The Number Games: how counting calories is keeping you stuck

The Number Games

Calorie counting was the bane of my life and also probably what saved me in the end. I got so sick of all those numbers tumbling round my head and it just had to stop. Interestingly I can’t remember having a particular calorie count that I had to stick to, perhaps I did, perhaps it was an elusive “not too much” whatever that meant. I do remember being extremely aware of counting and knowing the calories count of ANYTHING at the drop of a hat.

Fast forward twenty plus years, I have made nutrition and eating disorders my job and half of the time, I have to look up the calorie count of food in sessions – I don’t base my work on calories but inevitably they crop up in conversations. That means that over the years I have unlearnt calorie counting and I am so glad that I did.

Why you need to stop calorie counting

Calorie counting is a perfect example of a safety behaviour. Safety behaviours can be useful but they often have the opposite effect to the one desired. Safety behaviours are used in an attempt to prevent our fears from coming true. Sounds legit, right? Except that in a lot of cases the fear is either unfounded or exaggerated and by constantly avoiding it (safety behaviours are rooted in avoidance) the person prevents the disconfirmation of their belief about the fear. What that means is that calorie counting not helping you, instead it is keeping you stuck by keeping alive the belief that calories need to be kept in check or else your weight will be out of control.

So essentially, you thought calorie counting was the solution when it is part of the problem.

Why you can’t stop

I know some of you will have a hard time stomaching (excuse the pun) my first point but this is probably the most important point of it all. Those who are still reading will think, very well but how do I stop calorie counting??

Well to stop you need to understand what is preventing you from letting of calories.

1) You don’t think it’s possible to stop calorie counting. Once you know, you know kind of belief. Let me tell you that this is absolutely not true but if you tell yourself it’s not possible, you won’t make it possible.

2) Your friends, family, or work colleagues constantly talk about calorie counting. You can’t unlearn something if you are in an environment that promotes the existence of the said thing. This is hard but you are going to have to tell them, respectfully, to stfu. You can also try to leave the room or divert the conversation if the former is too hard.

3) Your favourite reading material is the back of the packets. You know what I mean, you sit down for breakfast in dissect the nutritional information of the yoghurt, All Bran and honey, EVERY-SINGLE-DAY. It might be time to head to the library or buy a Kindle because this is going to keep you stuck and, honestly, the plot is not all that.

4) You keep watching WIEIAD videos of people trying to shrink themselves or people in quasi recovery who are trying to restrict and are just not eating enough. Click on the NOT INTERESTED button and scramble the algorithm by looking at cute puppies because influencers and people with disordered eating CANNOT be your source of information. This is probably what got you there in the first place.

5) You are still trying to lose weight and equate low calories with low body weight. Not so fast… That is not necessarily the case. Low calories also means low metabolism (because if you don’t fee your body enough everything will slow down in an attempt to save you) and low metabolism means needing fewer calories to function. Confused? Basically you’re shooting yourself in the foot; sometimes you need MORE calories to lose weight. I know…

You’re trying but you’re doing it all wrong

You decide to count macros instead. This is still a safety behaviour I’m afraid because people usually tend to focus on protein and aim for a low carb and a low fat count because they know it will lead to fewer calories. It can also be a slippery slope towards orthorexia and the idea isn’t to swap one eating disorder for another.

You’ve stopped counting calories but you are making damn sure that you’re sticking to your safe foods and eating a bit less of them, just to be on the safe side… That’s much of a muchness, ok you’ve stopped counting calories but only because you know you’re “safely under” hashtag rumbled.

You decide to only eat when you are hungry. That sounds lovely except that when people have been restricting for a long time they often have no idea when they are hungry. We could be waiting a very long time for you to be hungry and it could lead you to eat even LESS.

You don’t count calories but you only eat “clean food”. Once again this is the best avenue towards orthorexia and actually could lead to bingeing on energy dense “clean foods” out of sheer boredom.

You have got rid of the calorie tracker but now you are tracking your steps, heart rate etc. That’s still tracking, innit? You’re still a slave to the numbers.

Want to know more?

Head to my homepage and download my tips on how to truly stop calorie counting for good (it’s at the bottom of the page).

I can’t promise you it’s easy, it does require some work but I can promise you that it is possible. It’s scary but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and that once you are free from the Number Games your brain will suddenly have so much more space. You will gain clarity, you will be able to hear yourself think and make decisions based on your wants and not your shoulds, and you will be one step closer to food freedom.