How Effective is Calorie Counting For Recovering Binge Eaters?

May 31, 2017 3 min read

How Effective is Calorie Counting For Recovering Binge Eaters?

May 31, 2017 3 min read

calorie counting

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 – I know that to be a bullshit idea now, but it was the only thing I could focus on for a long time.

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, 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 even more severe binging.

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.

I’ve realised that a truly intuitive and positive relationship with food just doesn’t leave room for calorie counting. It’s a disordered behaviour that would be diagnosed in the very thin, but is prescribed to those in bigger bodies.

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. Plus, research tells us that intentional weight loss just doesn’t work. 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.

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 – but from everything I’ve learned about disorder eating over the past few years, counting calories doesn’t lead anywhere good. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Soph xx

***This post was edited in May 2018 to remove any content that is triggering, fatphobic or weight-stigmatising, and to share my experience with disordered eating more responsibly. Since this post I have found the body positive movement and now write from a non-diet, Health At Every Size perspective. If you’ve been affected by this post, please contact eating disorder charity Beat for support.***



  • Bryan February 18, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Really brave post. I needed to read this today. Well done and enjoy every step of the journey 🙂
    Thank you

  • Christine February 26, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    really brave post indeed, agreeing with Bryan. I see so much of my own struggles in this. Thank you for sharing so openly.

  • Leave a Reply

    About Me

    About Me

    Hi! I'm Sophie.

    Writer, thinker, often overwhelmed.I like to talk about film, feelings and feminism. Not necessarily in that order.

    Follow Me


    • Cancelling your hair appointment and using the money to buy a new lens instead = solid life decision.
    • Here’s my cute chubby face to tell you a couple of things: 1️⃣ I had the best weekend with @kimhigson being the most me I have ever been, watching some incredible live netball and finally seeing Avengers: Endgame (still processing), and 2️⃣ My photos from my dreamy trip to Sweden are all edited and live on my photo account @sophslens_, or you can swipe to see a few. Thanks @mathew_curran for snapping this one ☺️📸
    • Hot chocolate break with @mathew_curran before we hunt down more photo opportunities - and meatballs, obviously. 🇸🇪
    • My mum got me this lady cushion and I LOVE it
    • Gripping, poetic, and consistently lightbulb-inducing as it explores a world where women rise to power, I couldn’t get enough of this book. I haven’t read fiction in years, but this reminded me that I ought to, much more often.
    • From Icelandic winds to sunny Spanish rooftops; quite the climate change, but I’m not complaining ☀️ Swipe to see some of my favourite photos from Malaga so far, or I’ll be posting the full set over at @sophslens_ 📸
    • Some of my favourite snaps from Reykjavík round 2. We came back with sore feet, tired legs and much lighter pockets (Iceland is pricey, people!), as well as a friendship even more incredible than it was before we left. I adore you @hbensonx.
    • In Reykjavík, happy as Larry. (📸 @hbensonx)
    • I’ve been spending a lot of time here, because anywhere else feels a bit too scary at the moment. Who’d have thought that throwing your old life into the fire, and letting it burn up to create a new one, would have such lasting hurdles? Its a strange feeling to know that you wouldn’t want to go back, but sometimes wish that you could. I’m done with the pressure and the comparison of trying to replace what I’ve let go of. Solitude, it turns out, is the best thing for now. And this room, with its comfy bed and grey walls and light in all the right places, isn’t such a bad place to find it.

    Follow Me!