How to Stop Counting Calories and Trust Yourself Around Food

Beyond the Scale: Prioritizing Health-Promoting Behaviors Over Numbers pic

Written By:


Ryann Nicole

Ah, counting calories—it feels like a safety net, right? For me, it was the one thing that made me feel in control. But here’s the ironic part: even though I was counting calories, I was still bingeing. So, was I really in control? Not at all. Psychologically, it felt like a yes, but in reality, it wasn’t.

And don’t even get me started on the first time my therapist suggested I stop tracking calories. “STOP TRACKING?!” I exclaimed. “If I stop tracking, I’m going to gain 10,000 pounds, my life will be over, and I will die.”

Well, guess what? I don’t track calories now. So, what happened? I’ll tell you—it didn’t happen overnight. But I had a major wake-up call when I realized that if I didn’t learn how to eat without tracking, I’d be tracking for the rest of my life. And I don’t want a life like that. Do you?

I’m guessing no, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So, let’s dive into why it’s so dang hard to stop calorie counting and how to actually stop!

Why It’s So Hard To Stop Calorie Counting

The biggest reason is the false sense of control it provides. We’ve all felt it. Despite a ton of clinical evidence showing that dieting doesn’t work long-term [1, 2], it’s tough to let go of the need to be in control. And it’s not just about controlling food; it’s about controlling our lives. Diet culture constantly tells us that our dream life is just a few pounds away. When we get that body, we’ll have no problems, our lives will be amazing, and happiness will be endless.

But is that really true? Think about it. If that were the case, everyone in the body size we idolize would be perfectly happy, and we know that’s not true. Counting calories feels like a way to control something that seems out of our control—the cards we’ve been dealt—but is it really? Sometimes, just acknowledging this can be the first step toward breaking free from the calorie-counting trap.

Reasons To Stop Calorie Counting

If the reality that you count to stay in control, yet you’re still not in control, isn’t enough to encourage you to stop counting, let’s explore a few other reasons why it might benefit you to say goodbye to counting.

Reduced Stress

Tracking every single thing you eat increases stress. [3] How could it not? It’s stressful to ensure you’re tracking everything, to see the numbers you’ve consumed, and to realize how little food you’re restricted to. By no longer tracking, you eliminate extra stress you don’t need in your day.

Strengthened Mind-Body Connection

What are you doing when you’re tracking everything? You’re literally telling your body, “I don’t trust you. I don’t trust your ability to tell me when to eat and when not to eat.” Which is WILD because that’s literally what our body is designed to do. My 7-month-old daughter doesn’t track calories, I don’t track her calories—so how does she know that she’s getting the appropriate amount of food? By listening to and honoring her hunger and fullness. By no longer tracking, you’re tapping back into that body connection you innately have.

Healthy Relationship with Food

Research shows calorie counting is associated with eating disorder symptoms, due to the unrealistic expectations for our body to need the same amount of calories every day (which is not true) and for our body to function at a lower number of calories than we actually need.[4] By learning how to stop counting calories, you can reduce the risk of developing disordered eating or an eating disorder by cultivating a healthy relationship with food, not only for yourself but for your current or future kiddos too!

Increased Pleasure in Eating

Counting calories immediately takes the joy out of eating because you begin to see food as numbers. And when those numbers are higher than you’re comfortable with, immediate stress, anxiety, obsession. Is that pleasurable? I don’t think so. By no longer tracking calories, you’re able to enjoy a variety of foods without guilt, making meals more satisfying and enjoyable.

Less Weight Cycling

Because of the diet/binge cycle that is so closely connected to calorie counting, counting calories can actually be associated with weight cycling. By no longer counting calories and trusting your body, you’re able to allow your body to settle to a weight that is best for you, your lifestyle, and your health.

The most common question I get when it comes to this is, is it possible to stop counting calories without gaining weight? Ehhh, it depends. It depends on how much healing around your relationship with food you need to do, how much restricting you’re currently doing, and if the current weight you’re at is the best weight for you. What we do know from study after study is dieting is associated with a slowed metabolism and increased risk of weight regain and an increased risk of settling upon a higher set point weight in the long run.

How to Stop Counting Calories

Alright, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: “I hear ya, Ryann, now how do I stop when I feel like these numbers have been literally burned into my brain?” It will take time. But if you’re willing to put in the effort to eliminate the counting, eventually you will be able to see food as food without seeing the numbers too. Here’s where to start:

1. Make it Harder to Track

Before you delete the app off your phone (because if it was that easy, you would have already done it), make it harder to get to. Put the app on the last page of your phone, in a folder, anywhere that takes you a few steps to get to. Will this stop you from using it? No. But that’s not really the point yet. Will it make it just a tad more difficult for you to use it? Yes, and that is what we want.

2. Challenge Yourself to Skip a Day

The next step is to challenge yourself to skip a day here and there of tracking. Again, if it were as easy as just deleting the app, you would have already done it, so let’s build up to that by showing yourself you can go days without the app and be okay.

3. Interrupt Mental Tracking

Despite not using the app to track, your brain will likely still track. This defeats the point if you’re trying to stop tracking. So what do you do? Whenever you notice your brain mentally tallying, interrupt it before you get to a total.

4. Give Yourself Time

Think of this no differently than learning a new skill; it takes time. This won’t go away in a day, in a week, or possibly even a month. That’s okay. Remind yourself what’s on the other side of this—a life without tracking!!

The Stages of Giving Up Calorie Counting

What is it going to be like when you start this process? Let’s discuss it so you know exactly what to expect, so when it does happen, you can think to yourself, “oh yeah, Ryann said this would happen.” Expect this to happen, so then when it does, you know how to handle it.

The Panic (Stage One): Yep, cue panic, stress, anxiety – CAN I REALLY DO THIS?! Yes, you can. This is all normal. You’re doing something different, you’re challenging yourself, you’re moving out of your comfort zone, all typically comes with panic.

The Honeymoon (Stage Two): Once you stop counting calories, you may enter a period of “I want everything!!” This will likely be forbidden foods that you didn’t allow yourself to have when you were tracking, or foods that you only allowed yourself to have certain amounts of when tracking.

The WTF Am I Doing? (Stage Three): As you continue, your pants might actually start getting tight or mentally you think they’re getting tight—whether they are or aren’t getting tight, the fear of weight gain will creep in and that panic is back. You will likely think to yourself, “why am I doing this?!” This is a great point to remember your why: Because I don’t want to track forever!!

The Pushing Through (Stage Four): After you push through the fear, you begin to tap into listening to your body and it starts to feel good, exciting, dare I say freeing? You’re learning. You’re learning how much food feels appropriate in your body. You’re learning how to listen to your hunger and fullness. You’re learning how to eat again, and it feels like you’re on the right path.

The Peace (Stage Five): As you continue, the numbers begin to fade and you start to see food as food. The mental numbers might come up here and there, but it becomes easier to not engage. You are able to trust yourself and your body around food. You have made it!

I think it can be really helpful to hear these different stages because it provides a loose framework of what to expect, so you know it’s coming. Obviously, everybody’s experience is unique, but it can be comforting to hear that this isn’t just you. Again, this takes time. Celebrate yourself along the way. This is hard, but not impossible!! Remember to be kind to yourself throughout this journey.

Must Read Books To Break Out Of The Comparison Trap 

Just so you know, I do review everything I recommend. When you buy through links on this page, we may earn a commission.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle 

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

⚠️ Trigger Warning: spicy language and some weight loss talk

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga 

A thought-provoking self-help book that explores the profound teachings of Alfred Adler through a unique Socratic dialogue. It delves into the principles of happiness, relationships, and personal growth, challenging conventional beliefs and encouraging readers to embrace their individuality with courage and wisdom.

The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery by Brianna Weist 

This is a book about self-sabotage. Why we do it, when we do it, and how to stop doing it—for good. Coexisting but conflicting needs create self-sabotaging behaviors. This is why we resist efforts to change, often until they feel completely futile. But by extracting crucial insight from our most damaging habits, building emotional intelligence by better understanding our brains and bodies, releasing past experiences at a cellular level, and learning to act as our highest potential future selves, we can step out of our own way and into our potential. For centuries, the mountain has been used as a metaphor for the big challenges we face, especially ones that seem impossible to overcome. To scale our mountains, we actually have to do the deep internal work of excavating trauma, building resilience, and adjusting how we show up for the climb. In the end, it is not the mountain we master, but ourselves.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.