I’ve been through a lot of phases with calorie counting. There’s been odd times of a few months since I was around 18 where I’ve stuck to it religiously, using apps like My Fitness Pal to track my food and exercise, all to stay within one magic number for the day that was going to make me thin and bring me happiness.
Calorie counting never lasted, for me anyway.
I like rules, numbers, boundaries. I have a very logical, analytical brain and so breaking down food into a worth determined by digits and totting them up felt like it would work for me. All I had to do was stay under that number, and everything I ever wanted would happen.
The problem is, for someone who is/was a compulsive overeater and binge eater like myself, you find ways to play the system.
Instead of using the daily allowance to plan out consistent, regular meals that were a healthy proportion of calories, I would still plan for massive takeaways or excessive snacking and either not eat or excessively exercise so that I could eat those things and still come under the number – or, I’d binge anyway and because I knew the binge brought me so far over my target, throw the calorie counting out the window altogether and tell myself I’d start again another day.
And most importantly, I could never keep it up for a sustained period of time. There’d come a day where I’d think ‘fuck it’, and swing back into overeating even worse than I was before.
I know that counting calories is, for many I’m sure, a practical way of ensuring they avoid under/overeating to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But for disordered eaters? I believe that focusing on a number will only send our inner control freak into turmoil.
Listening to Laura Thomas’s podcast episode about ‘intuitive eating’ recently really had a big impact on me. She talked with Pixie Turner (from Plant Based Pixie) a lot about diet culture and how it’s so ingrained in the world around us, and how any form of calorie counting is a diet and therefore not in line with intuitive eating.
For me, the main goal in recovering from my disordered eating can’t be weight loss. That just feeds into my control issues, my lack of body confidence and my dialogue that I’m extremely aware I tell myself about my life not being able to start until I’m at my goal weight. Instead, my aim is have a truly positive relationship with food, one where I don’t use it to repress my emotions, but to simply fuel my body in a way that’s good for my health as well as my soul.
Calorie counting will not fit into that approach. It will always make food feel like something to be restricted, to be controlled, to punish myself for going over. In the midst of binge eating, calorie counting feels pointless to me because if the binging urges are so strong you give in to them, a target number becomes irrelevant and seeing the amount you’ve consumed will only make you feel worse. As you’re trying to recover, counting cals can only impose a sense of doom around food, and the incessant weighing and measuring of food just perpetuates your obsession with it.
I understand that for some, I imagine those who are extremely overweight, sticking to a lower calorie diet and meal plan is vital for them to lose pounds to improve their health. And, I’m under no illusion that I need to do the same and see a deficit in my food intake to get back to a more appropriate weight for my height. But my mental health is absolutely paramount to me right now, and if that means I have to keep shopping in the plus size range that little bit longer until I’m ready to lose weight naturally, and in a positive way, then so be it.
Are you a disordered eater who has tried to use calorie counting in your recovery? Do you feel it worked?
This is very much just my opinion and experience on this – I’m not saying this is the right way or the wrong to get better. Everyone is different. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.