Why I Stopped Counting Calories

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When I was about 8 years old, I sat down on my great-grandmother’s couch and wrote out a list of New Year’s resolutions.

24-inch waist, 22-inch thighs and 34-inch hips. 

My only aspiration for the year was to lose weight. I vowed to make my body thinner. It’s scary to think that I felt so undesirable at such a young age. I’m not sure where I got the 24-inch waist figure from but it likely came from the tabloid magazines I would read when I was bored at my Nana’s house. At 8-years-old, I didn’t understand that beauty is subjective and it is not contingent upon how much you weigh. All I knew was that I was picked on at home for eating too much, that eating is bad because it makes you fat and being fat is bad. 

So I tried to stop eating. I would severely restrict myself until I couldn’t take it anymore. I would binge eat, stuffing myself until I was sick before later purging with laxatives.

I dealt with my bulimia privately for years. And throughout it all, I’ve counted calories. The summer before I started high school, I would only allow myself 1,000 calories a day — a dangerous low for a growing teenager. The summer before my senior year in college, I’d allow myself 1,200 on most days before, again, binging and purging. I would eat junk food — and even eat fewer times a day so that I would be able to eat whatever I wanted — because it was “within my limit.” 

My obsession with weight loss and calories drove me fucking crazy.  It further ruined my relationship with food and caused my addictive personality to kick into overdrive. 

So I ditched the practice until earlier this year. I was trying to get past a months long weight loss plateau and I figured it couldn’t hurt to count again. While it didn’t cause my eating disorder to return this time, it still made me feel horrible. I felt guilty for eating even though I was hungry simply because it was over my “limit.” I’d often let myself go hungry to stay within these constraints or I would struggle for days to rid myself of the guilt. 

The gag is that the scale still didn’t budge. For the sake of my sanity, I deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone and focused on properly fueling my body. I ate when I was hungry and made sure that the bulk of my meals were whole, nutritious foods. And if I wanted Popeyes, I waited the requisite 24 hours. If I was still craving it, I took my ass to Popeyes.

I don’t know if it was eliminating the stress or allowing myself to eat how much I needed but I started shredding body fat. I was finally seeing the results I wanted. I wasn’t losing scale weight but I was building muscle, which is a fantastic thing. 

 Back and leg day have been good to me since I started eating enough to fuel my body.

Back and leg day have been good to me since I started eating enough to fuel my body.

For those who are beginning their health journey, calorie counting can have some benefits. 

“I liked counting calories because when I started it helped me realize how many useless calories I was eating,” one friend told me. “Now I basically only count calories at work using MyFitnessPal, and I do it so I can keep track of how much I’m snacking. It helps me cut down on eating junk/all the free food there.” 

Another told me: “I’m pro-calorie counting because before I did not realize how much I was eating and everything that came with it. It’d be nothing for me to eat a bagel and sandwich and then order out Thai food — all in the same day. And now that I see how many calories, carbs, fat and sodium things have, it gives me a better handle on how much food I actually need.” 

It’s very true that counting can help you make sure you aren’t eating a day’s worth of calories in one sitting. But a lot of people I asked about counting hated it for reasons similar to myself. 

“As I've learned the importance of protein, fat, etc., I've realized that it counting calories can be useful for portion control but not for actually losing weight in a healthy way — especially if you workout and are looking to make [muscle] gains,” one friend said. “I've been trying to put more emphasis on macros because then I'm conscious of what I eat rather than how much. I'm usually limiting myself when counting calories and not getting enough food tbh. When I don't pay attention to calories, I make smarter food choices. When I pay attention to calories, I've historically found myself crash dieting which ain’t good at all.”

Another bestowed a WORD from his nutritionist. 

“As one once put it, ‘Counting calories is the same as say scheduling all of your bathroom breaks. Doing so might seem like it's being productive, or keeping you on schedule, but at the end of your day you're just adding an unnecessary stress to your life.’” 

Nowadays, I try to stay cognizant of my caloric intake — meaning I don’t eat Five Guys, Popeyes and pizza all in one day and I stick to a food’s serving size. I’ve learned that it’s hard to overeat if you’re eating when you’re truly hungry, stopping when you’re comfortably full (not stuffed), consuming nutritious foods and exercising regularly. If you’re not sure about your eating habits, keep a food journal and make note of your portion sizes. Drink water when you feel hungry to ensure you’re actually hungry. Another thing I do, due to my addictive personality, is ask myself if I’m actually hungry or if I just want whatever it is in front of me. 

Eating sensibly has greatly improved my quality of life — way more than worrying about how many calories I’m eating everyday. 

julia craven