I admit this is a deeply personal matter for me. Personal because, while I felt like I have improved so much in my body image and my confidence, there are still some flaws and insecurities I am working through. Writing this essay means inviting you into that vulnerability, showing you a crack in my facade that I’ve been trying to patch up for so long. I’m all about food freedom and finding confidence within your body, but behind the scenes, I’m still struggling with some of those same habits and tendencies that lead me into insecurity in the first place.
A few months ago, I sat down to brainstorm a bunch of new ideas for this blog—mainly in regards to nutrition and wellness. One of the ideas I planned to write was “Why I Count My Calories.” But every time I sat down to write the post, I just couldn’t. It made me face the reality of it—why do I still count my calories? Is it actually helping me, or is it hurting?
It was also a discussion that recently came up in my nutrition course. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks of using diet tracking apps, and as I crafted a response to my classmates, I found myself coming to a conclusion that I think I needed to make to a long time ago—that it’s time to stop tracking calories for good.
In the back of my mind, I always thought I had to track calories. If I wasn’t tracking what I eat every day, would I gain weight? Would I lose control? Would all my hard work of learning how to properly eat for my body go to complete shit?
I thought I needed my diet tracking app because it held me accountable to what I was eating every day. While this statement is true and diet tracking apps can help with accountability, if you’re generally eating a healthy diet on a regular basis, why get crazy about the numbers?
So I took a break for two weeks. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but after tracking every single day for five years, two weeks without is a huge accomplishment for me. It was incredibly challenging, but I learned a lot about myself through it. And of course, when I discover something personal, I post it here on the Internet. Because apparently, I have no boundaries. Or at least that’s what my therapist tells me.
Counting calories can initially help you learn nutrition.
If you’re just starting to learn more about eating healthy and following best nutrition practices, I really do think a diet tracking app can be a good thing. For five years I’ve used Lose It!, an app that allows you to not only track each meal, but look at your macronutrient intake, count your workouts, and gives you personal calorie goals based on your body. If you pay for the premium, you can also set goals for intake of fiber, sugar, cholesterol, sodium, water, sleep, workouts, and more.
Using an app like this was eye-opening for me because it showed me some glaring flaws I had in my original eating plan. I was eating a lot of foods high in carbs, saturated fat, and sugar, and not a ton of foods high in fiber or protein. When I made this switch, my body felt completely different.
Tracking your food can also be helpful when you are working with a nutritionist. It gives them data to work with to help you develop an eating plan that works for your body, and they can use that data to help you set your goals.
Lastly, counting calories can help you realize how much food you actually need in order to feel satisfied—and when you need it. For example, I learned that if I eat a snack high in protein after I finish up my workday, I’m less likely to mindlessly snack when I’m cooking dinner later.
But once you learn nutrition, why continue?
After learning the proper practices and habits for eating a healthy diet, I settled into a routine. I eat the same kinds of breakfasts (either some variation of oatmeal or eggs with toast) and lunches (salads or sandwiches), and I now always fill half my plate with vegetables at dinner (versus a starch, which is what I used to do). My daily intake of fruits and vegetables is a lot higher than it used to be, and my body feels absolutely incredible for it.
And yet, I was still tracking. I was getting so caught up in the numbers that I actually felt guilty for eating a banana or carrots because those foods are higher in sugar, and my sugar intake was already maxed for the day. Talk about upside-down thinking.
Counting calories became restrictive just like a diet, even if I wasn’t following one. I knew I wasn’t doing it right. But I just couldn’t quit it. I was too scared.
Instead, I’m trusting my instincts.
During these past two weeks, I’ve been trying to actually be in tune with my body. What does it need? What is craving?
I found that a majority of the time I reach for produce because it just makes me feel good after eating it. I enjoy lean sources of protein for that same reason as well. I like eating carbs (who doesn’t), but I specifically enjoy eating whole grains, like oatmeal, because I don’t feel sluggish after and they give me energy. Instead of worrying about the calories, I keep reaching for all of these good-for-you foods, and isn’t that kind of the point? If I’m following any kind of plan that doesn’t allow carrots…that’s kind of messed up, right?
I’m trusting the fact that I already know all of the proper principles of eating a healthy diet, and if I continue to get lost in the numbers, I think they will swallow me whole.
Every Thursday I’ll be posting something new in regards to healthy eating, nutrition, wellness, and toxic diet culture. Never miss a post—sign up here for my newsletter!