When I was in my mid to late twenties, I was a calorie counter. To be fair, as part of my job as a Wellness Consultant and Educator, I needed to know approximate calorie counts of most food items. I got questions on what to eat, how to lose weight, and nutrition constantly, so it was all just part of the job. My knowledge of calories became a sort-of party game. I could easily guess the amount of calories in a food item and come shockingly close to the actual count.
With this knowledge, you think would come power. And I guess it did. But this power was very consuming.
Before getting into the rest of this post, I want to make clear I was lucky. I never developed an eating disorder. My body was always healthy. I never had any health issues, had plenty of energy, and was a happy person.
But I was a calorie counting machine. I saw food for the calories it contained. I didn’t see the good nutrients it would fill me with, or even how good the food tasted. It was just calories.
I didn’t deprive myself. I would have sweets and treats – but very little of them. I would cut a normal size brownie into 4 squares and eat a square every night. When cooking dinner, I made sure my portions were small. I would count out pretzels to make sure I didn’t exceed 100 calories for a snack. Everything was so well portioned I could look at a bowl of rice and figure out how many calories were in that bowl.
If I was hungry, I would eat. I never starved myself. But every single piece of food that went in my mouth was not a “cracker with peanut butter” but “80 calories”.
And I lost a good bit of weight doing this. I never dropped too low – but I was teetering on the edge. And since I never had any adverse health effects, I never really worried about it. I continued living my calorie-counting life as I normally would have.
Since then my look on food has changed dramatically. I went through a bunch of different phases of food to bring me to where I am now.
I went through a time where I had a verbally abusive boss. My work life was filled with anxiety and stress. I would have anxiety attacks thinking about having to speak with him. It was a very bad situation and I couldn’t see a good solution. The stress of it all pushed me to the pantry. I needed to do something to get my mind off of this bad situation. And I was already working out for at least an hour a day, so the only solution that I could find at the time was eating. Focusing on consuming food instead of the bad situation helped ease my fears and stress for at least a little bit of time. And that’s all I cared about.
I gained weight. Not a lot – I was always in a healthy range. But my clothes didn’t fit anymore, and that was troubling to me. I started to see that my stress eating was getting to be a bad daily habit and that I needed to get a handle on it. And honestly, I didn’t find too much that helped. I would talk about it openly with friends and family members, try to find other ways to occupy my brain instead of eating. Sometimes it worked, but a good bit of the time it didn’t.
When I finally found a job that wasn’t stressful, things leveled out for me. I no longer needed to go to the pantry to manage my stress, so that habit seemed to just fall away. I also didn’t go back to counting calories. I started seeing food was nutrition. Food was tasty and enjoyable. Food wasn’t my daily means of stress relief and it wasn’t a number of calories. It was food. Couple that with a healthy and challenging exercise routine and I found a happy medium, and from that came a happy weight.
Today I rarely look at calorie counts. If it’s a new product, I probably will look at the label – but I look at the ingredient list instead of the calorie and fat content. If the ingredients are wholesome, not too sugar-laden, then I’ll eat it. If the ingredients are filled with crazy words I can’t pronounce – then it may be a special treat, but more than not it’s something I’ll pass on.
That’s how I look at food today. As a natural source of fueling my body and keeping it healthy. As a way of enriching my life from the inside out. And yes, I enjoy eating now. I taste what I eat. And I couldn’t be happier with this new way of thinking.
And the side effects of my new relationship with food are pretty wonderful. I am not as skinny as I used to be as a calorie-counting machine, but I am strong and at a very healthy weight. I am not afraid of food. I fill myself with healthy vegetables, fruits, lean meats and whole grains. And I even enjoy an entire brownie (not just a small bite) every now and then! I love to try new foods, cook and eat without guilt. I am a happier person all around. Health really does bring happiness.