I had a “special notebook” to count my calories. At the time it felt empowering, but what I didn’t realize was the toll this took on my mental and physical health. Perhaps, it was a part of my life that I could actually control – in a world or lifestyle that felt so unpredictable. In tandem was the toxic mindset that believed this was getting me closer to the body of the models I’d see in magazines and/or social media. Looking back ten years later, as a healthy mom who enjoys food and never overthinks my daily caloric intake, I can easily say that calorie counting in my teens & twenties became an obsession. But, there’s a happy ending… I was able to break the cycle and start over to live a wholesome, healthy and happy life (mind and body).
So, why are you clinging to the calorie counting book? There are some critical points to understand how your body works and why this likely is not ideal for you. Let’s preface the following points by saying:
There are many different opinions in media about “calorie counting” pros and cons. Rather than joining this debate, we’ll feed you some facts and let you work them into your lifestyle in a way that feels right to you.
There are health conditions that yield sensitivity to caloric intake (whether through medication or the disease itself) whereas doctors may suggest calorie counting for balance and reaching optimal health. If you have a good, reliable doctor who is out for your best interest… consult with them.
“Calories in” versus “calories out” is not black and white. Back when I’d hit the gym and push through an excessive 60-minute+ cardio session to makeup for the ‘late night snacks’ I had with my roomates the night before was a big misconception I had about burning off what I ate.
Factors beyond our control that affect the ‘caloric balance’ in our bodies include:
Hormones: the stage of your menstrual cycle
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR): the energy your body needs to allow your heart to beat, lungs to breathe and your brain to function normally.
Your muscle mass
Your ideal caloric intake might be hugely missing the mark (in my case, way under), meaning the energy you think you need may be completely off to reach your goals. This can lead to frustration, depression, lessening your desire or motivation to exercise and can even affect your hormone balance (menstrual cycle). So, what feels like a reasonable routine to ‘lose weight and look a certain way’ might actually be counter intuitive – often leading to mental health issues and out of whack fluctuations in your weight. Does this sound like your experience?
What’s even more important to understand is YOUR BODY.
“All bodies are beautiful.” Sure, you have heard it 1,000 times, which may sound redundant by now, but have you heard of “set point weight”?
Let’s unpack this incredibly important knowledge – In a wholesome article written in HuffPost, Dr. Traci Mann, a psychologist and researcher who has studied dieting for over a decade, explains:
“Your genes play an important role in determining how much you weigh throughout your life. In fact, your genetic code contains the blueprint for your body type and, more or less, the weight range that you can healthily maintain. Your body tends to stay in that range—which I will refer to as your set weight range—most of your adult life. If your weight strays outside it, multiple systems of your body make changes that push you back toward it.”
“Even if you believe that you are not currently at your set-point weight, a focus on weight-loss will be detrimental. If you are naturally meant to weigh less, your body will adjust as you work to heal your relationship to food (if this is the cause of being higher than your set-point). However, having “weight loss” as the goal promotes disordered eating and can set people up for discontent and weight-cycling.”
THIS CHANGED MY LIFE.
So, where are we going with this? We’re telling you it’s OKAY to toss the Calorie Counting book and delete the app on your phone. Whether or not you’ve heard of Intuitive Eating, I seriously consider diving in… because it changed my life.
Intuitive eating is a framework that helps you tune out external messaging, like the harmful rules and rhetoric of diet culture, and tune in to your own body signals—hunger, fullness, cravings, etc. The goal is to break free from cycles of chronic binging and deprivation, as well as the emotional consequences of those behaviors, and heal your relationship with food. Intuitive eating rejects metrics like calories, macros, and points and embraces a more compassionate approach to nutrition.
When did the shift happen? I eventually felt depleted. I had no energy and didn’t feel “healthy” despite maintaining my weight goals and having a ‘tight butt’ that I felt proud of in my reflection. On a new venture to find myself, I flew to NYC for yoga training to become a teacher as a side hustle. After 4 intense weeks, what I left with wasn’t what I expected. We tapped into the depths of our souls during the training, something I had never done before. It was powerful. For the first time in my life, I felt connected to my body. We understood each other. It changed my perspective on life and what it means to truly live. Today, I enjoy food for what it tastes like. I listen to my hunger and don’t punish myself after a night of Netflix snacks and lounging.
Important - it's not an 'overnight fix.' We're only human. I still have days that feel challenging from time to time. What's important is your self-awareness and ability to recognize the highs and lows, and serve your body with what it needs each day with patience and kindness. It is an on-going practice.
We each have our own unique journey with food and body image. There isn’t a formula to pull yourself out of the toxic cycle that diet culture tends to anchor us down with. However, there are steps you can take to head in the right direction.
Take time to read about & understand intuitive eating
Simply show up for yourself each new day with zero expectations. Practicing ways to become more self-aware will only strengthen your tool set, especially on the more challenging days.
If you think you need more support, know that’s OKAY. It’s great! Our biggest challenge is often reaching out for help. It’s a courageous step. Find ED therapists, coaches or communities near you (or virtually), like Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, or our good friend Giulia at Brazen Soul Rebellion.
- Start adding things to your routine that make you feel good. Yes, "self-care." Whether that's a warm bath, reading a book in sweatpants and empowering undergarments, giving yourself a mini-facial, painting your nails, etc. Whatever it may be, these little moments of "I appreciate you" can play an important role in your mental health and self-respect.
We were given the gift of life for a reason. That reason is not to push our bodies beyond it’s limits to conform to a body type that isn’t meant to be ours. That reason is not to deprive ourselves of delicious foods and flavors because we fear it might stick to our thighs. That reason is not to burn ourselves out on the treadmill because we had fun with food the day before. That reason is to LIVE.
Life: the existence of an individual human being or animal.
So, what does it mean to exist to you? How do you want to exist? How do you want to show up for yourself?
It is NEVER too late to start fresh.
It is NEVER too late to start living a life you deserve.