How to stop counting calories and listen to your body
Why tracking points, calories or macros may not be ideal
In just about every weight loss diet, there is a form of counting. Whether it is counting points, calories and/or macros, counting will reduce your ability to listen to your body. The why behind counting is appealing – it can help with accountability and understanding of what we are consuming – but once we start counting, we forget about listening. Our body will tell us what to focus on, or when we have had too little, enough of or too much of a number.
Some individuals are much more oriented towards numbers and see numbers as a way of understanding their body. Unfortunately, the body is not black and white and will not fit into a perfect equation. There are many factors that contribute to what the body needs in a day. These factors include immune function, digestive function, genetics, exercise, metabolic rates, stress, sleep, day to day activities (such as walking, stairs, cleaning, changing clothes) and reproductive function. Without a perfectly controlled laboratory setting, the calculations that are used to determine goal numbers will have errors. These numbers are estimates and are not as credible as what your body tells you.
The Growing Concern with Calorie Counting in Schools
It has come to my attention in the last few months that more and more health programs in schools are including calorie counting assignments for their students. The feedback I have received from clients and colleagues and friends whom I have had discussions with regarding the topic has been that these assignments lead to shame about one’s diet and harmful attention being placed on body size.
I have had multiple individuals tell me how an assignment they did in school was the start of a long struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food and their body. The feedback I have received is unanimous: schools need to stop counting calories because the focus on calorie counting at a young age is contributing to growing numbers of eating disorders and mental health struggles as they relate to food and health.
I understand that the intention behind these assignments may be simply to educate about food and nutrition, but I encourage educators to look at using alternate ways to teach these lessons rather than having students counting calories. I want to emphasize that nutrition and understanding how to feed the body is about so much more than calories.
What to Track When You Stop Counting Calories
Going back to the initial purpose of counting and tracking, the core goal is accountability and awareness. The biggest concern many individuals have is they want to have accountability to help with motivation. There are ways to keep motivated without having to track a single number!
Track your hunger with your food
- I suggest that if you are still interested in keeping a food journal, ditch the tracking apps and go back to pen and paper.
- Tracking food without the numbers but with how you are feeling throughout the day is a great tool that can be used for reflection and awareness.
- Track your hunger and fullness, energy, digestive symptoms and feelings towards food; these will help with getting back to listening to your body in a more intuitive manner.
Use what we at Health Stand Nutrition call the “Timing Technique”:
- Provide yourself with a basic timing plan that can give you a guide and reminder to direct awareness to hunger and what the body may be saying.
- I suggest writing this out and have it somewhere that is visible to you throughout the day.
- A general guide is to aim to eat every 3-5 hours to maintain energy and metabolic function. Here is an example:
- 8:00am Breakfast
- 12:00pm Lunch
- 3:30pm Afternoon snack
- 6:00pm Supper
- 9:00pm Before Bed snack
- Give yourself permission to listen to the body and eat when it is physically hungry and to also wait. Try to not go longer than 5 hours without food as this can lead to low blood sugar that can cause cravings, fatigue and poor focus.
It’s OK to delete those tracking apps, stop counting calories and find freedom in listening to your body again! It is a powerful tool all on its own that rarely gets the credit it deserves.
If you need assistance with establishing a healthier relationship with food and learning to eat more intuitively, our experienced Dietitian team can help. Contact us for private one on one nutrition counseling assistance.
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Sports Nutrition, Fertility/Women's Health
Empathy and kindness are two things you will notice about Alison, oh, and her love of good food and sport! Alison is known for her client-centered approach that looks at a person as a whole in all aspects of physical, mental and spiritual health. She specializes in eating disorders, emotional eating, sports nutrition, fertility and women's health.