*Disclaimer: Do not stop counting calories if your doctor has asked you to meet certain calorie requirements in order to return to a safe and healthy weight. If your doctor has you on a specific meal plan, consult him or her before making any changes*
When’s the last time you were out to eat, or in line at Starbucks, getting ready to order something you love when you overhear, “…I love those vanilla bean scones, but do you know how many calories those have?” Suddenly you find yourself overthinking your choice, or worse yet, stacking it against the other calories you’ve consumed that day. Once started, calorie counting is tough habit to kick. But here’s the good news: it’s not impossible. I did it, and you can too.
We Know It Feels Crummy, So Who’s Still Counting?
While counting calories works for a select few, most people who begin the addictive habit report being significantly unhappier and more frustrated than when they started. Women, and especially young girls, who count calories often experience:
- higher risk for eating disorders like Orthorexia and Anorexia
- anxiety surrounding meals and snacks
- guilt when they eat something higher in calories
- obsessive need to plan out their day’s calories, and anger if the plan is interrupted
- inability to quit counting calories, resulting in a feeling of addiciton
Knowing these awful truths about calorie counting, who would still choose to do it? Actually, a lot of people. According to at 2013 Gallup poll, 43% of women report counting calories at restaurants and a whopping 68% read up on calories they bring into their own homes via groceries (Khazan). And it’s not just grown women who are falling crazed to calorie counts – it’s little girls too. A 2015 study conducted by Common Place Media reported that by the age of 10, 80% of girls have been on a diet (Miller). It’s time to end the cycle.
5 Tips To Quit Counting Calories For Good
1). Cut the Virtual Cord
Delete MyFitnessPal or whatever equivalent you are using to keep track of your daily intake. You can’t make all the numbers magically disappear from your head, but you can stop reinforcing them with your hands. Ever noticed how you remember material better when you write it down in class? The same goes for those triggering nutrition facts. Every time you input them to your app, you’re digging the nail in deeper. Not to mention every second spent searching for “safe” foods at restaurants is a second stolen from your friends and family you’re dining with. This is by far the most difficult part of severing your relationship with counting calories, so don’t be surprised if it takes you a few deletes, and re-downloads. It took me over 20 tries. Keep with it. Keep deleting it and refusing to count for as long as you can, eventually it will stick.
2). Quick, What’s the Quadratic Equation?!
Remember sitting in eighth grade algebra and wondering “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” Well, today is that day my friend. So you sit down to dinner, without your phone because you’ve already deleted that icky calorie counting app (win!), but there’s a problem: you already know a pretty close estimate of every calorie on the plate. Enter mental counting. And it’s like as soon as you try not to think about it, it’s all you can think about. The only way to tune out those numbers is to replace them with something else that’ll hold your attention. I recommend going through the quadratic equation in your head until your mind wanders away from the calories, contemplate the meaning of life, or come up with alternate endings for the last episode of Grey’s.
Anything that keeps your mind busy and off of the calories it’s been conditioned to count will work. Be careful though, in my experience simply turning on Netflix or opening a book isn’t enough to distract you from the numbers. You’re going to have to keep your mind a little busier than that in the beginning.
3. X Marks the Spot
Use the chart above to keep track of how many days it’s been since you actively counted calories or allowed calorie counting to influence your next snack or meal. Print it out and strike a big X in sharpie through each day as you get there. Physically marking pen on paper, checking off a day, will result in a feeling of accomplishment and make you that much more motivated to make the next day calorie counting-free. Want to make it more fun? Use the blank space at the bottom to add personalized rewards. Example: At 7 days without counting calories, get a mani pedi from the expensive salon, at 14 days without counting calories, buy that new purse I’ve been eyeing.
4. Feed Me, And Tell Me..Nothing
A great way to practice eating unknown calories is by letting others cook for you! Gone are the days are passing up grandma’s chicken pot pie because it didn’t come with nutrition facts like Marie Calendars. If you live at home and your parents cook (or have a favorite recipe) eat with them a couple nights a week or request they make it when they have a chance. Another great option is to plan a potluck with your friends. Have everybody bring a dish or dessert and eat buffet style. Not only do both options evoke the social element of eating, but they make it’s almost impossible to count what someone else has cooked if you didn’t see it go down.
5. Be Patient With Yourself
If deleting the calorie counting app is the most difficult tip, then practicing patience is the most important. Nothing else matters if you get discouraged and give up. Don’t do that! Remember that it took you awhile to get hooked on counting calories, and to memorize those numbers. It’s going to take some time to re-condition yourself to eat outside of numbers and trust your body again. It’s okay to feel frustrated, angry, nervous, and sad during this process. Expect it, and allow those feelings in. Know that it’s part of the process, and so long as you keep trying again the next day – you’re on your way to a happier and healthier relationship with food.
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