I was 16, babysitting the kids down the street, flipping through some sort of women’s health magazine after the kids went to bed. I read page after page of diet advice and meal ideas, tied into a magical 1,200 calorie-a-day meal plan. If you’ve picked up any women’s magazine in the past 15 years, you’ve probably seen one of these diet plans. It’s so simple, right? 300 calories at breakfast, 400 calories at lunch… glossy pages showcasing perfectly proportioned egg whites with 7 almonds on the side.
As a high schooler who felt completely awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin, this seemed like the perfect solution. It was so simple. You just count the calories, make sure they add up to a magic number, and then you win. Follow this formula to be confident and happy, plus you’ll get abs like the woman on the cover.
Photos via Alexa Marie Photography
Except it’s not that simple. Because what starts as something simple takes on a life of its own. It’s suddenly not about the food, it’s not even about your feelings. It’s about the numbers. The numbers on the box, the numbers in your little calorie tracking app, and the numbers on the scale. I’d spend countless hours calculating, adding, subtracting, making sure I was fitting into this perfect formula, based on an arbitrary number than I read in a magazine.
Rather than gaining confidence and abs, I lost the joy of eating. I wanted everything to fit into the perfect formula that I was seeing in magazines and reading on the internet. I ate things I didn’t enjoy because they were the right number. I wish I could go back to 16-year-old me (and even 21-year-old me) and tell myself to let. it. go.
It’s been a process. A process that I wasn’t even really aware of until I took a step back and saw how much had changed. I went vegan in 2012, which is how I got into blogging. (You can read more of that here!) My vegan experiment lasted 6 months, in an attempt to lower my cholesterol. While it didn’t work in lowering my LDL, it did open up a new world for me. I poured over books like Food Politics, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eating Animals. These books had a completely different message. It wasn’t about the number on the box, it was about the ingredients inside. It was about how they made me feel, physically and mentally. I started thinking about what I was really feeding my body, rather than the number of calories it contained. I realized that 100 calorie pack of Oreos and 100 calories of an apple aren’t the same thing. I began to realize there was a deeper sense of joy that I was missing because I’d let food completely stress me out.
As I started to gain a new appreciation for ingredients and food quality. I started letting go of food rules. I read Intuitive Eating which helped me build a new perspective on what it means to fuel your body with what it’s asking for. It taught me that food doesn’t have control over me and I don’t need to spend my time and energy fighting it. I deleted the calorie tracking apps off of my phone and I stopped choosing my groceries purely based on the calorie counts. I started following more bloggers who remind me that life is so much more that calories.
It’s been a big shift over a long period of time and it wasn’t until recently that I looked back at how far I’ve come. I hesitated to put this out on the blog, but I realized that this is a fundamental change in how I think about food. It’s certainly impacted what I blog about and it’s changed the way that I think about food in general. And if there’s anything I can do to save one more person from the obsession of calorie counting, then I’m here to share!
While I’m certainly not an expert by any means, here are some of the resources I mentioned that really helped me change the way I thought about food and counting calories:
- Intuitive Eating – This book is one of the absolute best if you’re sick of dieting or you feel like your relationship with food is out of whack.
- In Defense of Food – I love Michael Pollan and his perspective on food and ingredients is one that’s shaped the way I think about what I eat.
- Georgie has a podcast that covers tons of wellness topics, including this one!
- Alexis has also talked a lot about this and I loved this post she wrote.