Counting calories is a habit I encourage my clients to break. Instead of counting and adding up everything the eat with feelings of guilt and shame wrapped up in the process, I teach them to just eat real food. Eat food that is whole, and that makes them feel nourished. My new lovely intern, Sierra B wrote this beautiful article about her experience in counting calories, and I wanted to share it with the NourishMint tribe. Thank you Sierra!

For anyone trying to change their lifestyle in some way, there is often a starting point or something to inspire the change. I have been on my own sort of health quest for some time, and in the very beginnings of my journey, I religiously counted calories. I downloaded one of the many apps onto my iPhone to keep track of my calories after a friend told me about it. It seemed convenient. Everything is tracked for you, it’s all on your phone, which I tend to always have on me. I had a daily limit for my calorie intake, and I logged everything – I mean everything – every snack, every meal, every drink, every vitamin, every pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

The way it worked is it had a database of almost any food you could think of – produce, packaged foods, and even some restaurant menu items. You can search for your food, or if it has a bar code, you can scan it. They also had a database for exercise. I could enter in exercise to increase my daily limit, including my 10 minute walk to class – that gave me an additional so many calories, allowing for an extra snack or two. When I stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at my phone for about 10 minutes, my roommates knew what I was doing – probably entering in each tedious measurement for the various ingredients in my smoothie… or at night when my phone lit up the inside of the cupboard as I was trying to get the bar code for the box of crackers fueling me through a late night study session. When you complete your log for the day, you are told what your weight might be in a few weeks if every day looked like this one, sort of a little gold star for the day. You can even add friends on the app to view their food and exercise diaries if they choose to let you on their privacy settings.

Really I could go on and on about all the fun little bits about this app, but that’s not what this post is about. I thought counting calories is what really changed things for me, but it was just the start. Not to discredit this method – it did help me re-learn healthy portion sizes, and get a handle on not eating past the point of being full. However, I personally found it time consuming, and difficult to keep up with. Sometimes it was just an annoyance. I hated being the person on my phone right around meal time. It actually brought some feelings of guilt and shame, which is definitely not how I ever wanted to feel about food. I would feel down when I realized the bag of chips I ate threw off my protein-carb-fat ratio or when the meal I had at a restaurant accounted for my whole day’s worth of calories.

Counting calories was just a stepping stone to better health, and quite possibly the catalyst for changing my lifestyle. The biggest change for me came about when I began to be mindful of what I was eating – when I picked quality foods without stressing over the calorie count. Calorie counting helped me learn how much food my body needed, now I needed to give my body WHAT it needed, in terms of food. Foods that nourished my body naturally – foods found close to the source, foods made of ingredients I recognized, foods as minimally processed or refined as possible (if at all), foods that made me feel good. This change was huge. It altered the way I experienced food. It was no longer looking at a meal as a number, but an actual meal. I eliminated the stress of going over my calorie limit. It may seem obvious, but I realized that 1500 calories of junk felt nowhere near as good as a day of nutritious, stress-less, happy eating and the freedom it brought. Now I’m not held to a number, and I don’t restrict myself from anything. Happiness is a huge part of good health, so I feel okay treating myself to something sweet or enjoying drinks with friends. It’s funny because I felt unsure about health and weight loss while counting calories, now I’m quite confident and secure in the health benefits that come from eating mindfully.

I believe in this. Different methods work for different people, and for me, I’ve found much more happiness in eating foods I feel good about and that I know are good for me. Written by Sierra Buckley