How to stop counting calories (without anxiety)
Stay in control of your eating – without counting calories – using this strategy.
When we try losing weight, our default is often to start counting calories. We feel that if we can stay within the numeric constraints of a calorie counting plan, we’ll reach our goals no problem. Sure, counting feels good for a while, maybe we start to see some quick results or we like the feeling of control that comes with knowing exactly what we’re eating.
But what about when we’re ready to stop?
This is where the problem lies.
I talk to women all the time who are obsessed with counting, tracking, and measuring their food. They absolutely hate feeling tethered to their MyFitnessPal app and constantly calculating their daily intake but don’t know what to do when they aren’t counting. They’re so overwhelmed by their food diaries but can’t take a break for fear of gaining weight. As soon as they try and stop counting calories, they’re overcome with anxiety and fear.
I’ve been there, too. I started counting calories when I was thirteen years old, so in a sense, I grew up with calorie counting. And when I tried to stop counting calories and follow a serving based system? I counted servings nonstop. I carried a notepad with me everywhere, counting, and recounting everything I ate. I felt like if I stopped, I would eat with abandon and gain 20lbs overnight.
My friend, there IS an alternative.
I’ve come across tons of resources out there to help us stop counting calories but nobody addresses the mental side: how do we give up the control that comes with counting? That’s where I come in.
Three steps to STOP counting calories (without stress)
Stop changing other things
When we begin thinking about changing our calorie counting habit, it’s often our default to pair it with something else. Why not change all the things, stop counting calories, cut sugar, stop drinking, and do a Whole30 in the same month?
I get it, lady. That’s my default too. I hate change, so I will often pile on about 7 changes at once (see the time I graduated college, moved out of my parents’ house, moved in with Andrew, and started working my first full-time job all in the same week). I was so confused why my relationship was tense and I was feeling drawn to restrictive eating habits again. If it were possible, I’d go back and slap 22-year-old-Katherine across the face.
When we multiple things change, we cling to the familiar.
So for 22-year-old-Katherine, restriction was safe and familiar amidst all the crazy amounts of change happening in my life. Even though I hadn’t restricted myself for ages, it became 1000x harder not to deprive myself because it was safe.
And this is exactly what happens when we try to stop counting calories while also changing up other variables in our nutrition or fitness.
It’s 1000x harder to stop counting calories when it’s the familiar habit.
So, when we try to stop counting calories, I do not want us changing up our nutrition or training–for better or worse–while weaning ourselves off the calorie habit. If we are trying to stop counting, everything else should remain unchanged.
This makes things so much easier and lessens the anxiety that comes with giving up the control of the numbers. It will also free up our mental energy to move away from the calorie counting habit.
Focus on the MACRO view
No, no, not that macro, lovely. I’m talking about taking the birds-eye, overall, or large scale view of your diet. When we count calories, we get so focused on the micro, minute details. When we’re ready to stop counting, it’s also time to zoom out.
No more stressing about grams of sugar. It’s the end of only eating foods that are less than 10% fat. We don’t have to skip out on a snack because we’ll go over our calories.
Instead, we’re going to zoom out and focus on the high impact, BASIC habits that really matter when it comes to our nutrition. I want to make it super simple. Instead of counting anything, I want us to focus on just two things: protein and veggies. Every single time we eat, grab a portion of protein and some vegetables. If we’re still hungry, add some healthy fat or complex carbohydrates.
Want more help getting in veggies at every meal? Grab some of my best tips on how to eat more vegetables.
This super simple strategy makes all the difference, because we’ll be eating lots of nutrient dense and non-calorie dense foods. This will allow us to eat more AND make sure we aren’t missing out on any key nutrients. In layman’s terms, low calorie density = large portion size. And large portion sizes keep us (me) happy. If you want to learn exactly how I’ve automated my eating and stopped obsessing, join my tribe. I share my best stuff with these ladies. You can sign up in the box to the right.
Go one meal at a time
As calorie counters, we tend towards that all-or-nothing mentality. We see things in black and white, so why would our approach to stopping calorie counting be any different?
Because it has to be.
Believing that “counting” or “not counting” are the only options here is extremely black and white. And it’s this black and white mentality that makes us stressed and anxious, isn’t it?
So, instead, I go meal-by-meal when I’m helping ladies get consistent and stop counting calories, because this gives us flexibility. This process works for two main reasons: (1) we accumulate little wins, helping us stay consistent and (2) it lessens the feeling of losing control.
Week 1 may look a little like this:
Monday-Wednesday: count breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks
Thursday-Saturday: count breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Sunday: count breakfast, lunch, and snacks
Then, by week 2, we’ll try dropping to even fewer counted meals:
Monday-Wednesday: count breakfast and lunch
Thursday-Saturday: count breakfast OR lunch and snacks
Sunday: try only tracking one meal
If at any point, we start feeling overly anxious, we simply return to the previous step. Within a few weeks, counting calories becomes a thing of the past.
I hope these strategies help! If you need help developing more strategies, working with an online therapist (get started here) might be a great option. But if you assess how in control you are of your eating, take my free quiz below. When you finish, I’ll send you personalized next steps 🙂