Calorie counting is something that plagued me for a long time. Now it doesn’t. Whatsoever. Yipee! So, how?
It’s a process, as usual…
At the very start of my recovery, I thought avoidance was the only way to cure my fear of calories. Although short-term this helped, (especially not seeing traffic light charts), ultimately it just ended up strengthening my fear of numbers on the occasions I was exposed to them.
When I say avoidance, I mean that I tried my best to not see the calorie content of anything. I wanted to be completely oblivious to calories. Forever. To do this, I asked my mum to remove foods from their packets and cover nutrition labels. I also tended to avoid packeted foods that I already knew the calories of, like bars or biscuits. Needless to say, this ruled out quite a few things.
Much like avoiding looking at myself in the mirror, this method did work for a while in the initial stages of my recovery. My emotions were pretty volitle, and avoiding sensitive things was necessary for me to keep stable and gain strength and provided enough courage to get going.
Despite this, it certainly wasn’t ‘unrestricted eating’. I was restricting foods I knew the calories of. Ok, not the worse type of restriction imaginable, but nevertheless, not good.
Issues I found with the avoidance method:
There were 3 main reasons why not exposing myself to calorie content wasn’t very sustainable.
- I already knew the calorie counts of most foods.
- Hiding the calories was exacerbating my fear of calories (marking them as something to be scared of & avoided).
- It left me dependent on my mum. I was unable to buy food on my own & became particularly distressed on occasions that I was exposed to a number.
It became exhausting. How could I have lunch in a chain café with my mum when I knew all of the calorie counts? Should we go to independent cafés for the rest of our life? No, that’s inconvenient, unsustainable and not addressing the issue. Should I allow her to pick for me? No, because then I’m reliant on her and my recovery is only stable when she’s around to initiate challenge.
In the end, the way that I cracked my calorie counting habit was addressing the issue by asking myself a few questions.
Why was I scared of calories?
Why did I feel the urge to count?
Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work it out. But it takes honesty. I counted calories because I was scared of eating ‘too much’. I was scared of exceeding a self-imposed limit. I was scared of gaining weight. I was scared of not being ‘in control.’ (oh, past-Han, having anorexia didn’t make you ‘in control’.)
So, with knowledge of that, these were the fears I had to address and resolve, which in turn would help me stop obsessing over calories.
I had to commit to 3 things. Unrestricted eating. Weight gain. Losing rules and rituals. These were some of the things involved:
- Consistently repeat my affirmations such as, ‘there is no too much’ until I truly believed them.
- Remove the upper limit I had on my intake. Even though I was eating enough by other people’s standard, I still could have eaten more.
- I had to confront my issues with weight gain. I did this by working on body neutrality and acceptance.
- I had to drop the bullshit idea that I was in control.
- Oh, and I had to gain weight. Because that made me think clearer and more rationally. And, because that is a pre-requisite of a stable recovery.
So, once all of that was heading in the right direction, I knew that something needed to change in regards to my attitude towards calories. I needed a complete overhaul of the way I viewed them. I’ve found this need for a complete overhaul pretty necessary throughout my recovery. I needed to wipe the slate clean on any previous misconceptions and restart. Any associations I had about calories before were wiped and I did my best to realign some new words to them.
Because I was telling myself ‘there is no too much’ food, by definition, there could not be ‘too many’ calories. I played a game which used my heinious calorie counting superskill to my advantage. This was when I really got going and serious about my recovery.
I stopped trying to stop…
Calorie counting was automatic for me I changed my intentions and purpose for doing it. Are used it in a way that served me and benefited me positively in my recovery. I stopped tracking my calories in fear of eating too much and turned this on its head. Trying to block numbers entering my brain was futile so trying something else, like a having a goal to exceed a minimum, really helped. In the ‘game’ that I played with myself, I didn’t go around searching packets for calories. That would have been weird. But, on the occasions that I did see calories or already knew them, I did my best view them as positive. The higher the better. The more points.
There was a point in my recovery where this ‘game’ would have been unimaginable for me. But by this point, it felt pretty much like my last shot. And thank God I took it.
Rules of the ‘game’:
- I would choose what the real me liked best.
- If I still didn’t know or was deliberating between options, I would choose whatever I knew had more calories. If in doubt, it was always higher is better- a complete rehaul of my previous actions.
- If a product made me think “yikes”, I followed through, bought it and ate it.
Eventually, the exposure helped me have a mindset shift about calories. I lost focus and created a strong, stable, sustainable relationship with numbers if I do happen to see them. I never actively seek them out, but they do not bother me or plague me as they did before.
The aim for you is, obviously, to stop calorie counting. But remember, our brains pay attention to things we pay attention to. For as long as calories are important to you, it will continue to count them and hold them as significant. Over time, calories have become less and less important to me. I can see calorie counts on a packet or meal and be more or less neutral about it. It has very little effect on my anxiety levels because I have been exposed to them and ignored them for so long.
I honestly could not care less about how many calories I eat per day, as long as it’s enough. With time, calories CAN become unimportant for you too ⭐️
Whatever method you find useful to stop counting calories, GO FOR IT. It is possible. The most important thing to remember is: If one thing doesn’t work after persistent effort, try something else. There will be a way. Don’t give up until it’s done. ❤️