The Illusion of Calories

Today, I made a big decision in my recovery journey. I decided to stop counting calories and truly listen to my body instead. I reached this decision, alongside my therapist, because I was still seeing counting calories as a way of being on a diet. I still felt guilty if I was hungry beyond the calorie limit I had for myself, and I justified eating things only if they fit within my limits. Although I had made big strides in allowing myself different foods and foods not prepared by myself, I cleverly structured my calories so that I could trick myself into thinking I was making more progress than I was. I can’t deny the fact that I still very much thought of myself as somebody who needed to diet, which is why the idea of no longer counting calories seemed impossible to me. Alas, counting calories had gone from a somewhat helpful tool to help me eat enough to one that was hindering my recovery. So today, for the first time in a very, very long time, I have not added up any calorie totals.

It feels….surreal. It feels very strange. This thing that I have clung to, used for reassurance and justification, and relied on so heavily is completely gone. I deleted the app off of my phone, and I have not tallied my foods on a calculator or in my head. The immense knowledge base of nutritional values I have amassed is going to be slow to disappear entirely, I know, but it feels good to not know for sure. It also serves as a reminder that my ultimate goal is to trust myself. When I’m hungry, I’m the one who gets to decide what to eat. No app can tell me whether or not I’m hungry. No app can tell me what food sounds appealing to me. Only my body knows that, and the challenge now is to genuinely listen to its knowledge.

Calorie counting helped me early on in recovery, I believe. The idea of abandoning it before now has felt far too scary. I was still in a vulnerable enough place that I knew I would restrict food far too much if I did not have the false reassurance of a calorie total. But the time has come for me to justify food with hunger and hunger alone. I don’t have to factor in my exercise, I don’t have to think about my entire day’s intakes. If I am hungry, the answer will always be to eat. And without calorie totals running through my brain, I can see food for what it really is. Food is food. That is all. A muffin is not a number. Neither is a cup of lettuce or a piece of cheesecake. They are all food. And whether or not my body wants those foods does not in any way relate to the numbers behind them. I am aware that calories are real units of measurement, and they are somewhat related to our weight, but the obsession that comes from counting them as meticulously as I did is based entirely on an illusion. And it’s an illusion that I’m ready to abandon for a life that is more than numbers totaled on a piece of paper, more than my head buried in my phone’s app at the dinner table, and more than the guilt of choosing ice cream over sorbet. These are not the things that life is made of, and I am on a mission to rediscover the things that truly matter.

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