For somebody like me who tends to have a bit of an obsessive mindset, calorie counting may not be the best route to take.
I was on the heftier side for most of my life.
I wasn’t necessarily fat, but I was pretty fluffy. .By 20, I was fed up with being “the bigger kid.” I didn’t have confidence, got winded going up a flight of stairs, and overall was in the worst shape of my life.
When I set out to lose weight, I started by only exercising. My diet stayed the same, but I was working out twice a day. I was doing the famous workout video Insanity, Jillian Michael’s 30-day Shred, and then would sometimes go on 3-5 mile runs. The weight was coming off fast, but not fast enough for my likings.
I then began to track my food and count calories. I used a few different tools, from meal-prepped healthy food to a calorie-counting app called MyFitnessPal.
I was tracking everything I put into my body. Every meal, every ounce of liquid I drank, every condiment.
To be completely honest, it worked. Calorie counting helped me shed 50 pounds of weight in just over 7 months. For the first time in my life, I had 6-pack abs, I was able to run without getting winded, and my confidence had improved significantly.
But… just like with every obsession, I soon fell victim to calorie counting. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t able to turn the switch off. I wasn’t able to stop counting every last calorie I was putting into my body, and soon, it began to consume the majority of my thoughts.
If my family or friends were going out, I would need to know in advance so I could look at the nutritional information on the menu. If I knew I was going to a party, I would starve myself for the day because I knew I would probably binge eat or drink. On my birthday, I would pass up on eating cake because I wasn’t willing to consume the extra calories.
Yeah, this was a problem.
Because of my inability to not count calories, I developed an eating disorder. I would eat large amounts of food and would feel guilty for doing so, so I would make myself purge afterward. Either that or I would just restrict myself from everything enjoyable. There was this fear that was always present in my mind that gaining 1 pound would be noticeable, and I wasn’t wanting to go back to being “the fat kid” again.
Some days, I would eat as little as 1,200 calories. My average was 1,800 for nearly a full year, but if I went over that one day, I would simply make up and restrict myself the next to make up for that deficit.
Even now, this is a battle that is very much a part of my life. I haven’t been able to overcome the eating disorder I had. While some days are better and I feel as though I am making progress, there are also days where I slip up and take a step back.
That’s why I strongly encourage everyone to NOT count calories. It simply isn’t worth it. Your life is defined by more than the number of calories you consume on a daily basis. Your life is defined by how you feel about yourself and the type of person you are.
But let’s say you have started counting calories. How do you know when it has become dangerous, and how dry our avoid digging yourself into a deeper hole?
When Is Calorie Counting Dangerous?
Calorie Counting becomes dangerous when it’s all you start thinking about. When you can’t stop reading food labels and determine what you are going to consume just by the calorie count on the label.
For me, it really became dangerous (at least when I noticed it) when I stopped going out with friends and spending time with others because I was worried about self-control or not being able to have a say in where we ate. It sounds so foolish for some, but that was my mindset.
If food is constantly on your mind or if you are constantly thinking about food and the amount of calories you are consuming, I would then recommend to stop counting calories or to seek help. It’s something that I wish I would have done but didn’t think it was the “manly” thing to do. As a result, I developed an eating disorder.
Other signs of an eating disorder can include:
- You struggle to eat in front of others. Eating disorders make it difficult to engage with food in a healthy way. That might mean having a hard time eating in public or feeling like you need to hide the food that you’re eating.
- You develop rituals based around eating. One of the biggest issues for those struggling with an eating disorder is that they feel a need for control over the way they eat. It’s good to have a routine around meals, like always starting dinner with a salad. It’s a problem when you’re unable to eat without going through a specific routine.
- You’re losing and gaining weight rapidly. With disordered eating, it’s hard for the body to retain the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy weight. In turn, the fluctuation in weight can be incredibly triggering for people who are already dissatisfied with how their body looks.
- You’re experiencing body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is defined as an obsession with perceived flaws in your physical appearance. Although it’s not present in all types, body dysmorphia is often a key trigger in leading to the development of disordered eating.
- You’re constantly eliminating food groups or experimenting with new diet trends. Although some people need to avoid certain foods for health reasons, it’s generally important to incorporate variety into your diet. When you’re constantly removing foods from your diet in an effort to “gain control” of your body it’s worth re-thinking your approach.
- You struggle to stay warm, even when it’s hot outside. Fat is good. It exists to help keep our bodies warm and helps to protect our internal organs from harm and damage. When there’s inadequate nutrition for fat cells, it’s common for people to feel a deep cold that they can’t shake.
- Your stomach constantly hurts. Lack of adequate nutrition also affects the gastrointestinal system. While the specific symptoms can vary from person to person, some common ones are regurgitation, acid reflux, and constipation are common.
Eating Disorders Caused By Calorie Counting
There are many eating disorders excessive calorie counting can lead to. Some include:
- Anorexia Nervosa: purposefully restricting calories out of the fear of gaining weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa: eating to excess over a short period of time (known as binge eating), followed by some sort of purging behavior, such as induced vomiting, laxative use, extreme dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise.
- Binge Eating Disorder: engaging in multiple episodes of binge eating without any purging behaviors. Unlike in bulimia, the binge-eating episodes are not part of an attempt to control weight.
- Avoid Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): being super restrictive in what you eat, to the point that you struggle to reach the required nutritional amounts for basic functioning.
- Other Specified or Eating Disorder (OSFED): applies to all other patterns of disordered eating that may not fit the clinical definitions listed above.
How to Avoid Digging Into A Deeper Hole
Focus on how you feel. Listen to how your body feels instead of what your mind and thoughts are trying to persuade you to do.
Ditch calorie counting altogether. Your life is defined by more than the number of calories you consume.
Stop judging others and yourself based on your appearance. When you don’t judge others or yourself, you don’t expect anything and don’t fall victim to the comparison game.
Recognize that perfection is going to look different for everyone and that the only way to be your perfect self is to be the person you want to be, not the person others want you to be. This is your life, so it’s time to make the most of it.
What’s the next best thing you can do to live freely?
It honestly depends on how bad things are for you. I would strongly recommend seeing a counselor or a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.
Men, women, white, black, young, or old, there’s no need to be ashamed. It’s an illness, and just like any other illness, it can be overcome – but you need to be willing to take that step towards overcoming it, and part of that means accepting the fact that calorie counting may be a problem and that you need help. Until you seek help for the problems you are experiencing, you simply aren’t going to overcome them.