Cutting (The Calorie Counting) Out [Update+WIAW]

by Sarah on March 27, 2013 · 39 comments

A month ago I wrote a post called Safety In Numbers: Calorie Obsession in which I declared myself to be giving up calorie counting because it had gone to a scary, unhealthy place for me.

it would have taken four times as long to make these savory herb and mustard oats because i would have had to measure out every vegetable and weigh the sweet apples

It was easy to write but so difficult to post, because I didn’t want y’all to feel like I’d misled you in anyway, or that you’d been ‘duped’ by the way I approached food. I think I’ve always tried to come from an honest place. [When I lived in Austin, I was MUCH more flexible and carefree about eating and tasting everything I came across, which I think was obvious then.]

honestly? roasted rutabaga, turnips, and crispy sprouts are just delicious.

I was also nervous about being judged, but I’ve been surprised to have so many people express via comments or private emails that they have struggled–or are struggling–with very similar issues, and thankful at everyone–including Jenn, for reminding us all every week that W.I.A.W. isn’t about judgementwho has been supportive of my quest to cut the calorie counting out of my life.

So, one month later, how am I doing?

I’d be a big fat liar if I said I didn’t still count things up in my head, or that there have been nights–generally in the first week or so–that I lay in bed, trying to go back through the day and tally up every single thing I ate.

goat's milk yogurt in the tub w. chocolate chips, peanuts, pecans, raisins, and whatever fruit made it off the cutting board without a detour into my mouth

Realizing I forgot about a half an apple here or some extra bites from a recipe there is a moment of fist-pumping success.

because it is really hard to remember just how much carob date fondue you ate.

Running back into my office after a faculty meeting and trying to scribble down everything I just ate–after mentally patting myself on the back for abandoning my planned, “I know how many calories are in this” snack for the offerings on the community table–was a minor setback.

sure, i focused on fruits and veggies, but some of them were chocolate covered (blueberries), and there is m&m chex mix under there...

I think the mental tallying is going to be there in some form, if not forever, then for a very long time.

qrunch burger w. leftover roasted potatoes covered in every condiment imaginable

The key, I’m learning, is to know it doesn’t matter.

citrus avocado dressing--and avocado in general--is worth however many calories it may be.

I have not logged a single day’s worth of calories on My Fitness Pal. This was probably a whole lot easier for me to do than it might have been for some other people. I didn’t have to delete it, I just no longer used it to track every single bite that went into my mouth.

I have, however, had moments of weakness where I wondered just how many calories was in cooked brown rice, or an avocado, or something, and I did do a search within the application. This has happened less than five times in a month, though, so either my own mental calorie encyclopedia is astoundingly diverse, or I’m learning not to care. [I hate that it might still be the former…]

roasted fennel and pumpkin thai curry w. creamy avocado soy brown rice

I have also plugged in recipes to get a relative idea of how many calories were in a soup I threw together or a dip I made, telling myself I “just want to see…”

super green thai curry

I have been better about not measuring out exactly five or six or twelve servings when I’m finished, and just portioning with my eyes into what I think are appropriate servings.

One lightbulb I had was that dividing a recipe so strictly really doesn’t make sense when it is something chock full of ingredients. Who is to say that the cup of stew you happen to measure out won’t have more beans or greens than another? Silly, really.

hot and sour hodge podge soup made with previouly frozen veggies

I’ve been loosening up on measuring the cereal into my bowl, and have focused on just eyeballing portion sizes.

greek yogurt bowl w. puffed millet and peanut butter balls underneath, apples, persimmon goo, and go lean crunch on top

I’ve only broken out the scale for Nutty Butter measurements and protein powder.

an entire pear was harmed in the making of these cinnamon plantfusion proats.

I’m actually OK with measuring out portions, as long as I’m not uptight about it. Weighing pear slices, ten blueberries, or LETTUCE was what started to scare me.

fruit salad. yummy, yummy. (name that allusion!)

I still have had moments where my stomach is growling and I’m thinking, “Should I eat this? Or should I eat that?” But I’m starting to get to a place again where I can just….eat.

when only the orange tofu on the whole foods salad bar is inspiring, you have no choice but to go for the pickapeppa sauce, honey mustard, and ketchup

Grabbing a few handfuls of grapes and not measuring them first? Freeing.

With that freedom comes responsibility occasional stress, however.

just how many calories are in this carob broccoli slaw crust? how much pumpkin did i use? i should add more raisins.

I’m still struggling a bit with saying, “I’m still hungry” and then eating more during the day. For some reason at night I don’t have as much of an issue. Maybe because during the day I feel like there might be a giant cake in my future, so I need to save calories for it or something? [There is never a giant cake. Unless I suddenly get the urge to bake one.]

i would have fainted in yoga without this applesauce-hemp bowl mixed with cereal, dates, and persimmon goo

It is amazing how much time I was wasting trying to log everything accurately and completely, and sometimes even logging in a potential future meal, then deleting it all to see if a different choice would be “better.” It was a crazy gamethat, unlike, say Words With Friends, did not leave me in a more enlightened mental place.

pumpkin pie microwave muffin w. apples, pecans, dates, and honey

My goal right now is to continue breaking away from the ‘same old, same old’ routine of the foods that I always eat and know exactly how they stack up numbers-wise. It sounds silly, but even abandoning my oatmeal one or two mornings has been HUGE.

tofu and veggie scramble on brown rice with champagne grapefruit

After school snacks are a bit more adventurous again, because I’m less concerned with them fitting into my subconsciously alloted calorie count.

chocolate protein goop mixed with puffed rice, go lean crunch, strawberries, and mini cherry pie larabar crumblies

[Not that I’m not still struggling with not TRYING to count…]

peanut butter chocolate simply bar crumblies in a mix of sweetened cinnamon applesauce and peanut flour

Not that there’s anything wrong with a little food fixation, as long as you really DO like eating it, and actually want it. :)

this would be the second kabocha i've roasted with intentions of eating it cold from the fridge.

One of my friends, who has struggled with ED, said to me, “Eating should be easy.”

And it should. And it’s getting to be again.

I lost my joy in food there for a bit, but it is slowly making its way back.

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Maria March 27, 2013 at 12:36 am

I literally just laughed out loud with the Joey photos. Brilliant.


I emailed you a book.

Debbie (Accidently Delish) March 27, 2013 at 1:24 am

ugh girl this post makes me sad and happy. i’m happy you’re doing better, but sad in the fact that (no offense please) you were worse than i thought. and i mean that out of 100% concern because you know i’ve been there and suffered greatly from an ED. I have finally been pushing those barriers too of eating when i’m hungry and if i’m still hungry even when i think i should be full to honor that as well. i can tell you it gets easier the more you do it and you just have to challenge yourself and make yourself uncomfortable EVERY DAY. because that is the only way it will become the new normal and allow you to listen to your body. let me also tell you this, i have really started listening to my body, eating more, and more often and guess what. i actually lost weight the last time i saw my nutritionist. come to find out my body NEEDED all that extra and just ate it all up. funny how our bodies know better than our brains.

i love you girl and you know i am always here for you.

and give me that crust recipe dang it!!

karen March 27, 2013 at 6:51 am

Fruit Salad…yummy yummy! Oh how we love the Wiggles πŸ˜‰

Keep sharing, I love your blog!!!

Michelle @ Eat Move Balance March 27, 2013 at 7:02 am

I can tell your post is very honest and raw, because you’re not declaring that all changes were easy and/or perfect. That’s okay!! You are definitely making progress, and your honesty is probably one of the biggest steps you’ll take that will impact the transition into a healthier eating style. Good for you!! Keep enjoying all the delicious and wholesome food, and remembering how nourishing and fueling it is for your body.

Liz @ iheartvegetables March 27, 2013 at 7:36 am

THANK YOU for this post, Miss Pember!!! I’ve been working on a similar one. I’ve finally stopped counting calories. Yes, they’re still in my head, but I’m getting better. Honestly, a lot of it has had to do with dating someone… and when you’re going out to eat, cooking together, drinking wine together… there just isn’t time or a realistic way to count calories. (He’s not going to wait on my to weigh an apple we’re about to eat… and I wouldn’t really want to subject him to that.)

But I’ve also noticed how much his support has helped! I hope we can all be that for you! You can do this :) You’re amazing. and I love you Sarah!

Meg @ A Dash of Meg March 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

Beautiful post my love and you have no idea how much I can relate! The thing you said about just grabbing some grapes without weighing them first – freeing – yes! TOTALLY EXPERIENCED THIS RECENTLY!

Like you said, it’s OK to measure some stuff, but when you’re being too picky and weighing right down to the last blueberry, well that’s when it DOES get scary and I am so proud of you for recognizing that, sista!!!!!!!!! <3

Omg you have no idea – I just want to hug you :) <3

Seriously, a big Meg hug! Imagine it :)

I'm just so crazy proud of you and cannot express it enough!

Brittany @ Barr & Table March 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thank you so much for sharing this, with as difficult as I’m sure it was. The more I read recently, the more I realize that so many people are struggling with the same issue, and I’m definitely one of those people. I lose sight of what’s important sometimes but reading posts like this helps me snap out of it. So thank you again.

Lindsey @ Pas de Deux March 27, 2013 at 9:37 am

I’m so impressed with your honesty, both with yourself, and with the blog world :-) Keep up the good (hard) work! So much of what you describe resonates with things I used to do, thoughts I used to have. I am happy to say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you CAN reclaim the joy of eating. Let’s keep talking :-)

Monica March 27, 2013 at 10:17 am

Thanks a lot for this post! I’ve been struggling with the same issue for a couple of months now, and reading this has made me feel so proud of how far you’ve come. You’re definitely right, it’s not easy at all, but if we keep on workin on this, I know we’re going to make it through somehow.

Thanks again for sharing such a personal issue, I know it must have taken you a lot to do it. Keep up the amazing work you’ve been doing so far, I’m here for you =)

Rachel @ painfreekitchen March 27, 2013 at 10:47 am

Know that you are definitely not alone. Interestingly enough, I have the opposite problem. Counting calories is what is helping me overcome an eating disorder. Recently I started to eat paleo for health reasons. And while it’s been great (has helped in so many amazing ways), I got a little obsessive with making sure that everything fit this new style of eating. And it brought back some terrible habits. The biggest being binging…
I would restrict and restrict and then suddenly I would say F it and have a giant piece of whatever. Cake, ice cream, fried food. Which of course was terrible for my body (gluten, dairy….too much sugar). But also terrible for my self esteem.

So instead, for the last few weeks, I decided to log in everything I ate into myfitnesspal. This has actually helped me make sure that I’m spreading my calories throughout the day. And it’s helped me with binging. Seeing a 800 calorie addition to myfitnesspal has been enough to get me to stop (well…stop having them as often). This might turn into it’s own obsession in the future, but for now it’s working.

Know that recovering from bad eating habits/eating disorders takes a long time. I personally think that no one is ever fully “healed.” But also know that if you slip up, or see yourself going down a bad path, there are so many of us that you can reach out to for a helping hand :)

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table March 27, 2013 at 11:27 am

Easy eating is the way to go. When food become not fun… well, it’s a sad day.

I’m with you on the food weighing – it’s just easier took like that. Protein pwder, flour, etc… I’m too lazy for measuring cups!

Haley @ fullnfit March 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I am proud of you, girly! Nice work–calorie counting is a horrible obsession. I was there & struggle with it, but life is too great to spend it counting.

I love your honesty :) Happy Wednesday!

Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! March 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Wow. It’s a little scary how much I can relate to this post. I started calorie counting with myfitness pal *after* I had finally freed myself of most food rules, as I have no concept of feeling full, and was emotional eating as well. Tracking worked really well for me at first – I finally learned what a serving size really is, and that I dont need to eat as much as I was to feel full.

But after a while it started to get obsessive and anxiety-producing. I started scaling down my meals to the point where I was hungry all the time – just because that was ONE serving. I was always worried about eating “the right amount” to the point where I would get upset at a restaurant if they didn’t have a meal the fit my needs at that point in time. I got to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore, and had to cut it off.

Now, I keep a food journal for tracking, focusing on how I feel (full, still hungry, overstuffed, high/low energy, upset stomach, etc). I only do this because I know that if left to my own devices, I eat way too much, then fall into a crazy binge/restrict cycle that is bad on all counts.

Eating without the numbers is a bit scary, but it has already been SO liberating! I’m proud to see that you have cut the obsession and made room in your life for more living :-)

Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli March 28, 2013 at 12:23 am

Oh my gosh, Rachel, this is my SAME story!! The way it started out and learning so much from it in those first few months…but then one day it just became more than logging…instead of feeling like a fun “game”, all of a sudden it was a chore. I just HAD to know the numbers matched up to a certain X amount before I could eat. I’ve stopped calorie counting now and just like you am trying to take notes and learn from my “experience” while eating, instead of how the numbers look on paper! It’s trial and error, but I’m getting there! And you’re right…a little scary at first, but now, I feel so FREE! :)

Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl March 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Nice job on the not counting calories goal! I have been working on this myself, and it is definitely tough!!

All of your eats look amazing, too…especially that tofu and veggie scramble! :)

Nadiya @ Milk and Honey on the Run March 27, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. It’s very honest and I can’t imagine how hard it was to push on that publish button :) All that matters is that you take a stand in the right direction. Calorie counting is something that I feel a lot of bloggers struggle with although they don’t admit it :(

Kristen @ The Concrete Runner March 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Hey Sarah, I just want to tell you that I’ve been there. I never ever thought I’d ever stop counting out of fear of gaining weight or getting fat. It wasn’t until I was pregnant and still counting that I knew I had a real problem. Thankfully, I was able to break the counting habit and have been calorie counting free for almost 2 years! It took a long time and I still am a human nutrition calculator, but I’ve learned to rely more on my hunger signals and overeat less than ever. It’s been freeing, really! I also don’t worry about my weight as much either – I think they go hand in hand. Just wanted to wish you luck in your efforts and that I’m here to support you if you ever feel you’re really struggling!

Brittany @ Delights and Delectables March 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I am so incredibly proud of you! This is my 4th time reading this, and I cry everytime. You are an inspiration. I love your raw honesty. You have come so far, and I know you will continue to progress. xoxo emailing you back now…. πŸ˜‰

GiGi Eats Celebrities March 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm

LovE LOVE Roasting winter squash for the sole purpose of eating it cold out of the fridge when I am in need of a snack… Mmmmmmm Butternut Squash with cinnamon! :)

Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli March 28, 2013 at 12:30 am

“…and sometimes even logging in a potential future meal, then deleting it all to see if a different choice would be β€œbetter.” <- Omg, I can TOTALLY relate to this! And heaven forbid I be so hungry that I had to eat my meal BEFORE I tallied everything up…because if I didn't know "the number" before I ate…and I ate it ALL? What if it was too much? What would I do then?! I never even ONCE trusted myself to just stop when I was full…it was ALL about the numbers! Things are certainly looking better now that I've ditched MFP…and just to help so that I don't try to mentally calculate things, I haven't been weighing/measuring ANYTHING for the last few days. I've just been trying to focus on going with "a little bit" at a time…if I want more, there is more, but that way I don't feel that I have to "clean my plate"…ya know?

I'm SO proud of you for coming out with everything and quitting once and for all…honestly, I never even knew you counted before you spoke up. But I want you to know that you were definitely one of the key players in my decision to give up the counting myself! And for that, I will forever thank you! Love you! xoxox

Tricia @ Saving room for dessert March 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

Always proud of you lovely blog daughter :)

Emily March 28, 2013 at 11:59 am

Reading this was like reading a page from my journal. First of all, THANK YOU for writing this post. Secondly, I had no idea – this is the most “raw” look into your life that I’ve seen and I love the vulnerability of it while at the same time cringing because I, too, spend way too much calculating calorie counts in my head. I stopped writing down all my eats a few years ago because it was getting out of control. I’m trying harder to eat until full and to fill my meals with all the gorgeous produce and healthy grains and dairy and protein that I love. But still, I think once a calories counter, always (in some form) a calorie counter. Thank you again, Smart Kitchen (as Big Guy refers to you)!!!!

Megan@eatmybeets March 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Definitely been there. I feel like I had this idea like if I didn’t know exactly how many calories I was eating I was going to suddenly gain lots of weight or something. The silly things I believed. Now I (thankfully)try to focus on just eating healthy meals and snacks rather than staying super-focused on calories. I’ve gone back to counting a couple times (just to see- way long after I broke my thought process of must-count-everything) and realize that my eating habits pretty much stay in a normal range without counting anything. Funny how that works out haha

lindsay March 28, 2013 at 11:12 pm

friend, you are raw, real, and an inspiration! I think anyone who is reading this can see that. In some way, we all are tied to fear issues with food. Too much, too little, allergic, macros, etc. As soon as we realize that it is controlling us, then we can start to live more and break free! One day at a time, not over night, but progress! Love you.

Erin March 29, 2013 at 12:58 am

I was exactly the same way. Oatmeal every breakfast (it actually makes it better on the mornings you have it when you try something new), food fixations, planning my meals around calorie totals. Not free at all. Honestly, I had to seek help to stop. I don’t know your situation in depth but seeking professional help was one of the most powerful, freeing experiences of my life. I have learned so much and been pushed, not only by myself but by my team, to challenge all my old patterns and faulty beliefs. I can tell you have made progress through your post but I encourage you, if you feel like you need an extra push, to seek a counselor or a dietician who counsels.

If anything, I recommend you read the book Intuitive Eating. It will change the way you see food. I PROMISE! And it’s a researched, supported method so it is not only a great way to get out of an eating trap but a great way to learn how our bodies are supposed to eat.

Cheers to the journey you are on. Best of luck.

Allie March 29, 2013 at 9:07 am

Oh man, I have GOT to e-mail you again–I am not having nearly as much success, and sort of “gave up” on not counting…thank goodness I threw out the food scale, or I’d probably be back at that too. Grr, why is it so hard to just mentally give up? Anyway, I am SO HAPPY to hear that you are having a lot of success! And oh man, it really is hardest in the middle of the day, that “saving up” mentality–but like you say, saving for what?? Anyway, expect a “support group” e-mail in your box soon :)

Elise March 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Thank you so much for this awesome post! I seriously can relate to you more than you even know! I, too, am trying to get out of this calorie counting rut. I had been doing strong in my recovery from my ED and had slid backward a bit. But I know that I was in a much better place before and can get there again too. Just like you said, it will always be there in bits and pieces, but I can choose to gain control again and keep those behaviors and thoughts in the BACK of my mind instead of being the only thing I can think of. Thanks for making me gain some sense of hope again and helping me realize that I can do it again, just like I had in the past!

Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning March 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

CUT. IT. OUT. Hahah! Ahh, I used to worship that snow (and the TGIF line-up!).
I think it’s impossible not to still mentally count up the calories, but you know very well that there’s a fine line between counting and obsessing. I don’t know if you’ve ever been overweight, but when you are (or have been), it’s not so easy to just “forget” about counting calories and tracking- because it can be essential for weight loss (and the only way that works). But again, there’s that fine line for sure.

Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets March 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I’m glad to hear you are discovering joy in your food again. Just keep focusing on the joy and working towards that and you’ll be all good. Also change doesn’t happen overnight (for anyone), and I love your honesty about it.

sarah @ sarah learns March 30, 2013 at 12:46 am

you are wonderful and i’m proud of you for working on this change. <3

Cal March 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm

oh my gosh girl. this sounds so much like me. i would go and check calories / sugar / etc. on MFP for a month or two after I quit counting.

I had a HUGE breakthrough yesterday (and I hope you can get there with me soon!). I went running and had no planned route or time-frame or agenda whatsoever. I didn’t keep track of my speed. I didn’t do anything except have my stopwatch going so I could be sure to turn back after so long (since I’m a “beginner” again and dealing with injuries). I set out to run on campus, then ventured off, past my short route (5K), and onto my old fav 8-mile route. I didn’t run the whole thing (also something completely new since I started tracking things 4-5 years ago), but I ran for more than an hour, which is more than I’ve run since Thanksgiving of last year. I think 6-7 miles? Don’t know, and I don’t want to track it.

Keep it up!! I’m so glad you’re working through this too. It’s hard to do it alone.

Alison March 31, 2013 at 10:41 am

Thank you for your honesty :) I just stopped counting calories too! I actually needed to count in order to gain some weight but when I hit a good weight, I still counted and I kept things very structured. I stopped because now I have a knack for how much I need and for listening to what my body needs!

Lele April 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm

You are awesome. Once again. Thank you for your honesty and relatability.
I have lived many of the sentiments in this post. Particularly the “what if there is a giant cake?!” sentiment. Holy crap, have I lived that.
Anyway, you’ll make it. Time and persistence are on your side. Get help of the professional sort if you think you’d benefit (and most people do- I certainly have)!

Amy in Austin April 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I came across your blog via The Lean Green Bean, and have really enjoyed reading through many of your recipes and food ideas. And then I saw that you lived in Austin, and are now in Charlottesville? One on my good friends moved there (from Austin) to teach at UVA. She’s not even close to being used to the weather, but it sounds like a nice place.

Great, honest post. Looking forward to trying out some of your recipes (including that avocado dressing. Yum!)

K April 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Thank you so much for this update. Stopping a cycle of crazy food thoughts isn’t easy…and there will be ups and downs and days we just don’t care enough to resist what has come so habitual. But you can do it…progress, not perfection. πŸ˜‰

Kim October 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Umm did I write that? When I was reading that I was like, “YES, YES, YES, OMG – ME TOO!” I could have wrote that word for word. Just last week I said I’m not doing it anymore. And honestly I feel I’m eating less for the fact that I’m not worried about it anymore. I’m going to eat when I’m hungry and if that means lunch at 10:30am, I”m going to do it! Your body really does have it’s own counting system and if just eat healthy it really stays in sync and won’t let you eat more then you want. Do I have sugar cravings? Sure I do. Do I give in now? Of course I do and I enjoy it more then ever. I even said screw the scale too! :) It’s amazing giving up counting calories. I just wish I did it years sooner!

Sarah October 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I’m so glad you found this post, and so glad you can relate! It never ceases to amaze me how something so ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ can become disordered and mentally difficult, straining, unhealthy. I still struggle with restraint and the diet mentality in general, and every now and then catch my mental calculator rolling, but I know I have come SO FAR and am much happier (and healthier) for it. :)

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