to properly finish growing…I am 24 and have ostepenia, the bones of a 60 some year old woman. Fortunately most doctors believe you can reverse the effects if you shape up and amp up your calcium before you turn 30 but I get injured very easily and am in a lot of pain most days. I don’t want that to happen to anyone! And I congratulate you on losing 40 lbs by yourself, that really is amazing but do not let it control your life. I am really proud that you realized how much of a negative influence calorie counting can have when it becomes an unhealthy habit, physically and emotionally, and did a great job at only “guesstimating” while you were away, but I encourage you to continue making progress to stop counting. As women it is difficult to look everywhere, read magazine and see on TV diet media…its everywhere! but please remember you are worth more than that. You are a beautiful girl inside and out and do not EVER let a number make you feel differently. Thank you for the kind remarks about my blog. I hope you visit again! Best of luck with everything 🙂

      • I relate to a lot of what you say. However, I’m 30 years old now and have osteopenia and have suffered this a long time. I count cals and it drives me insane. But I need to gain. I feel I need to sit down and dig your brain with how to plan out all this. I’m so confused and tired of it all. I still don’t exercise. I feel so ashamed.
        Any blogs (meal plans) this or that you find good?
        My digestive system is heavily bad now, and I need to somehow get back on a steady, healthy tract before I do severe(r) damage to it. i just want to eat “naturally” and not force or count. But at the low end, etc….stupid dietitians in the past got me fixated on cals…I hate it.

      • Dont feel ashamed of anything! Shame traps us and created guilt which is the last thing you need. I dont think you need my plan, I think you need to stop planning and listen to your body. I find what works best for me is to not overthink what I am eating, but going with my first instinct because usually thats the one that is right. When I start agonizing and obsessing is when I get into trouble. Your digestive system will take time but eventually it will improve. Maybe talk to your doctor about that? They might be able to give you something to help 🙂

      • Thanks so much. This blog really helped me truly realize how nuts I am over such a stupid habit! Although I’m still counting today (I have to eat more, and since my appetite usually doesn’t match with how much I should be eating, calorie counting is kinda beneficial for me at the moment) I’ll definately take the proper steps to stop it altogether once I get the right amout of food going for my body. Going away this week and not tracking will be very good for me.

      • But how do I do that? When my IBS is so horrible. I have zero appetite, everything affects me negatively (either C or little D in bathroom)…I just have zero appetite and want to stop it all. So tired of it all , u know?

      • I understand, and trust me, there have been days where I literally have to force feed myself. You have to almost turn into a robot…that is what an eating disorder does anyway right? You are in a routine every day. Well you need to do that same thing but in a healthier way…eat at the same times ever when you arent hungry. I got tired of it too and eventually just had to say “ive had enough!” and go through the motions. I know it is hard but just try it for a few days. After that it may just get a little easier 🙂 Good luck ❤

      • So only eat when I’m hungry? I’ve been heavily constipated for over 3 days. Do I force food or not? I could just nOT eat if that’s the case cause I have zero appetite and highly bloated. How do I start a new day to end this constipation? I just simply don’t know what to eat. Honest to God. I just don’t know.

      • I think you do know. You’ve seen dietitians and done this before. If you have no appetite obviously don’t just not eat. Eat on a schedule. Every 2-3 hours until your body begins to normalize. Your bowels will work better and self regulate as nourishment is given consistently. Trust me gun, I’ve been there. Did you ever consider going to an inpatient hospital?? Good luck ❤

  3. I broke up with calorie counting as well. It definitely works, but after a while I felt neurotic and was focusing so much on hitting the goal numbers that I forgot to actually enjoy what I was eating! Now I try to slow it down and just enjoy it. I’m definitely a few pounds more than when I hit my “goal weight” while counting, but I’ve been maintaining for quite a while and am well within the healthy range for my height. It can be a good eye opening tool when someone has a significant amount of weight to lose, but it just isn’t for me anymore.

    • I agree that calorie counting is a good start tool because it is the best way to lose a few pounds but it is definitely not a fun lifestyle! Philly has awesome food too and I’m sad I missed out on some when I was being a crazy person! My grandma used to tell me , “lifes too short, eat dessert first” and I might just take some of her advice!

  4. I just found your blog after seeing your post on the Weight Gain forum in CalorieCount.
    I’ve stopped counting calories in the past month because my weight had dropped so low and I finally had to realize I wasn’t healthy and that I have an eating disorder. I’ve gained 10 lbs and need to gain 10 more to reach my goal weight. I’m a bit nervous about how I’ll maintain my goal weight once I reach it though, but that’s probably just my ED talking.
    Good luck! Fighting an ED is so difficult 😦

    • Congratulations for being so strong in your recovery!!! You are off to an amazing start and should really give yourself a pat on the back for all you have done! Don’t worry about the what ifs 10 pounds from now, concentrate and celebrate you accomplishments now!!! This is the hard part! If you can do this, you can do anything 🙂

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