Is obsessive calorie counting holding you back in recovery?

Catherine Liberty's picture

Ever felt like all of that obsessive calorie counting is holding you back in recovery? If so then this week’s special recovery article is for you.

Of course for a time you may feel that the only way you can cope with recovery is to continue counting calories and that’s perfectly fine. 

Initially in my own recovery I did rely on looking at the calories in different foods in order to work out how much food to include in each meal and snack. At the time I didn’t have a clue about nutrition, but I knew how calories worked so it seemed like a good idea. 

However there comes a time when you have to take the plunge and wave good-bye to those calorie counting days forever. It’s not easy, especially if you’ve been obsessively monitoring your calorie intake for years. But if you're following Bulimia Help's online bulimia treatment then you'll already know that we see it as an essential part of recovery. 


Why is it so important to stop calorie counting?

Calorie counting can be a destructive force in anyone’s life but that is especially true if you are trying to recover from bulimia. 


  • When you count calories you are more likely to make restrictive food choices.

  • Sticking to ridged and unrealistic calorie limits encourages you to ignore natural hunger and satiety cues. 

  • Counting calories allows your fear of specific foods to continue to deepen. 

  • Counting calories can encourage you to become socially isolated. 

  • Calorie counting is exhausting, both mentally and physically. 

  • Counting calories reinforces the lack of trust you have in your body’s ability to tell you what it needs


The truth is that when you calorie count you are a lot more likely to fall victim to powerful binge urges –something we are desperately trying to avoid in recovery. 


Don't worry if the idea of stopping calorie counting leaves you feeling overwhelmed

You shouldn't try to make a drastic change too soon, in fact the best thing you can do is to make gradual, manageable and realistic chances to your calorie counting behaviour.

Here are 5 steps that could really help you to break free from obsessive calorie counting behaviours.


Step 1: Ditch the tools of the trade

Do you always carry around a notepad to record you calorie intake? Perhaps you keep charts and logs, have a calculator on hand at all times in the kitchen or even have a fancy mobile app that does all of those things for you? 

Your first step in banishing this destructive force from your life is to have a good clear out of all of those things. Throw away the notepads, delete the apps, remove the calculator from the kitchen and make a promise to yourself that you will never again calculate calories in this way.

Tip: Whether you feel ready to completely stop calorie counting at this point or not, take the plunge and ditch those recovery barriers anyway! 


Step 2: Ban daily totals (stop adding numbers together)

Another powerful step is to stop calculating daily calorie totals. If you still feel the need to count the calories in each meal then do so, but really try to avoid the urge to add them together. This helps you to start to break free from the obsessive cycle of calorie counting. 

Step 3: Challenge yourself one meal at a time

As you know, we make more progress in recovery when we make gradual changes. So  challenge yourself to stop calorie counting for just one meal each day. 

Example: You could start by not counting the calories in your breakfast for an entire week.  

Step 4: Move from “specifics” to “approximates” 

If you’re anything like me then you’ll probably have a pretty extensive knowledge of calorie contents in general and this can come in useful.  Stop reading nutrition labels and instead use the knowledge you already have of foods to approximate how many calories are in each meal and snack. This way you still have a rough idea of the calorie content, but again you’ll find yourself one step closer to removing the obsession. 

Tips: Black out nutrition labels on the food in your cupboard, switch brands on certain items and don’t review the label, buy unprocessed foods with no nutritional labels and cook from scratch or even get someone else to prepare your favorite meal. 

Step 5: Shift your thought focus 

Knowledge can be a powerful weapon in the fight against calorie counting. Each time you eat a meal or snack, rather than fixating on the calorie content, instead start to think about all of the wonderful benefits of eating that food. 

Example: If you found yourself in a panic over the calories in a pasta dish, instead think about the actual food you are eating. Remind yourself how carbohydrates are very important for brain function and help you to produce feel good chemicals; how the fat in olive oil can help with the absorption of nutrients from vegetables, feelings of satiety and heart health, and so on. 

Tip: Shifting your focus in this way takes time, but the more you practice thinking positively about the foods that you eat the more natural this way of thinking will become. If you don’t know much about nutrition, or the benefits of foods you’re eating then The Bulimia Help Method is a perfect place to start! 

I really enjoyed learning about different foods in recovery, although you should be careful to protect yourself against diet and weight-loss sites when conducting your own research. 


Calorie counting is a ritual of reassurance that you do NOT need in order to recover and something that you certainly will NEVER need in order to eat intuitively.  

If you feel that you can’t continue with recovery unless you count calories then of course, for now you should continue. But think about trying step 1 and continue with the aim of reducing calorie counting over time, knowing that your ultimate goal is to cease counting calories all together. 

It’s important to remember to persevere with different strategies in recovery. There is no magic fix, and when calorie counting has been such a large part of your life the feelings, desires and urges you feel to calorie count won’t just disappear overnight. 


A final thought…

If you’ve found different strategies useful when stopping calorie counting then I’d love to hear about them. If you’re a member of Bulimia Help why not leave a comment under this post or write your own blog on the topic and help others to learn from your recovery experiences?



JoBlogs's picture
How do I counter the

How do I counter the obsessional thoughts if I don't note my foods?
I can guess many foods but if I'm home weigh most things unless pre-portioned :s
I'm slowly reducing this but really struggle if I don't note what I've had, my brain is like that children's memory game where u have to remember an item for every letter of the alphabet... :c


neenaa's picture
This is going to be a giant

This is going to be a giant struggle for me. I eat the standard same foods because i have all the calorie content memorized. I am going to have to find new foods and this might be a challenge, but it would be nice to start enjoying a variety of foods rather than the standard diet foods I've been eating for years.

More suggestions on this topic would be great!


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