How To Stop Counting Calories And Redirect Your Focus
For many people struggling with body image issues, counting calories becomes a way of life. If you routinely check packaging labels, keep a food journey and obsess over what you’re eating on a daily basis, it’s time to redirect your focus.
For most of the last hundred years, we have been told that calorie counting is the answer to staying slim. We all know that we have to consume fewer calories than we burn every day to shed the excess pounds. That has led to generations of people placing their focus solely on adding up the calories in their daily meals in order to try to maximize their weight loss.
Unfortunately, as many people who calorie count obsessively will testify, the more you focus on something the harder it becomes to stick to it. The result is all-too-often binge eating which causes weight gain in the long-term rather than the impressive weight loss that they desire. Even worse, fixating on food is highly likely to lead to anxiety, depression and mental health issues. It can be very difficult to break the cycle of counting calories, however learning to behave normally around food and redirecting your focus is essential to enjoy good mental health.
The Calorie Counting Dilemma
The concept behind counting calories makes sense. If you consume fewer calories than the amount you need to fuel your daily activities your body will burn fat as fuel. This will lead to weight loss. That’s the science behind the idea and it all adds up. However, in reality, there are psychological issues that get in the way.
As soon as we decide certain foods are off-limits to us, we begin to fixate on them. You may never have thought about buying a pack of donuts in the store but now that you know you can’t have them, all you can think about is buying those donuts and eating the whole pack in one sitting! As soon as you restrict yourself to only consuming a set amount of calories each day (and usually that amount is a very low figure) reverse psychology kicks in. In most cases, dieters manage to stick to their punitive regime during the day but as soon as evening comes around the temptation to binge becomes so strong that eventually, they give in.
It’s a vicious cycle that only leads to self-loathing and body negativity.
The Psychology Of Eating
There are three primary psychological reasons for binge eating due to calorie counting:
- As humans, we always want what we can’t have. All the things you can’t have when you’re counting calories, such as chocolate, cookies and junk food, are most appealing.
- You begin to see food as your only way to derive enjoyment from your life. Hedonic eating (or eating to make yourself happy) becomes your way of putting the joy that’s lacking into your daily regime.
- You cannot tolerate the negative emotions which make you overeat.
Learning to master yourself and overcome those psychological reasons is essential if you want to break free of calorie counting and food obsession.
Food Quality Not Quantity
Breaking the habit of a lifetime is no mean feat. For the last four decades, we have been told that skipping fat and calorie counting are keys to weight loss. That’s a lasting message which is hard to overlook. However, if you bear in mind that the quality of the food you eat rather than the amount of it is most important when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight you may become convinced to make the change. A diet that is focused on eating whole foods such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits until you feel food is the best way to lose weight over the long-term.
For a start, fat isn’t actually the problem when it comes to weight gain. Processed carbohydrates actually cause a lot more problems with obesity, with low-fat foods being especially problematic. If we look at when obesity rates in the USA began to rise, we can see a direct correlation between the introduction of the US Department of Agriculture’s recommendation that we all switch to low-fat diets. Although we are told that carbohydrates are a vital part of your daily diet, in fact, they can make you gain more weight than fats. This is because carbohydrates turn into sugar in the bloodstream and this causes an insulin spike.
Most people are shocked to discover that a baked potato would raise their insulin and blood glucose levels more than pure sugar or ice cream would. We are conditioned to believe that butter is much worse for your health than a slice of white bread however this simply isn’t the case. Now, let’s add another factor into the mix. The cycle of weight gain followed by weight loss affects the hormonal signals which tell you that you need to stop eating. This results in the classic yo-yo dieting problem that so many of us are familiar with.
The upshot of all this is that when it comes to counting calories, not all calories are created equal. This is where so many of us are going wrong when we obsess about the number of calories in our food. We think that, whether 100 calories are derived from healthy vegetables or from chocolate cookies, it’s worth the same for your body. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, biological mechanisms are at play, something which means that your body processes those 100 calories in very different ways, and this could hold the key to better health and better weight loss. With this in mind, it’s time to stop counting calories and instead focus on what you’re eating.
Combating The Psychology Of Calorie Counting
Rather than limiting the amount of food you eat, place your focus on eating as much as you like of foods that are good for you. You should also practice stopping eating as soon as you feel full. We often carry on eating simply because there is food left on your plate. Many of us were conditioned to do this from childhood when our parents told us we had to finish every bite before leaving the table. However, eating after your full is a surefire way to put on weight. Never feel afraid to stop eating!
Another important factor in giving up counting calories is to stop eating for the wrong reasons. You should only ever be eating because you’re hungry. If you find you’re reaching for food because you’re bored, lonely or unhappy, you need to switch your focus and find something else to fill that void in your life. Take up a hobby which you can practice, go out and socialize more, find ways to add joy to your life so you won’t need to use food as a crutch.
Transform Your Relationship With Food And Yourself
If you have a negative relationship with food, it goes hand in hand that you probably have a negative relationship with yourself. This leads to dissatisfaction with your body image, low self-esteem and a raft of emotional and mental health issues. In some cases it can lead to anxiety and depression, in others it results in eating disorders. It’s clear that transforming that negative relationship lies at the heart of improving both our physical and mental well-being. If you’re ready to escape the calorie counting cycle, here are some top tips that will help you to redirect your focus and escape that prison.
Track Your Feelings Not Your Calories
Counting calories is a habit that’s hard to break. Many of us are surprisingly reluctant to give up something which has been a controlling feature of our lives for many years. If you’re a lifelong calorie counter, you might not feel ready yet to let go of that tracking culture. So, instead of counting calories, try writing down the foods that you’ve consumed and the way that you feel instead. The information you’ll gain from this in the long-run is much more beneficial than simply a long list of calorie contents. It is the starting point of beginning a more supportive relationship with food. By becoming more aware of how you feel about food and the emotional and physical impact of eating on your body and mind will give you much more useful information which you can put into use in the future.
Stop Judging Yourself
Too many of us judge ourselves negatively in all aspects of our lives and especially surrounding the way we behave around food. Taking a judgmental approach to yourself is one of the worst things you can do for your mental well-being. Instead of judging yourself and finding yourself instantly guilty, try replacing that judgment with curiosity instead. Give yourself the space to consider the situation from every side so you can identify the way you feel and work out what you must do to help yourself. A harsh self-judgment will only lead to more self-hatred and a greater tendency to overeat and binge.
Planning Your Meals In Advance
Removing your focus on counting calories means that you are free to focus on other food-related issues. Instead of panicking about food when you decide to eat on the spur of the moment, plan ahead to avoid that extra stress and anxiety. Rather than heading to the drive-thru on the way home from work, grabbing a burger in a moment of weakness and then hating yourself for hours afterwards, it’s so much easier to simply plan your meals in advance. This takes all of the guesswork out of the situation and gives you much greater control over your life, your diet, and your mental well-being. Knowing exactly what you’ll eat at every meal of the day means you’ll make good food choices and you’ll have time to plan meals that you don’t just enjoy but which also provide all the nutrition that your body requires.
When you’re tired, you lack the energy to make good food choices. Your body is looking actively for an energy boost and that means you’re much more likely to reach for the candy or cookies rather than something nutritious. Tiredness reduces your ability to make a sensible meal choice too, and that results in impulsive decisions that make you hate yourself in the long term. To avoid the problem, try to set yourself a sleep regime. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day. Try to get at least 8 hours of rest every night and you’ll be in a better mental place to make sensible decisions about what you’re going to it.
Improve Your Personal Relationship With Your Own Body
If you’ve spent years hating yourself, it’s hard to let go of that self-loathing and to learn to love the skin that you’re in. However, over time if you work hard at letting go of counting calories, you’ll eventually begin to trust in yourself and learn to appreciate your own beauty. The more confident you become, the more you develop your personal relationship with your body. You’ll eventually begin to feel less tied to restrictive calorie counting regimes and more open to embracing the potential of a full and free lifestyle where you can eat a wider range of foods without feeling shame or guilt.
Get Therapy When You Need It
While counting calories on its own isn’t a sign that you need to get help from a reputable therapist like the ones here at The Meadowglade, if you’re counting calories while maintaining a strict portion control or denying yourself food entirely –
That is a sign that you may have a deeper problem with food that may turn into an eating disorder if left unchecked. Getting in touch with a therapist that specializes in combatting eating disorders and can help you understand any issues you have with food and eating is a great start.
In conjunction with a nutritionist, your therapist can teach you better coping mechanisms to handle your interactions with and consumption of food.
Breaking Out Of The Counting Calories Prison
Although it isn’t easy to step away from counting calories and to accept that there is another way to live, if you take steps to improve your personal relationship with food and your own body and to adopt a healthier approach to food and eating, you will eventually be able to overcome the years of self-loathing and mental health issues that such a restrictive eating regime imposes. Recognizing that calorie counting isn’t the right solution for weight loss or for mental well-being is a realization that will become apparent over time as long as you are prepared to let go of your obsession and are open to embracing a new way of life.
If you’re struggling to get back to your normal and have a better view of your own body, consider taking some time to heal at a residential treatment facility like The Meadowglade. Contact us in order to learn more about how we can help you!