Calorie counting can be a bit of a slippery slope.
It usually starts off well intentioned. You start counting calories when you want to lose weight. And at first, it might feel like a powerful tool that helps educate you on different foods and portions.
But calorie counting can become obsessive, too. Before you know it, you might feel afraid to eat if you don’t know a food’s calorie content or guilty when you eat more calories than your app allows.
Here’s how to tell if calorie counting has become unhealthy for you, how to stop counting calories, and what to do instead.
Is calorie counting bad?
Before we dive in, I want to clarify that calorie counting is not necessarily bad.
Calorie counting is simply a tool. It’s a way of keeping track of the foods you eat and maybe even a helpful way to learn about them.
And while calorie counting is not my preferred tool as a Registered Dietitian, it can be valuable for some people at certain points in their lives. For some, calorie counting can even feel empowering or help them feel comfortable eating enough.
5 Signs to stop counting calories
Although it’s not inherently bad, counting calories has its risks.
Meticulously tracking food in any form may worsen your relationship with food, and put you at risk for under-fueling and nutrient deficiencies. This is especially true when calorie counting apps prescribe generic 1200 calorie plans. Trust me, you need to eat far more than this to thrive as an adult.
It’s also important to understand that energy needs vary from day-to-day, so strictly counting calories can set you up to be inflexible and overly restrictive with food.
Here are 5 signs to stop counting calories:
- You are afraid to eat beyond your calorie budget despite feeling hungry.
- You get anxious when you don’t know the exact calories in a food.
- You only consider calorie content when making food choices.
- You intentionally eat less than your calorie budget regularly.
- You become socially isolated because you’re afraid to eat certain foods.
This is the question to ask yourself–Is calorie counting genuinely supporting my physical and mental health? If your answer isn’t ‘absolutely’, it’s probably time to stop.
How to stop counting calories
If you’ve ever tried to stop counting calories before, you know it’s not easy.
A common mistake I see as a Registered Dietitian is that women try to stop counting calories cold turkey. If you’ve been counting calories for a long time, this can feel overwhelming. When you move too quickly, not knowing how much you’re eating and fearing weight gain can make you more likely to return to your tracking app.
Here’s how to stop counting calories without feeling overwhelmed:
- Adjust your calorie budget first. If you’ve been underfueling (*cough cough* 1200 calories is not enough) start by increasing your calorie budget.
- Go at your own pace. Start by not tracking one meal, and then one day, and then one week. Go as slow as you need to so it sticks.
- Find structure in other ways. You don’t have to completely let go if you don’t want to. Try this free guide to balance your plate without counting calories.
Find your best weight without calorie counting
You don’t need to track calories to find a healthy weight for you.
10 Strategies to try instead of counting calories:
- Add protein to every meal and snack.
- Switch to high fibre carbs like whole grains, starchy veg and fruit.
- Enjoy a handful of nuts or seeds daily.
- Make half your plate fruits and veggies most of the time.
- Limit distractions when you eat.
- Eat every 3-4 hours and avoid extreme hunger.
- Honour your fullness.
- Prioritise sleep and stress management.
- Make water your drink of choice.
- Take movement breaks throughout the day.
The bottom line
Calorie counting isn’t for everyone and it can worsen your relationship with food. If you’re ready to stop counting calories, use this article to go slow so you feel less overwhelmed.
As a Registered Dietitian, I truly don’t believe calorie counting is necessary to feel your best and find your healthiest weight. Stick around if you want a more flexible and sustainable approach.
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