In an effort to end my food struggles I’ve googled the words “how to stop counting calories” too many times to count. The top google hits were always about the horrible ways in which calorie counting could lead to vicious cycles of dysfunctional eating (of which I was a living example not needing to know more on that particular subject) or personal stories of people who had managed to end the counting madness resulting in more fulfilling lives. But what I was in search for were practical tips to help delete the numbers and end the compulsive counting so that I could begin to normalize my relationship with food. I had let go of my diet mentality but didn’t know how to make the next move or how to eat “like a normal person”.
At that point I was still questioning my decisions around food not knowing if I was “doing it right” or just digging myself deeper into the calculating hole. I could emulate the behaviors of “non-counters” and ask them about their eating but in the end realized that I had to find my own way of normal eating. So I simply went into trial and error mode. The last frontier turned out to be that of understanding that there was no delete button for the library of calorie counts I had built for 20 years but that how crazy or sane I felt around food was determined by how much airplay I was willing to allot the counts. So I started focusing on enjoying my food despite the numbers flying around in my head and after a while, although they were there, I barely noticed them.
If you want to find a way of putting the tallying on pause when it comes to food, here is a list of things that worked for me:
- Buy foods you don’t know the calorie count of. Go to a farmers market or explore new foods in your grocery store. Focus on what looks good and/or exciting and what you think would make you feel good as opposed to how many calories it contains. That weird looking veggie- yes puhleez! That piece of old looking cheese- I’ll take it!
- Fire up your senses! Take your taste buds on new adventures by trying different foods, spices and herbs. Pretty up your food with greens, berries and other colorful or texture enhancing edibles(if money or availability is not an issue go for the edible flowers!). Smell it, touch it and eat it with curiosity without letting number enter your mind.
- Go to a new restaurant without looking at the menu beforehand and order the first thing that sounds delicious to you. Might be the goat cheese salad, might be the pasta bolognese, use your belly not your mind to guide you right. Good job belly(and you!).
- Sticker it up! You might already know the calorie counts but you don’t have to keep being reminded of them. Make your environment free from calorie counts and decorate your nutrition labels with stickers or washi tape. Out of sight, (kinda) out of mind!
- Let someone else cook. Not only is it a perfect way to practice the art of receiving, which many of us are not overly comfortable with, but also helps us remember that food is not only calories in vs. calories out but a part of celebration, communion and all-round nourishment(and also you’ll have time over to finally finish that book while your designated cook is slaving away).
- Do an eating meditation. Get out of your mind and into your body. Reconnect with food without the usual stresses of trying to be “good”, being “bad” or determining what you will eat based on carb count or fat grams. Sit your butt down with some food, sloooowly eat it and connect to the knowing that you are so much more than the food you eat. You are NOT your food choices, you’re a living, breathing human being and numbers have nothing to do with it.
- Pause the loop in your head. In reality the calorie counts of foods that you’ve eaten for a long time might never go away. Certain things you can not unlearn. That said, it’s never about the information itself, it’s what you choose to do with that information. Sometimes we have to get inventive to be able to break old habits. If your brain automatically starts tallying the calories in the lunch you just ate, start to sing. Or dance. Or whatever you can to put your mind on pause or redirecting away from the numbers. Stop the multiplying by starting a conversation, putting on your favorite podcast or writing a postcard to your mother. You might feel silly at first but now is the time to get your creativity on.
- Burn all and any calorie counting, carb counting or fat counting guides you might have lying around. No hesitating- just chuck them! Sweep your phone for any fitness or health apps that might remind or trigger you and delete, delete, delete.