freedom from counting

I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile but I’ve really struggled putting words on paper blog.  It’s not that I’m embarrassed in any way (anymore), it’s just trying to figure out exactly what to say to explain how far I’ve come in the past 2 years.

For almost 4 years, I kept 5-subject notebooks to keep track of almost every single morsel of food that crossed my lips.  In those notebooks lies thousands of calories meticulously added up and analyzed, workouts planned and executed, and pounds of weight I’ve put on and taken off.  They were the source of many tears, pent up anger, and underlying fears.

If you haven’t realized, I am a very Type A person.  I obsess over very little things and want to have control over every single aspect of my life.  Obviously, it’s pretty hard to control everything that happens, but one thing that I could control was food.

I actually started counting calories in college.  When I was put in a boot for a stress fracture and could no longer run, counting calories became my way of overcoming my fear of gaining weight.  I had always been an athlete and when I went to college, I took up running, so I never really had to worry about my weight.  Take away that activity and I was scared.  Scared that I’d become an out of shape couch potato just because I couldn’t run.  So, I bought a $10 desktop program for my computer and my calorie counting began.

I became obsessed with it.  I looked up the calories on every single thing that I ate.  I started worrying about going out to eat or going to gatherings with friends and family out of fear that I wouldn’t know exactly how many calories I ate and would thus get fat.  If I ate something that was high calorie (something that I deemed “bad” for me), all bets were off and I gorged myself.  There were nights I would spend in the bathroom crying because I had eaten so much and wanted to puke because I was over my “calorie limit” but just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  At one point, I had overindulged on cookies and was so distraught over it, I went to the rec center and did the elliptical for an hour to burn off those calories.

Thankfully, that was the extreme point of my calorie counting obsession.  I actually stopped counting calories after college – until I gained almost 10 pounds in the few months after Matt and I got married.  That fear that I was trying to avoid had become a reality and I knew that the only way I was going to get that weight off was to start counting calories again.  That’s when the notebooks started.  I recorded my workouts, my meals, and my weight every single day.  I would spend my nights on the couch planning out the next day, making sure that I was under my calorie goal, and measuring and counting every single thing I made for the next day.

I looked forward to writing in my notebooks every single night.  It was relaxing for me.  But, I still had the same issues I had in college – worrying about “bad” foods, overindulging when I knew I was going over my calories anyway, and just plain obsessing about every single thing I put in my mouth.

I knew I seriously had a problem when I was still counting calories while I was pregnant with MacKenna.  Especially when I was dealing with food aversions and only wanted French fries and bagels with cream cheese.  It wasn’t until we went on vacation that summer that I took a week off counting calories, ate everything I wanted and still felt great about myself that I was finally able to give it up.

I started eating what I wanted.  I started actually listening to my body:  what it craved, how foods made my body feel, when I was starting to feel full.  Pregnancy was LIFECHANGING for me in regard to how I eat.  It made me not only appreciate my body more, but it made me appreciate food more.  I no longer needed to eat a salad every single day.  I no longer needed to avoid eating French fries when we went out to restaurants.  I no longer worried about one day of overeating.  I knew I needed to eat what I craved and eat ENOUGH food to provide my baby the nutrients she needed to grow and develop in the womb.

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(Sidenote:  I know I am probably crazy thinking this, but I feel like my counting calories at the beginning of my pregnancy is why she was so small when she was born.  I know it’s not true because Matt’s family has the tiny genes, but I can’t help still thinking that.)

I’ve only tried counting calories maybe once or twice since having MacKenna – just to help lose some of that baby weight – and quickly realized just how time consuming and simply annoying it was for me.  There is no way I’d have the amount of time to sit with my notebooks every night like I used to (I’m sure Matt is happy I’m no longer doing that too) now that I have a little one to chase after all the time.

I don’t have any “bad” foods anymore.  I will happily eat ice cream every single night to satisfy that craving.  I don’t nearly overeat as much as I used to since I am able to actually listen to my body for when I am starting to feel full.  I feel a complete and total freedom from the control that food had over me.  I’m still a human calorie calculator – ask me any food and I can probably tell you how many calories is in it – but I don’t care nearly as much as I used to.  Overall, I am so much healthier physically and mentally and am so much happier in general now that my life isn’t controlled by what I put in my mouth.

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What are your feelings on counting calories?  Do you or have you ever counted calories?

  • I watch my calories but don’t obsess about them. I mostly watch them because I am a runner and want to be sure I am eating enough compared to the calories I burn especially on a long run. I did do an experiment last week and wore my heart rate monitor all week to get a good BMR reading to help with watching my calories.
    Dana @momrunshalf recently posted..Tasty Tuesday

  • jen

    the extent to which i can relate to this scary..only i started counting calories at 9 years old. it was something i learned from watching my mom and i’ve always struggled to not be overweight. i have journals from back then of all my calories with notes scolding myself for eating “bad” foods. it only got worse as i got older and in jr high school i started using laxatives as a way to make myself feel better about eating when i couldn’t bring myself to throw-up. i am now 8 months pregnant with our 3rd child and i truly believe that God has used each pregnancy to heal another part of my heart and break me free from that trap. i have counted calories for about a month or so after each of my pregnancies but other than that not at all. it feels like putting myself in prison at this point and i never, ever want to go back to that old way of thinking and living. it made me and everyone close to me miserable. i do think it is a good tool for losing weight in a healthy way..but i know for me it is a slippery slope that i have to be cautious of.

    thanks for sharing 🙂

  • I’ve counted calories several different times in the past. I never get too carried away or attached to it but it’s just kind of kept me accountable for what I was eating.

    I honestly don’t care when I’m pregnant. My body holds onto everything and I end up gaining a lot. I just try not to worry about it. It’s come off rather easily both times already so I’m just accepting it. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I don’t live off salads but I don’t eat complete garbage either. I stay as active as I can and try to make the best choices I can, and that’s good enough. 🙂

    I mostly just try to focus on being active and making good choices. Eating when I’m hungry, stopping when I’m satisfied. I try not to be obsessive about it, I want to set a healthy example for my kids. That it’s okay to have dessert sometimes, but make sure you make good choices throughout the day.
    Verna recently posted..Avery

  • Lee

    First off, I’m sure that’s not why MacKenna was small! And if it makes you feel better, I was only 5 lbs 9 oz when I was born (a week late) and now I’m 5’7!

    I have been doing Weight Watchers but that’s because I legitimately wanted to lose the 10 lbs or so that I’d gained over the past few years. I’m kind of relaxed about it though and just enter estimates of stuff all the time, and sometimes don’t enter it at all.
    Lee recently posted..Drinks and Indian Food

  • Sarah

    Thanks for sharing your story! Calorie counting became really important to me 6 years ago when I first started losing weight — it took me a year and a half but I lost 70 lbs! It was a great tool at that time but afterwards, it did become a source of stress and frustration for me. Over the years since then, I have gained and lost the same 10-15 lbs over and over because I get frustrated, overeat and then guilt myself back into keeping track again.

    I got pregnant in August of last year (I’m due in about a week and a half!) and at first, it was hard to “let go” and do what was best for me and the baby while dealing with food aversions and cravings. However, over the past 9 or so months, I have learned so much about myself and my body and even 38 lbs heavier at this very moment, I feel great! I expected to have more negative feelings about my body but I don’t at all. I have also become a more intuitive eater, I have relaxed many of my “food rules” but I have also found a balance between healthy eating and occasional indulgences (without the guilt). Pregnancy has been a real eye opener for me, just as it was for you!

    I’m really excited to see where the next chapter takes me. I have thought about joining Weight Watchers online this summer to get the baby weight off but if it becomes an obsession or negative thing, I might have to back off. We shall see!

  • Kat

    Thanks for sharing this. i think many of us have been in a similar place and it’s painful. Life is so much better after you let go and realize the result is balance rather than overindulgence.

  • Jen

    Thanks for sharing this honest post, girl! I can’t relate to calorie counting — I’ve tried it but laziness won out over my obsessiveness so it never stuck.

    But I can so, so, so relate to blaming yourself for having a small baby. In my case, I think of everything that happened with fertility drugs and pregnancy and have over-analyzed every tiny detail wondering what I did to make Wyatt small and have colic, reflux, and sleeping issues. I know you know that you did nothing to cause it, but I just wanted to let you know I blame myself, too. Hugs!

  • Thank you for sharing. I used to count calories as well, and it was definitely an unhealthy obsession. I used an app on my iPhone, and I would whip it out every time I was about to eat something. I’ve learned to eat more intuitively and not worry too much about calories.

  • Thanks for sharing. I think it is great that you have been able to get away from all the counting and notebooks. As Jen said above, she started doing it while watching her mom count calories. As mothers of daughters, it is our responsibility and our privilege to be the healthy example that they will their body image from. You are doing an excellent job of that!

  • Amy

    Seriously, good for you. That is not an easy thing to give up, despite how nice it is here on the other side. Think of what a great example you are setting for MacKenna — as well as enjoying the FREEDOM that comes with not being afraid of food anymore! Way to go.
    Amy recently posted..the first year

  • Love the photos. I think calorie counting really works, but I get too strict with myself.

  • This post really hits home with me. For 7 solid years I would restrict my calorie intake to about 1/4 of what I actually should have been eating and if I went over that goal I would either hit the gym or do something else to take care of it. It finally took a big wake up call around 8 years ago to bring me to my senses. I threw out the scale and couldn’t go near a gym. I gained some weight because my body was so messed up and only in the last four years have I been able to really get fit in a healthy way. Hopefully I will never revisit that part of my life! Thanks for sharing!

  • Julia

    I’ve been pm Weight Watchers since summer 2005. I lost about 20 pounds on it and I felt/feel great. I’m still on it and probably will be for life. I find it strange to think of me counting everything I eat 5 years from now and it makes me think I’m a bit crazy but I don’t want to gain the weight back and I think that if I stop tracking I will gain it back. I do feel like I can eat what I want and I still indulge so it’s not that restrictive..but still obsessive. Thank you so much for this post. I loved it.

    • Julia

      and your site works now for me!!