Calories. A small word that holds a tremendous amount of meaning to some of us.
I used to live and breathe by the calories I consumed because I was uneducated and misinformed on how to properly nourish my body. It all started my junior year of college when I began working out on a consistent basis. I hopped on the stationary bike for the first time, not knowing that it would lead me to completely spin out of control.
I say out of control because my habit of over exercising and undereating led me to develop an eating disorder. I didn’t know how to stop restricting food and my food diary scribbled with what I ate and their corresponding calories fueled my obsession.
FYI: This post is entirely about my opinion on calorie counting. You may feel something different, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
First and foremost I want to start this post by saying how important calories (food!) are. They provide energy for our minds and bodies to function properly. This includes how we breathe, move, regenerate and repair cells, organ and bodily functions and so much more. Based on genetics, height, weight, activity level and other factors, each of us consume different amounts of calories each day.
Some of us who want to lose weight, decide to count calories so that we can control what gets put into our bodies. Calorie counting can have benefits for individuals, including helping us stick to our diets and possibly make better choices if we know the calories to fall within certain guidelines. However, most don’t consider the consequences that can arise from calorie counting.
When I first started losing weight, calorie counting was a wonderful little hobby of mine. After all, it was fun plugging numbers in and figuring out what foods and meals fit within my caloric range. After a while though, it became an obsessive chore. And that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about today + share a little about my personal story with calorie counting.
So let’s flashback to 2010 when I counted every single calorie that I put into my body. I’ll admit that in the beginning it absolutely helped me lose weight and stick to my goals when it came to food. I had a little notebook where I would write down everything I ate. The numbers allowed me to choose foods that were better for me, or say no to things that didn’t fall within the caloric guidelines.
But slowly, my calorie counting became obsessive and unhealthy. I’d write down the calories anywhere I could. I’d use the calculator on my phone to add up everything I ate. I wouldn’t allow myself to indulge in any of my cravings. I wouldn’t even eat the rice in my stir fry because it was too caloric. Over the course of a year I became malnourished and developed an eating disorder.
Certainly, my eating disorder can’t just be contributed to calorie counting, however I do think that if I had the freedom from numbers, I wouldn’t have been so obsessive with my choices.
These days are much different because I don’t count calories at all. I’m older, wiser and have moved on with my eating disorder struggle. It took me years to get to a place of both healthy and physical mindset when it came to food, but I worked hard to disrupt the unhealthy patterns such as calorie counting.
While I’ve pretty much got most of the caloric values of foods memorized because of my previous history with food and nutrition, I don’t bother to write it down or even think about the total I consumed each day. It’s just not ever a thought that goes through my mind. That being said, I feel incredibly grateful that I’m able to make food decisions based on cravings, nutrition-based knowledge and what will fuel my body.
Here’s are a few things I’ve learned when it comes to calorie counting:
Calories aren’t everything. They don’t account for the nutrition in food. The don’t make you a better or worse person because you had something with more or less calories. They don’t define who you are and they never, ever will. Calories will never give you satisfaction, they’re just a number. Calories don’t allow you to live in the moment and simply enjoy food or the people you’re eating it with. Calories don’t define your courage, bravery, success, passion, or ability to love. Bottom line: Calories are not everything.
More calories doesn’t necessarily equal weight gain and cutting calories doesn’t mean weight loss. Talk science to me all you want, but all calories are not created equal. Sometimes our bodies plateau and we need to actually eat more to see weight loss results. When you focus on calories, you’re less likely to get in the healthy fats your body needs to function at its highest level. (Fats tend to be the most caloric dense calories.)
Counting calories can lead to restriction & obsessive thoughts. Case in point = me. And thousands of other women (and men!) out there with eating disorders. Calorie counting can lead you to avoid good for you foods like protein, healthy fats, and even nutrient dense fruit. When you end up restricting the foods you love (like frozen yogurt or nut butters) from your diet, it can lead you to crave them even more, which can eventually contribute to you bingeing on these foods later. Allow yourself to have the foods you love or guilty pleasures in moderation (just keep portion control in mind) and you won’t have to worry about the calories in that ice cream cone!
Focusing on quality rather than quantity. This is a big one! Focusing on the quality of calories is so much more important than spending time worrying about how many calories you ate. A 500 calorie muffin from Starbucks has much less nutrient density then a 500 calorie breakfast of eggs, chicken sausage, sprouted toast, nut butter and fruit. I have to say that this is one of the most important things I had to learn when it came to understanding a balance towards food. For example, if the ingredients are wholesome, pure and unprocessed, it’s much easier to say yes to something like a brownie, grass fed burger or pancakes.
As a girl who is irrevocably in love with food but wants to fuel her body with foods that nourish & energize, it’s important that I choose ingredients that are of good quality. I’d much rather have a sprouted piece of toast than a white potato roll. I choose fruit rather then fried hashbrowns for brunch. I say yes to avocados on my toast instead of nutella. At most meals, I choose lean meats instead of beef. And of course, I typically bake with ingredients that I can feel good about.
Indulging in better for you treats!
That being said, I still make time to indulge. I never say no to a really good bagel or a chocolate chip cookie, but most of the time my indulgent foods are home baked goodies made with better for you ingredients. This is one of the reasons I love Simple Mills and how they fit perfectly into this message to #CelebrateSimple. Life is all about celebrating the simple things, am I right?
Just the other day I baked some brownies with the Simple Mills Chocolate Muffin and Cake Mix (made with almond + coconut flour) and hands down thought they were some of the best boxed brownies I’ve ever had. You’d never guess that they were gluten free or paleo. Even Tony gobbled down a few large brownies after dinner; it feels good knowing that he’s eating a treat that’s preservative free and made with 6 simple ingredients (plus eggs, vanilla and coconut oil). You can truly taste the difference!
I frosted the brownies with the new Simple Mills Chocolate Frosting that’s also free of preservatives, soy, gluten, grains and dairy! It’s so fluffy and full of chocolate flavor, I could die. I’d highly recommend it to those with allergies or if you’re just looking for a better for you frosting to try. The frostings are made with coconut oil, sustainable & non-hydrogenated palm shortening and sweetened with monkfruit (meaning they have less sugar and carbs than the leading frosting brands!).
I’m also a huge fan of the Simple Mills Vanilla Frosting spread on strawberries for a late night treat. You must try it!
Anyway, I had one of these big frosted brownies before lunch the other week and didn’t think twice about the calories in them (nor the fact that I ate it before lunch). They tasted damn good, were satisfying, and just what I needed in the moment.
I’d love to know what you think about my calorie counting perspective or learn about your personal experience with counting calories. Hearing from you means the world to me, so feel free to drop a comment below!
As always, thanks for being here for Wellness Wednesday! This post is in partnership with Simple Mills, a brand I trust. Thanks for continuing to support the brands that help make this site possible! xo.
Thanks for so much insight girl! I know lots of us have struggled with calories in the past and I appreciate you sharing these thoughts so much because I know it’s hard to put yourself out there. Love this whole post.
Calorie counting takes up valuable brain space that could be used in so many other postive, life giving things! Giving up calorie counting was the best thing I did to finally set myself free. Thanks for spreading a positive message in a diet obsessed world.
Those brownies look amazing! I am with you on the calorie counting–while I lost the most amount of weight while on Weight Watchers, counting and obsessing over points only worsened my disordered thinking about food. I’m totally a data person, so in all other areas of my life, crunching numbers gives me peace, but with food, I am trying intuitive eating. Thanks for sharing your story!
I’m a dancer and this was EXACTLY me 3 years ago, it’s crazy. My Fitness Pal was like my best friend. I don’t count calories anymore either and I’m SO glad I don’t. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story! <3 You're such a light in my life.
Thank you, Monique. I think this post is very important! Especially the fact that not all calories are created equal. AK has been a great resource for me for years to cook and bake delicious meals, snacks and desserts that have healthy and wholesome ingredients. You have been a great help to me to live a healthy life and create a healthy home. Many of your recipes are my weekly go-tos. I just made your Whole Wheat Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes yesterday (one of my faves!) and am having the leftovers for lunch today. I hope you know how much you help people! Also, I absolutely love Simple Mills, especially the Farmhouse Cheddar Almond Flour Crackers which are always in my snack corner at work.
I’ve gotten into the habit of creating appropriate calorie meals. I know how much I typically eat of those meals and make sure the portions are going to be the right target amount when I’m doing my meal planning on the weekends. After that, I don’t count the calories on a daily basis. I know my daily amount is going to be in an acceptable range. It keeps me from getting obsessive and anxious about what I’m eating. I’ve also gotten food storage containers that hold about the right amount of food I should be consuming for lunch and take those to work with me. It helps meet your goals without feeling like your life is dedicated to it. Thanks for sharing!
Great post, and so brave to share. I’m in the process of overcoming my eating disorder, and calorie counting is a huge part of it that I hope to finally stop one day. Thanks for this, lets others know that we won’t always struggle!
Great post; it’s always encouraging to hear that someone can overcome their ED. I have struggled my entire life with eating issues (restriction and overexercise) and although I’m generally OK at this point, what kind of food, how much I eat, and how much I work out is an ever-present source of anxiety. I was never really a calorie-counter but I always know about how much and what types of foods I’m “allowed” to have without feeling guilty. I honestly cannot recall a point in my life when I didn’t worry about what went into my mouth. Thank you for the encouragement and for sharing; your story gives me hope that I won’t spend the rest of my life worried about food!:) P.S. I have tried several of your recipes, and they are amazing!
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Monique! I have struggled with an eating addiction most of my life. I have gone on and off every diet, pills and even gone the over-exercising and under-eating route like you. Right now, I’m on a fairly healthy calorie-counting journey to try to get it under control. However, I almost always go over my plan because I’m still hungry or craving something. I would love to be like you and get to that point where I can just feel comfortable in my own skin, lose about 30 pounds and not think twice about counting anything. How in the world do I step off that cliff and get there? How did you figure out your cravings? I’m afraid if I step off my plan I will lose control and gain back what I’ve worked so hard to lose. Most of the time I do make healthy choices. But my problem comes when I allow myself to indulge in anything sweet. It triggers something in me that makes me want more. Getting off of calorie counting is my goal for sure. Thank you so much for being a great example. I love your blog and your healthy meal ideas!
This is currently my situation! I can’t free myself from My Fitness Pal. I am getting increasingly anxious this week about my sister’s wedding weekend and all the cheat meals I’ll be eating. I obsess over macro ratios. I’m eating plenty of calories but I still feel hungry all the time and I find I have to exercise nearly every day to allow myself to eat certain things. If it’s a rest day or all I did was abs or yoga, I’ll be pretty restrictive with carbs. I know I need to relax and take the same route you did…but it’s so hard to free myself from the structure and control of knowing EXACTLY what I’m putting into my body every day and making sure it supports my training.
I have been there! Please know that this will get better! Delete your app, and try your hardest to remind yourself daily that you are perfect just the way you are! The hunger you feel is from your under nourished body. You body is giving you hunger cues, listen to them right now, they will eventually go away and you will go back to a “normal” hunger scale when your body feels safe and nourished!
Always remember to take it day by day!
Calorie counting was my #1 hobby in high school. I even had the Body Bugg that counted how many calories I burned in a day, so I would be constantly keeping track of calories in and calories out. I never realized how this habit actually affected my lens on food and nutrition. Even still to this day I choose certain foods over others due to knowledge of the caloric value. It’s a hard habit to kick! I know I’m slowly kicking it but it takes time too!
Completely agree and take the same stance when it comes to counting calories. I LOVE food and (typically) make good choices about what I eat because I want to. I found that counting calories made creating meals and even the act of eating feel like a chore. I began to dread meal/snack time because that meant I would have to figure out exactly how many calories I was consuming. It was all about the numbers and I, too, would skimp on proteins and such to save the calories- which totally backfired in the end.
Now that I’ve stopped counting, I feel a sense of relief. I still make good choices and fuel by body with what it needs, without it being such a hassle! Great post! Oh, and the brownie pictures weren’t bad either…
I went through a similarly unhealthy cycle when I was in college. Eventually, with support of my sister and my now husband, I grew to have a much healthier relationship with food and fitness- one that focuses on nourishment and enjoyment, and doesn’t include shaming myself for the occasional indulgence. Thanks for sharing your story and so many recipes we can feel good about. 🙂
I can so relate to this! I recently stopped counting calories because it led to me to have obsessive thoughts about what I could/couldn’t have and I ended up thinking about food way more than I needed to. I was bingeing and eating more than I needed, just because I felt so restricted. Love this post!
Hi Carla! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that same scenario. I love food, but sometimes if I’m not eating enough during the day because I’m restricting or counting calories, I’ll end up bingeing out in the evening. Thanks for sharing your struggle!
Thanks so much for sharing your story — I can already tell it’s resonated with a lot of people. I would have loved it even more if you hadn’t chose to do it in a sponsored post. To me it was jarring to go from an honest, raw discussion about disordered eating to a peppy endorsement of a product, which doesn’t do justice to the importance of the topic. (I debated sharing this point of view, and I hope it comes off constructively.)
Thanks for your comment Amanda. It was my idea to partner with Simple Mills on this post because I believe the message of simple, wholesome ingredients fit perfectly into what I’m trying to resonate with my readers. I’m sorry you felt otherwise. It’s true when I say that choosing better for you ingredients in baking and cooking has helped me find balance and make me feel better about food choices without the need to add up calories. Hopefully this makes sense! I do appreciate your comment! 🙂
Monique I love that you’ve shared your struggles with counting food. It’s something I’ve dealt with too and just over the past couple years have been able to get away from. I think that for someone who truly needs to lose weight, counting macronutrition can be helpful. But I think proper education with that is important too so unhealthy habits and obsessions don’t form.
OOH GIRL YAAS!
I so relate to this and have been counting lately, but your article has inspired me to return to intuitive eating and so I deleted the app from my phone! So thanks!
But on the real. The part you mentioned about avoiding fats is SO true for me when I’m counting. There were times when I’d think, “I could go for some cashews… Oh shoot I only have x amount of calories left for dinner and that will take x amount away.. NOPE.” But really a prime example of how good fats are for us were when I did the summer sweat series! Those recipes are healthy and loaded with good fats AND I was eating more calories than I was used to. I was always full and looked better than I ever had because the fats were helping to repair my muscles and skin. (Idk if that’s scientific or not but I’m going with it)
Counting can be beneficial, especially if you came from a junk food foodie home like I did where I was so unaware of the crap I was putting in my body. But I think once you’re educated, you should just quit and eat what feels right to your body!
Hi Kat! Sometimes I think it’s normal to be cognizant of your calorie range, especially if you have a certain goal or are training, etc. But also, don’t forget to pay attention to your body’s hunger cues. However if you’re hungry, a handful of cashews is the perfect snack before dinner. In fact, it’s probably beneficial because you’ll actually end up eating less (since you won’t be as hungry or feeling like you are starving). Intuitive eating is something I believe should be practiced more because of the positive impact it can have on our relationship with food. Thank you so much for leaving a comment!
It’s hard not to count when you have done it for so long. I used to weigh 300 pounds and now I weigh 150..However my brain has not allowed me to process the fact that I have lost it..and it’s been 4 years since I hit my goal number. Everything is a number to me now and it’s exhausting. I keep thinking I weigh the same amount and therefore I can’t let go of knowing what everything adds up to and where I need to be.
Nobody ever talks about the struggle of meeting your goal and what to do after. It’s been your entire world for so long that letting go of needing to hit a target number seems impossible. I think it’s because I actively overate for so long that I am scared of going back up. I honestly hate that everything is a number and healthy or not, I obsess over where it fits into my daily mental food log.
You lost half of your body weight, Sonya! What an amazing accomplishment! You should be incredibly proud. However, I don’t want you to get caught up in the numbers. Life can’t be all about numbers; we are so much more than that. Part of me believes that losing weight takes you through different stages of how you approach and think about food. Losing the weight is one stage, maintaining is another and finding the balance with food and exercise is another one. We can’t ever be perfect with our choices, but we can try to do the best we can and remember that we’re only human. I offer you this challenge: What if you gave up the numbers for a week (or even a day) and focused on just making healthy choices? 🙂 I really appreciate you leaving a comment — I know I’ve definitely struggled with leaving the numbers behind previously.
Thank you so much for sharing this. You are so strong and brave. I can completely empathize with you- I used to count every calorie that went into my mouth (including half a stick of gum!). I finally feel free from it, and I’m so happy that you do too. I try to go by the amount of colors on my plate and not how many calories it is, and I make sure it’s food that I enjoy and nourishes me- the more colorful my plate is, the better I feel! Thank you so much again for sharing this. I wish more people saw food like you! Nobody should have to suffer through that <3
Thanks for your bravery and honesty Monique! As someone who has lost over 100lbs, I can honestly tell you calories are a useless measure. I do not, can not and will not count the calories of anything. Calories tell the average person nothing abo their food, except whether it is “good” or “bad”- but foods don’t have morals, they’re just food. I’m a huge believer in real/whole foods, and nourishing yourself with the foods that make you feel great.
Although readers like it, I took the calorie count off the recipes on my blog. I felt it was sending the wrong message. Plus- do you feel pressure to not include the extra chocolate chips/drizzle of olive oil/toppings/whatever in your nutrition info? I sure did. I realized I would leave things out of a recipe or make them optional just so a lower calorie count would show up on my recipe. Hence removing it altogether.
Hi Chelsea! I loved your comment. A major congrats to you on losing 100+ pounds — that’s incredible. <3 Regarding you taking off the calorie count on your blog: I don't really ever feel subject to keeping them off (unless of course I forget to do them -- because they take so much time). For me, it's a value add to AK readers and most of them expect the nutritional value in my recipes. I think it's helpful to those readers who are trying to lose weight and stay within a certain range. 🙂 It's also a great resource for those who are diabetic or who are low carb. I think these days nutrition info is somewhat expected on a health focused site like mine, but that's just my opinion! Anyway thank you SO much for leaving a comment -- can't wait to check out your blog!
Love this girl! Food is fuel and getting obsessed over numbers never leads to any good.
Monique, your post means so much too me. As someone who struggled with anorexia and orthorexia for 4 years and NOW in recovery, I can relate 100% to the obsession with calories and counting everything in general.Your blog is such an inspiration to me and helps generate new meals/snack ideas for when I get into a rut or just want something new with which to challenge myself. Thank you for your heartfelt posts and I look forward to reading more! <3 forever a fan of AK!
Thank you for sharing your story, Monique! I love your blog and have made many of your recipes as a recovering anorexic. I also gave up calorie counting but swapped that for Orthorexia, and Orthorexia reminds me a lot of what you described. I’m all for eating real food with real ingredients, hence why I make your recipes! But sometimes I may eat the bakery donut with friends or have hashbrowns at brunch with family. I’m curious if you also give yourself permission to eat what you want instead of what you think your body needs. When I hear “this vs. that” talk, I sense there is fear of the food or of how the body will respond. This post just reminded me of my own recovery from calorie counting to Orthorexia and now finding something that looks like a lot of simple-ingredient recipes and some really good food that I wouldn’t want to eat all the time but love in the moment. I may still feel guilt or compensatory thoughts, but they do pass and my pant size remains the same 🙂 I wish you well as you continue to find freedom from counting calories and compulsive exercise, and thank you, again, for sharing your story!
What a refreshing article ! I have been counting calories, points, you have it for years and I am exhausted and to be honest none of these are helping me lose weight. I have decided this week that I am no longer counting calories and relax. This article came at the perfect time. Thank you!!!
This is such an AWESOME post! I have been one of those calorie counters as well and to me it was not a healthy path I was going down. It becomes obsessive, exhausting, stressful, and it makes food no longer FUN. I love food. I love to eat. I love living a healthy and active lifestyle, but calorie counting to me is none of that, so I stopped. Thank you for sharing your story!
Totally agree with the sentiment and I know this was a collab with Simple Mills who are awesome(!) but even higher sugar and more refined foods are ok too. There are no good and bad. Don’t replace one ED with another babe!(not saying you have, but it is all too common in the “health” blogger world now! Christy Harrison, Robyn Coale (The Real Life RD,) and Rachael at An Avocado A Day Nutrition (her wellness Wednesday posts) are all great reads and pages I think you would appreciate!
They are perfectly acceptable and I state that I do eat those, HOWEVER it is my personal preference to bake with better for you treats because that’s what I love (especially because I bake often and care about ingredients).
this is absolutely wonderfully written. i too developed an eating disorder (read my story about orthorexia on http://www.theclairewithredhair.com) after i first started losing weight by calorie counting in college. i now see that calories aren’t everything and believe in a whole foods diet rather than a low calorie one. the peak of my eating disorder was a very difficult time for myself and loved ones, but i have grown from it and learned so much. i will always live with it and have a little voice in the back of my head. it is so refreshing to read articles about this (and bring awareness to), as i thought i was alone in my struggle. thank you for this article.
Thanks for your article, it really spoke to me. Over the holidays I felt so trapped and my mind felt fractured, if that makes sense. I’ve been doing macro counting with an online coach for accountability and I fell off the wagon in a sense…well once i fall off the binging of sugar happens. I lived in fear every day of what the scale would say. I became so obsessed and worried, it made me eat more if that makes sense. Anyway, I would love to get to where you are. In all honesty I can’t imagine that! I feel like I would go too out of control without strict guidelines. But I am so drawn to that and wish so much to be free from food! Thanks again!
thank you for this! so true, calories are not everything! i recently stopped counting calories and focusing more on the quality of my food. i feel so much better now that i stopped counting calories because it just stressed me out so much! i also dont like to restrict myself of food because im more likely to crave them later. guys please realize nothing horrible is going to happen if you eat a brownie or a slice of cake, its actually better for you than categorizing foods as “bad’ or “good”
Absolutely! Thank you for your note 🙂
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. It is so, so, so true. Intuitive eating is
1) the answer to every eating disorder and disordered eating
2) the cure for the obesity epidemic
3) the ruin of the cruel dieting industry (finally!!)
If only this message would spread, it would transform so many lives.
This resonated with me so, so much! I want to take the time to thank you for making this blog post. I cried while reading this because you summed so much of my life up in a few minutes with powerful words that really hit home. I’m so glad that I read this today :)!
I’m so glad you found this post and resonated with it! Thinking of you!
I totally agree! I think calorie counting is only part of the puzzle and that it misses the point that we need to eat and nourish our bodies. A brownie is still a treat but when I have one that’s made of nutrients like your Tahani brownies then I know I’m not just having empty calories, I’m also fueling my body, This is a game changer for me.
Absolutely! All about balance and enjoying everything in moderation 🙂