Does Counting Calories Work? How To Stop Counting Calories Obsessively
Do you believe calorie counting is the only way to maintain your weight or reach your ideal weight? Or maybe you don’t know how to get out of the calorie counting cycle?
I’ve been there. At first, I started using calorie counting apps to get lean. But then, I didn’t know how to stop counting calories obsessively and that led to a painful binge eating disorder.
Calorie counting can restrict our social life. Maybe you miss family gatherings or social events because you want to avoid food with an unknown amount of calories.
Whether your goal is to maintain your weight or lose a couple of pounds, counting calories isn’t your only option!
But how can you do that?
You can explore intuitive eating with me!
In this article, we will find out if calorie counting works, the reasons why you try to control calories, and how you can stop counting calories without going cold turkey!
Ready to stop counting calories and start enjoying your life more?
YES! Let’s do this!!
Does Calorie Counting REALLY work?
You must have heard of “Calorie in, Calorie out“, and a lot of people follow a calorie-restricted diet.
You may be using a calorie counting app and watching your calories carefully every day. If you are tired of counting calories, especially if you are not seeing results, you must be wondering if calorie counting REALLY works.
According to Harvard Health Publishing,
The truth is that even careful calorie calculations don’t always yield uniform results. How your body burns calories depends on a number of factors.
Calorie counting doesn’t get you the result you want because
- The types of microbiomes in your gut are different from others
- Your metabolism is different from others
- The type of food you eat makes a difference
So let’s take a look at each factor together!
1. Stop calorie counting for your microbes
Do you know that there are trillions of microorganisms in your gut, and they can determine how many calories your body absorbs from food?
Harvard School of Public Health says that humans share 99% of their genes, whilst they share only 50% of their microbiomes. So this means if you eat the same food as your friend, your friend may not absorb as many calories as you do.
Also, when you are on a diet and your calories are restricted, you will eat fewer varieties of food.
But why does this matter?
Studies show the complexity of microbiomes in your gut is the key to healthy weight loss. The more varieties of food you eat, the more you can expect weight loss in the long run.
2. Metabolism matters
Apart from the types and diversity of microbiomes in your guts, metabolism plays an important role in weight loss. According to Mayo clinic’s study, there are three important factors for metabolism.
- Basal Metabolic Rate – Number of calories your body can burn while you are resting
- Food processing -You use 10% of the calories from carbs and protein while digesting
- Physical activity
This is why you don’t get the same result as someone from the same diet program.
3. Your body reacts differently to different foods
Did you know not all calories are equal?
This is why you may not be getting the results you want from calorie counting and logging in every item you eat on a fitness tracker.
You may have heard of High-GI food and Low-GI food. Low-GI food includes whole-grain pasta, wheat bread, fruits, beans, and nuts. These foods raise your blood sugar levels slowly, which results in your insulin levels increasing gradually.
What is insulin, by the way?
Insulin is a hormone created by your pancreas and it helps your body absorb the energy from food. And when you eat more than what your body needs, your body’s cells store glucose (sugar from food), and this can lead to weight gain.
High GI food can make your pancreas produce more insulin, and that is why you want to pay attention to WHAT you eat rather than how many calories you eat!
Can you be addicted to counting calories?
Do you remember why you started counting calories in the first place?
When you do this, it gives you a sense of control. Have you ever thought of where this “I need to control my food intake” thought comes from?
Knowing why you want to count calories may be the first step in learning how to stop counting calories obsessively!
There are several reasons why you may be seeking control.
- Part of your life is out of control (a relationship, finances, social life, occupation, and home environment). Counting calories gives you some control over your life.
- You are trying to punish yourself (being bullied or criticized about your body shape before)
- You may be a perfectionist
- Being exposed to a “Perfect” body image on Social media too often
Do any apply to you?
I wanted to have a sense of control since I was getting verbal abuse from my mother and everything was out of control. Also, I moved to England and everything was new for me.
I was also a perfectionist, so I wanted to get the perfect result!
Please take a moment and explore what may be making you control calories. It was such a relief for me when I found out I was trying to control my life by counting calories.
You can always seek professional help whenever you need it.
What happens to your body when you restrict calories
Have you ever experienced increased hunger when you are on a diet?
Maybe you were defeated by your cravings which resulted in weight gain?
When you restrict your calories, your brain tells your body to increase calorie intake, which means you feel more hungry! Furthermore, your body will try to lower your metabolism to save energy due to the lowered calories.
Cutting calories may lead to weight loss in a short time, but it increases hunger and slows metabolism if you are on a calorie-restricted diet for an extended period.
Ready to find out how to stop counting calories obsessively but still lose weight in a healthy way?
How do I stop counting calories obsessively?
Does it sound scary to stop counting calories?
I totally understand. When we count calories, we can feel like we’re in control.
It is POSSIBLE to lose weight without counting calories, and I will show you 5 easy steps you can follow that explain how to stop counting calories obsessively and slowly shift towards intuitive eating and never look back.
1. Add more whole foods
Everyone knows eating healthy is the key to weight loss. But it can feel overwhelming and complicated.
After I was determined I would stop counting calories for good, I decided to focus on eating REAL and filling food. At first, I was confused by all the information out there, but I’ve been experimenting with healthy eating for a couple of years, and I finally found what works for me.
- Start reducing processed food including pre-made sauce, canned products, processed meat, frozen food, pastries, fast food, breakfast cereals, energy bars, and energy drinks
- Start adding more whole foods such as fruits, fresh vegetables, legumes, fermented foods, nuts, quality meat and fish, tofu, healthy homemade sweets (such as this gluten-free homemade banana bread!)
- Explore easy and healthy recipes (Check out Gordon Ramsey’s 10-minute cooking class on Youtube!)
- Change where you shop. Usually, health foods stores like Wholefoods have better food options
- I found this Healthy Eating Plate by Harvard University easy and useful for healthy eating (You can download it from here)
Keep in mind, it’s ok not to change your eating habits drastically all at once. I slowly learned healthy eating over the 3 years and I’m still learning! It’s ok to take time 🙂
2. Start portioning your food
There is a big difference in how people eat between Japan and other western countries.
My boyfriend is from Canada, and he was always amazed at how small a chicken fillet at KFC is in Japan! Not sure how to portion your food? In Japan, there is a saying:
腹八分目 (Hara-hachibun-me) – 80% fullness is the key for healthy lifestyle
This is why Japan ranks as one of the lowest obesity rates in the world. People in Japan are taught to practice this 腹八分目(80% fullness rule) since they are little. It basically means “Stop eating before you are completely full”.
If you feel so full that you can’t move after every meal, try to put 20% less portion than usual on your plate or bowl. You can cut excess food in this way.
- Put all your food on your plate or bowl if possible
- Use a smaller bowl or plate – This makes your food portion look bigger! I often use a very little bowl and spoon when I eat ice cream.
- Try to put less food on your plate or bowl – Use the 80% fullness strategy!
3. Listen to your body
Do you have a set time for meals?
Maybe it’s a good idea to start eating when you are ACTUALLY hungry. I made a chart for you and maybe you can check in with yourself about how hungry you are!
The most important thing is NOT to wait until you are starving.
Why is that?
When you are super hungry, you tend to eat more and crave unhealthy food. When I’m super hungry, I notice I keep eating, and after a while, I find myself SO full.
To avoid extreme hunger, you can start eating more frequently.
Here are some snack ideas:
- Soft tofu with soy sauce
- Organic apple with unsalted, crunchy peanut butter
- Brown rice cake with almond butter
- Raw almonds in plain yogurt with raw honey
- Whole grain sourdough toast with raw honey and peanut butter
- Kimchi with soft tofu
Also, you can try this mindful eating meditation when you have the urge to eat but you’re not necessarily hungry.
4. Focus on satisfaction over the number of calories
Lastly, I recommend you to focus on satisfaction including
- Eat different types of food throughout the week – Mediterranian, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Middle-eastern, and Italian
- Avoid food that doesn’t fill you up – ice cream, cakes, sodas BUT combining the food you LOVE ocassionally is the key
When you eat something just because it’s considered to be healthy or you eat because it fits in your calorie goal, it’s harder to feel TRUE satisfaction. As a result, you may end up craving and eating food you want to avoid.
So what can you do about it?
This may sound crazy, but I recommend you DO NOT avoid something you love like ice cream, cakes, pizza, and burgers. I’m not telling you to eat it every day, but you should occasionally have the food you love!
- Explore different recipes that you enjoy eating. I like cooking Mediterranean food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, Japanese food, and Korean food!
- When you plan a weekly meal, ask yourself what you WANT to eat instead of what you SHOULD eat. Eating should be enjoyable not something to torture your body.
- Plan one meal a week in which you can eat whatever you want. Pizza, wings, or burgers. In order to reduce food guilt and for better digestion, I usually eat it with salad and fruits!
5. Stop using exercise to burn calories
If you count calories obsessively, you may be also tracking how many calories you burned from exercise. I’ve been there.
Here is the thing.
It makes you feel worse when you have to exercise because you ate that or planning to eat something. Exercise becomes a form of punishment.
So what can you do about it?
For me, I stay active because it helps my mental health, my SAD in winter (seasonal affective disorder), and boosts my self-confidence! In the past, I overexercised to lose weight quickly from my binge eating disorder and that led me to knee surgery.
- If you are looking for fun ways to get active, how about trying this 15-Minute Dance-Party Workout For Positive Energy!?
- Stop spending 30-minutes on the treadmill because you ate something. When you have a strong urge to eat, just eat it or try mindful eating meditation to see if you actually want to eat it now or not 🙂
- Listen to your body and take a rest when you are too tired to exercise. It’s totally ok to skip your routine!
It may be really scary to stop calorie counting. It was super intimidating for me too! However, at one point in my life, I realized calorie counting was taking up a lot of my energy and it was stopping me from simply enjoying meals.
Surprisingly, I didn’t gain weight at all when I stopped counting calories, and I have been able to maintain my ideal body shape! Also, I’m less scared of spending time with friends and family.
Remember, enjoying time with family and friends is as important as eating healthy meals!
Why is that?
It’s because it brings you joy, strengthens social connections, and enriches your relationship with your loved ones! And those are very important parts of healthy living from a holistic health perspective 🙂
You can take one step at a time. How about starting with 1-2 days a week where you don’t count calories at all and see how you feel?