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How To Stop Counting Calories

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Calorie counting can be an addictive behavior that decreases our overall quality of life. It can be difficult to know how to stop counting calories when it can sometimes feel like an actual part of our identity and security.

To stop counting calories you need to:

  • Identify why you are counting calories
  • Determine fear foods associated with calorie counting
  • Get clear about what calorie counting rules you have (for example, I don’t eat lunches over 500 calories)
  • Identify where food guilt is coming from
  • Make peace with food and follow an intuitive eating journey

Calorie counting is a common result of diet culture and eagerness for the thin privilege that exists in our western societies.

Calorie counting is harmful because it can lead to:

  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Restricted eating
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Food avoidance
  • Eating disorders

In this article we’ll explore the addictive nature of calorie counting, why we might find calorie counting attractive, and how to stop counting calories for good.

Can I Be Addicted To Counting Calories?


Calorie counting CAN be an addiction. If you feel the urge to change what you eat or how much you exercise based on the number of calories in a food, you’re probably addicted to calorie counting.

Calorie counting can be extremely dangerous to both our mental and physical health. 

You are addicted to counting calories if:

  • You must know the calorie content of every meal
  • Not having a label on food gives you anxiety
  • You have a list of good foods and bad foods that you decide based on the calorie content
  • You refuse to keep certain foods in the house because of their caloric content
  • You track the calories in your food using an app or pen and paper and are anxious if you miss a day
  • You get anxious if you go over your calorie goal for a meal or the day
  • You refuse to eat certain foods that don’t match your caloric rules

Obsessive Calorie Counting

Eating disorders are commonly associated with obsessive calorie counting

Some eating disorders where calorie counting often shows up include:

There is no one way way calorie obsession shows up.

Obsessive calorie counting usually comes with:

  • A desire to lose weight
  • Wanting to change the body shape
  • An unhealthy relationship with exercise
  • An obsession with “healthy eating”, “eating clean” or “eating organic”

What Are Some Ways Calorie Obsession Shows Up?  

Counting calories can be sneaky.  Calorie counting usually shows up in that we: 

  • Only allow a certain number of calories for each meal or snack. 
  • Allowing a specific number calories to be consumed per day
  • Only permitting a certain number of calories from each macronutrient group
  • Limiting the total number of calories that come in the form of “junk food” per day or per week.

Is It Bad To Be Obsessed With Calories?


An obsession with calories will lead to: 

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Feelings of Inadequacy
  • Disordered eating or eating disorders

There are certain instances where having knowledge surrounding caloric intake can be valuable or even necessary for health and safety. 

These may include: 

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Extreme sports performance

In these instances, our calorie needs are higher. It might be necessary to count calories for a span of time because our hunger/fullness cues may not match what our body needs to heal or perform. 

However, there is a fine line between calorie awareness and calorie obsession. It’s important if you are noticing negative thoughts or emotions if you are tracking calories.

If you are currently experiencing an eating disorder or have had an eating disorder in the past, you should refrain from counting calories. Your healthcare team can give you a meal plan that does not include calories as a measuring unit to meet your increased energy needs.

How To Stop Counting Calories Cheat Sheet
How To Stop Counting Calories

How To Stop Obsessing Over Calories

Instead of counting calories, here are some things that may work. 

  • Delete any calorie-counting apps
  • Write down why calorie counting no longer serves you. 
  • Change the word “calories” to something meaningful (for example- Energy, fuel)
  • Change the word calories to something meaningless (Michael Myers points)
  • Cover nutrition labels
  • Be present at each meal. Consider the taste/textures of food. 
  • Use an intuitive eating hunger scale. 
  • Create an alter ego and give it a name (for example- Fred). When you have. the urge to calorie count, blame Fred and kick him out
  • Give yourself a time limit when shopping at the grocery store

It’s important to note that when you stop counting calories you may feel: 

  • a loss of identity
  • lack of control
  • overwhelmed
  • undisciplined
  • unworthy
  • unlovable
  • chaotic

Working with a haes dietitian and mental health counselor can help you create a more positive relationship with food that does not involve counting calories.

How To Stop Calorie Counting In Anorexia Recovery

Why Might Someone With Anorexia Calorie Count?

When we have a restrictive eating disorder, it can be very difficult to stop calorie counting.

Calorie counting is appealing to peopl with restrictive eating because:

  • calorie counting is very specific unlike eating food when we are hungry and full
  • they may see reducing calories a way to lose weight
  • Calories are an easy thing to manipulate to help us feel in control of our world
  • Difficult emotions can be masked by forming rules about calories and rituals around our foods

Someone with anorexia may feel as though calorie counting offers predictability that will keep them safe, even in recovery.

Recovering From Calorie Counting In Anorexia

Most people in anorexia recovery do not have appropriate hunger and fullness cues. This makes it critical to work with a healthcare team to make sure someone weight restoring from anorexia is getting enough to eat.

The person with anorexia also likely has a very lout eating disorder voice (inner dialogue) that will make it very difficult to resist the temptation of counting calories.

In addition to the strategies like covering labels and deleting calorie counting apps, someone with anorexia nervosa will likely need:

Even if someone with anorexia does not have access to calorie information, they will likely still count calories in their head or search calories online at a later time.

It is important to know this is a normal part of recovery, but all measures should be taken to disrupt this calorie counting behavior. These eating disorder recovery books can be helpufl tools to support you on your journey.

You might also find these power eating disorder recovery quotes or body positive journal prompts beneficial for days when the urge to count calories feels overhwelming.

Will I Gain Weight If I Stop Tracking Calories?

It depends.

Your weight is based on dozens of factors. Some of these factors include

  • Genetics
  • The climate you live in
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Access to healthcare
  • Access to resources
  • Activity levels
  • Food access
  • Digestion rate

One of three things will happen as you stop calorie coungint when it comes. to weight. You will either lose weight, gain weight or your weight will remain the same.

There is absolutely no way to tell which direction your body will go in. This is true even if you end up increasing your total food intake through the day.

Its important to practice body neutrality and ways to respect your body, regardless of where weight ends up once calorie counting is dicontinued.

Time needed: 30 minutes.

How To Stop Counting Calories

  1. Cover Nutrition Labels In Your Home

    Use a sticker, tape, or marker to cover labels in your home. You can also peel off labels. It is also an option to immediately place food with a label in another container once you get home.

  2. Delete any calorie counting apps

    Calorie counting apps are addicting in many ways. Many people feel dependent on them to guide their eating through the day. Many apps also have reminders that have you constantly obsessing over calories.

  3. Change the Word Calories To Something Meaningless In Your Head

    For example, I bet this cookie has about 200 harry styles points.

  4. Count Other Things In The Room

    If you get the urge to count calories, count colors, plants, magazines or pens in a jar instead.

  5. Create Yourself An Alter Ego And Give It a Name

    Then every time you have the urge to count calories blame it on the alter ego. “Shoot! Fred’s counting calories again!”

  6. Give Yourself a Time Limit While Grocery Shopping

    This helps eliminate the urge to hyper focus on calories in the grocery store.

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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