Why We Should Stop Counting Calories.

Via Jennifer S. White
on Jul 16, 2013
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Teen Girl Eating Ice Cream Cone

Waylon recently wrote an article about healthy ways to lose weight and feel your best, and I feel that he hit the nail right on the head with all 10 of his tips.

I brought this article up for discussion with my husband while we were cooking dinner the other night (cooking was even on this aforementioned list).

I told him that I’d noticed several Facebook comments along the lines of I’m so surprised to hear you’ve struggled with weight.

On one hand, I think many people are shocked that men think about their weight too (if you know or love a man, this shouldn’t come as a surprise though), but the man in my life brought up an even better point—people are often amazed to hear these words from the mouth of someone within a generally healthy and ideal weight range.

One of the aspects of this article that I enjoyed the most was that Waylon asked for readers to leave their own tips in the comment section. Since, like I stated, he really hit all the biggies, there wasn’t anything else groundbreaking to mention.

However, it got me thinking about the one thing that has helped me the most along my own journey towards being my healthiest, fittest self—not counting calories.

I know, I know, this might garner some negative feedback.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that counting calories can help individuals relearn appropriate food portions—and I’m all for this. Yet, here’s the thing—if you count calories you will never learn to listen to your body.

It took me years to relearn my body’s hunger cues. Years.

It took being afraid to eat ice cream because I always ate too much, but then not being too terrified to try it again—because I knew that I could do it.

I knew that I could learn to eat ice cream from a big tub and not have to eat the whole thing—and I knew that I also didn’t need those wasteful and expensive little, tiny containers either.

I knew that I could figure out how many cashews I wanted without pouring them into measuring cups. (Although, to be fair, I did measure them out initially.)

I had a lot of strikes against me, my biggest offender being that I was anorexic.

In order to be anorexic you, by definition, need to not listen to your body’s hunger signals—it’s part of what makes anorexia a coping mechanism when you’re undergoing an out-of-control, stressful situation (because you feel in control).

But the thing is you’re not in control—at all.

So I had to learn how to listen to myself and figure out the differences between hunger and thirst or full and really full—and the frustrating thing is that no one can teach you how to do this.

I can’t write a blog for you on how to learn to listen to your body because you need to get in touch with yourself, with your own body, but don’t worry, that’s what makes this ultimately so healing and worthwhile.

And, at the end of the day, this is control—to be able to listen to yourself and not have a packaging label or weight in ounces tell you when you’ve had enough.

Be prepared to overeat at times or realize that you should have actually eaten more when you’re hungry again an hour later—but also be prepared for a huge sense of relief and release.

Because the second that you can stop counting calories and trust yourself—your own heart and your own intuition—well, you’ve just won something that no one can ever take away from you.

You’ve won the ability to be the real you—and the real you doesn’t need diets or fasts or binges or mind tricks or even FDA-approved portion control.

But our society doesn’t make listening to our bodies easy for us either.

We have to eat from this time to that, and we need to grab breakfast and be out the door by then—and we learn this type of scheduling pretty early on too.

I might get a lot of flack for this one, but I’ll be the first to admit that my daughter is allowed to eat when she wants to.

If she’s hungry at 4 p.m. I don’t make her wait because her daddy and I are going to sit down together at 7. After all, I’m trying to prevent her from having to relearn these internal signals in the first place.

So, yeah, you might need help at first—and that might even mean counting calories—but here’s what I think: if you sincerely want to feel your best and be your healthiest, then you need to stop with the numbers entirely.

Just give it a thought or, better yet, give it a try.

Sure, you might eat too much ice cream at first (or—cough, cough—for months). You might even think you can’t do it—but you can. I promise.

Our bodies are generally smarter and more well-equipped to operate than we allow them to be.

Food for thought.

Stop counting calories and start living.


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Ed: B. Bemel


About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


15 Responses to “Why We Should Stop Counting Calories.”

  1. sarah says:

    I really appreciate you sharing your personal struggles in order to share your triumphs as well. So many men and women have food and body image issues because of societal expectations. Your words are healing. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I really appreciate your feedback, and telling me that my article was healing to read is just one of the most wonderful compliments I could possibly receive.

    For me, sharing some of my own experiences in the hopes that others feel not alone or, even more, to in anyway inspire growth or positive change is much easier than clamming up and pretending that I'm perfect and have never struggled. It sometimes seems to take courage to speak up, but I actually think it's one of the easiest things to do because it paves the way for living within truth—and nothing is more healing than that.

  3. Rita Friend says:

    I always counted calories, but it didn't do me any good. Now I eat when I am hungry, but as I get old, I don't get hungry so much. Our bodies do tell us what they want and don't want. My body tells me I want a little piece of dark chocolate after my meal, so I give in and that gives my body the satisfaction is wants and no harm done. I'm 67 now and don't even own a scale. I know how I feel and that's all I care about.

    Thanks for your wonderful incites. You truly grab at me with every article you write!

  4. Thank you beyond words.

    And I don't own or believe in scales either! (And, ironically, every time I go to the doctor for the last nearly 7 or 8 years I weigh literally exactly the same—even after I had my daughter and went back for my post-natal check-up, so scales be damned!)

    I do think it's true that we need less fuel as we get older—at least I've found this within my own body as well. That's one of the reasons that I do still exercise daily because I believe it certainly helps! (And I love it anyways 🙂

    Thank you! xo

  5. John Backman says:

    Thank GOD somebody finally said this. It's the only "diet plan" that has ever made any sense to me. Thank you so much for putting it out there.

  6. Thanks, John!

    I greatly appreciate your supportive feedback.

  7. Anja says:

    I can understand and relate, even though I've never been anorexic myself. I have always had the opposite problem: How healthy I ever eat I tend to always be a little overweight (5-7 kilograms) – BMI 26-27. A slight overweight like that is of course no problem – or at least I thought until I realised that it was actually causing me a health problem that was very specific. I never dared to diet or to try to loose weight since I feel I was, especially as young, at risk of developing anorexia or bullemia. I had a mother, aunt and grandmother who constantly told me how fat I was as a child, my whole childhood and teens I've heard this sooo many times (and I wasn't – I wasn't skinny, but I sure wasn't fat or even overweight). I also am a person who likes to achieve things and be "good". So I never bought any scales and I never counted a single calorie. But as my health problem became clear to me I felt it was time to try and eat less, and see how it would go. So I actually started to count calories, because I felt I ate very healthy already, but I ate too much. And that was an eyeopener for me, because as I was showing myself how much I actually ate each day, I could feel that my deepest problem with food is that I was afraid I wouldn't get enough, that I would starve! (Maybe because I felt that I was never ALLOWED to eat as a child, maybe then I got this feeling of being afraid of starvation). And I've done this since september last year and I lost enough weight to reach a normal BMI and I also got rid of my health problem! 🙂 But now I notice that as soon as I stop counting my calories (I still write down what I eat) I reach the same amount of calories as before, enough to get me to BMI 26-27 again. I eat just a little too much every day, every time I eat. So I sincerely hope that I can get to that intuitive place, where I can trust my feeling of being full, and trust that I get enough of everything my body needs when I feel full. But I think it will take some time, and until then counting calories seem like the best tool for me and my particular problem. Thank you for this text, it was very good for me to read about getting to that trusting and intuitive place!

  8. Anja, I think keeping a food journal is often a great start. I also kept one during my early recovery phase.
    Now, please forgive me here if I step on toes being too open with you, but I would suggest that you consider talking with a therapist. It sounds like much of your issues with food stem from an emotional attachment from your childhood trauma, and eating disorder is a very broad term these days. You might find that talking with someone with the right credentials might actually help you finally release some of your old wounds and allow you to finally trust your intuition—so that you can follow it.
    (Because, I've written about this before, in order to follow your intuition you must be confident and trusting in yourself.)

    I'm proud for you that you were able to get your health back in check. Keep listening to your inner guide.

  9. nyttnedenfra says:

    Yes, I've been to therapy for many many years, and I think that's why I so easily can make these connections. (I'm already on the case! 🙂 ) Counting calories is tricky business in many ways, but right now I'm more afraid of slipping back into old ways of eating too much, than I am that counting calories will take over my life completely. But eventually I need to find another way of eating enough but not more, than counting and counting, because if nothing else it's very time consuming and boring. (And I realise that there is always the risk that it would lead to some form of obsession, and in any case it's exactly like you say – it is NOT about listening to and trusting your body and good things like that.)

  10. nyttnedenfra says:

    (For some reason wordpress presented me with a different name this time, but it's me, Anja.

  11. Anja, you sound like you're on the path towards health, and, unfortunately, for many of us it's not a short trip. Like I mentioned in this article, it took me years just to learn to listen to—and trust—my body beyond counting calories—and that's one of the last steps, not one of the first. Still, I definitely think that with time and patience you can and will get there. Good luck!

  12. jake says:

    Youre consequently cool! I dont suppose Ive go through anything similar to this before. So nice to discover somebody with a few original ideas on this subject. realy thank you for starting up this up. this website is one area that is needed online, someone with some originality. valuable job for getting something new to the net!

  13. Awesome, Jake, thanks. I will admit that I was hesitant (for a millisecond) to turn this in, and not long after I did a friend gave me the feedback that she thought this was really fresh, and she loved reading it because of that. Honestly, this is why I love both writing for and reading elephant journal—it's a community that inspires and encourages others to share their working thoughts. Thanks again!

  14. I love this article. I also have a lot of struggles in my weight loss journey. I wish I can get rid of counting all the calories of the food I'm eating. It became my negative habit. I wish I can overcome this.

  15. Honestly, many of us have poor food habits that are just that—habits. I often find that working on underlying confidence issues helps foster the necessary strength to move away from them and into new and healthier ones. Good luck and thanks for your feedback.