Want to Quit Calorie Counting for Good? This Dietitian Shares Her Easy Tips
While calorie counting isn't an inherently bad thing, there are some downsides. "I think for most folks who have a healthy relationship with food as is, it can cause a lot of body mistrust and forces us to eat based on external cues versus internal ones," says Abbey Sharp, founder of Abbey's Kitchen. "No calorie calculator can accurately determine how many calories a person needs so these are estimations at best, and often do more damage than good. In fact, no app or calculation can accurately determine your needs, and your needs fluctuate every day."
On top of calorie counting not being accurate, it might not even help you eat healthier. There are several other ways to eat healthy and stay on track, including getting more sleep, zoning in on your hunger cues and focusing on quality foods over quantity. We spoke with Sharp about calorie counting and her recent Instagram reel with tips on how to quit it for good.
Delete Calorie Counting Apps
This might seem simple, but it is an important first step for committing to stop counting. Otherwise, you might be tempted to pick it back up if you don't feel progress as quickly as you're expecting. Plus, calculators and calorie counts might not even reflect what you're actually eating. "The calories you see on nutrition labels are also notoriously off. A food manufacturer can be 20% off on their calorie counts on labels," explains Sharp. "It's also important to note that every apple will be different and every pound of meat will be different, making actual accurate calorie counting impossible." Getting calorie counting apps off of your phone can help you move away from strict tracking for good.
Unfollow Calorie-Focused Social Media Pages
Another way to help move away from calorie counting is to get it out of sight and out of mind. But seeing pages that consistently post about calories as you scroll social media can bring you back to square one. Since you can't control or filter what other people post, it is best to curate your feed to skip pages that could be triggering to you. Get rid of these unhealthy reminders by unfollowing pages that put so much weight on calories.
Cook from Cookbooks Without Calorie Counts
Recipes that contain calorie counts are not always meant to encourage counting, and for some it's important to know the amount of energy they are consuming at a meal. However, if you are trying to stop calorie counting it could trigger old behaviors. Set yourself up for success by choosing cookbooks that don't include calorie counts for their recipes on the page. This will keep you from mentally tallying up your meals even if you aren't strictly counting. Plus, moving away from a focus on calories can help you appreciate the fresh produce and delicious flavors of a recipe without attaching emotions to the food. For example, Sharp's cookbook The Mindful Glow Cookbook is a great option that scraps the calorie count (buy it: from $23.40, Amazon.com). EatingWell does provide nutrition information for our recipes, which can be helpful, but skip scrolling all the way down if you're trying to avoid calorie counts.
Focus on Whole Foods
When a food doesn't have a label, you can't read the calories it has. Plus, whole foods are packed with nutrients and are the cornerstone of any healthy eating pattern. As an added bonus, they create less packaging waste as well. For example, try choosing whole potatoes instead of box mix of potatoes, or a fresh apple instead of packaged fruit snacks. Try these 30 days of whole food dinners for recipe inspiration.
Cook Like a Chef
Another way to move your focus from calorie counting is to cook without strictly measuring things when you can. In some instances, this might not work, like when you're baking or if you're making a recipe you have never tried before. However, with dishes you are comfortable making, try to estimate versus to measure or weigh foods like you would if you were trying to accurately track them for calorie counting. Taste your food as you cook so you can make adjustments to get the flavor just right, similar to how a chef might cook. (Here are some tips to help you cook without a recipe.)
Calorie counting is time consuming and can take away from the joy of eating for some. "I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with calorie counting for everyone. It's just one tool and what works for one person might be triggering and detrimental for another," concludes Sharp. "If you're able to count calories and not have it interfere with your enjoyment of food and life in general and find that guidance or structure helpful, then I'm glad you've found something that works for you. But I do often hear from people that counting calories was the instigator for an unhealthy relationship with food and body." Instead, try focusing on one of the several other indicators of a healthy eating pattern. These tips from Sharp make it easy to stop counting and start enjoying meals and snacks.