I used to be the Queen of Calories. I could look at a plate of food and intuitively know how many calories I was consuming. I have no idea how I did that. Because I don’t anymore. Now, a plate of food to me is a plate of food, not a plate of calories. Freedom from counting calories is what gave me my life back.
The greatest blessing for me in treatment was how they broke me from the calorie counting epidemic. I never imagined after 17 years that a life of leaving calorie counting behind was possible. It had been second nature to me. Part of my existence that I didn’t even know I was doing most of the time.
And then I found freedom. And it is a sweet relief even 3 years later.
How I Found Freedom from Calorie Counting
When I began meal planning in treatment, my facility taught us how to look at food in categories. My nutritionist taught me to plan meals based on the food categories and how many of each they knew I needed for my body type. I learned to see food not as calories, but as breads, proteins, vegetables, fruits, dairy, fats, and desserts. Each of those categories I needed in my diet to be healthy and balanced.
Instead of pizza being a food ladened with calories, a slice became a bread, a protein, a veggie, and a fat. All necessary for my healthy and balanced diet. Pizza was no longer a “bad food”. It was simply food. And I needed food. So why not have a slice of pizza to fit the categories I needed that day?
Exactly – why the heck not?
This is how I found freedom from counting calories and the freedom to enjoy food for it’s taste again. Food wasn’t for guilt, or pride in making the better choice, or a reason to restrict or say no to eating out with friends. Food became food, necessary and good.
Meal planning was like putting a puzzle together for me. I knew my tallies for the day – the number of each category I needed for my balanced diet in one day, and so I rose to the challenge of fitting food into my tallies. I relished in the freedom of knowing the different forms each food category could take and all the foods I could enjoy because of that.
How My Life Changed when I stopped Counting Calories
The limits I had put on my diet no longer mattered. I could eat for balance and health, not for calories.
I no longer spent hours at the grocery store reading food labels. I never look at a food label on anything I eat anymore.
I stopped binging on my off limit foods because no food was off limits anymore. I ate a serving size portion and understood balanced eating.
I didn’t deal with guilt for eating any one food because there was no longer such a thing as a “good” food or a “bad” food.
I trusted my own food choices because I trusted my nutritionist’s word that I was eating correctly for my body’s needs.
As my body’s needs changed through my healing process, my tallies changed. I adjusted each time my nutritionist changed my tallies and found my body was always balanced and healthy because of it. She didn’t change the food I was allowed to it, but how much of it I needed in a day to stay balanced.
After about 9 months, counting tallies became a mental skill. I no longer had to write my tallies down each day to know that I was following my meal plan. I mentally checked off the balance I needed each day to know that I wasn’t being restrictive and I wasn’t binging. I had learned to eat again without ever needing to count another calorie.
Living a Life in Balance
It has been 3 years. I still don’t look at food labels and calorie counts. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind my tallies still help me maintain balance, but I’ve learned to eat intuitively. Hunger cues, full cues, craving salty food or sweet food or fruit or veggies or protein. My body tells me what it needs. And I listen. I don’t need calories to tell me I’m a healthy eater.
I’m not afraid of any food. I know I shouldn’t be eating 10 cookies in one day. That isn’t balance. I know I don’t need 10 apples in a day either. A bowl of watermelon is not a balanced meal. A serving of full fat Ranch dressing isn’t going to make me fat. Eggs are good protein. I don’t have to finish my plate if my body tells me I’m full, and it’s okay to get seconds if my body signals that I’m still hungry.
This is balance.
This is freedom from counting calories.
Food is not the enemy.
It is how God allows our bodies to function properly. And I like a properly functioning body. I’ve had a body that doesn’t function correctly and that got me nowhere but in a hospital.
I’ve learned to trust my body and how God made it to work. In three years I haven’t gained more weight than I needed to or lost more than I should. I have maintained the body type God created me to have. I’m good with that. There are moments of course, but overall, I’ve learned to love this body. It works. And that’s the point.
Don’t let food guilt you into exercise or restricting. Don’t fall into the trap of binging because you feel like if you don’t eat it all now, you’ll never get it again. Don’t exclude any food category because culture tells you it’s “bad”. Be smart about balance in what you eat. If you are hungry, eat. If you are full, stop. If you feel unbalanced because of a holiday or a special occasion or a vacation, enjoy, and then reorient yourself to balance again.
You will know you are in balance because you won’t have to feel like you need to punish yourself for the choices you’ve made. Find your line of balance, and use it as your compass.
If you don’t feel like you can do that by yourself, get the help you need to know your own tallies. If you feel like you have no freedom from counting calories, find someone to teach you balance. Without the help I received, my skewed vision of food would still be controlling my life. And trust me, that is no way to live.
Eating disorder or disordered eating, we all need balance and a healthy view of why God gave us food. Spending your day counting calories is not freedom. Trusting your body, and God, is.