Why I don’t count calories

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.

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9 responses to “Why I don’t count calories

  1. Reiterating what you wrote – nutrition is so much more important than calories. Loving your body and treating it well are the “Secrets” to health and fitness!

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  2. Loved this post. And I can totally relate: I found that calorie counting really doesn’t help, much. I’ve been doing the same as you – rather than looking at the caloric content, I look at the ingredient list! I find that it’s a lot easier to stray away from foods with too many ingredients you have no idea what it is or even how to pronounce it!

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