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12 Good Reasons to Stop Counting Calories and Start Living

It's time to stop counting calories and start to eat intuitively, without dieting or deprivation.

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Content Note: This article talks about Eating Disorders. 

I used to count calories when I was 19. It was the unhappiest time in my life. I was restricting food intake and obsessively exercising— caught up in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and rumination. Memories of that time bring tears as I write.  

I know how I started down that road. I was desperately sad and found solace in devising a plan to 'fix myself'. It started with small rituals, counting calories, cutting out meat, and running 15 minutes daily. But it grew into a monster that would take over my every waking thought 15 minutes became 2 hours, and so it goes. If I didn't follow my ritual, I was 'bad', a failure, and I'd go doubly as hard the next day to make up for it. Monitoring and counting every bite.   

That time is long gone. I'm lucky, but not everyone is.

Today's culture and messages around dieting, valuing thinness, and bullying are just as damaging for young people as 30 years ago. Only now, there's the added bonus of social media and endless filters to blur our reality of what's normal. Disordered eating and eating disorders start innocently, and while counting calories doesn't always lead to the development of an eating disorder, it's a slippery slope. 

Eating Disorders aside, there are many reasons counting calories is a terrible idea. Let's run through them. If you are currently counting calories, read to the end for some strategies on ways to stop. 

Calorie Counting Moralises Food

Food shouldn't have morals associated with it. It's food, and all food can help nourish us and our bodies in different ways. When we count calories, we start judging our food as 'good', 'bad', 'health' or 'unhealthy'. 

A Loss of Food Enjoyment

When we're busy counting calories, we lose that sense of enjoyment around the food itself. How does it taste? How does the food make you feel? What cultural significance or other meaning does the food bear for you?

Time Spent Doing More Maths

While this might sound silly, it feeds into what we're saying before. We get caught up adding up math around what we're eating that sense of enjoyment and the meaningfulness of the meal or people we are sharing it with gets lost. 

Counting Calories Perpetuates Diet Culture

Counting calories is an action that perpetuates diet culture. Diet culture is a term that describes the societal pressure to be thin, which often manifests in a preoccupation with weight loss.

Negative Impacts on Body Image

The purpose of counting calories is usually to lose weight to change our bodies physically in some way. This process can lead us down a rabbit hole of overly focused on physical appearance as a symbol of our worth rather than our bodies being good for other reasons. 


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Increases Feelings of Food Guilt and Shame

The process of counting calories can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, which is the feeling that one has done something wrong or are bad by eating. Shame is a painful feeling. If we feel ashamed of our behaviour, e.g., eating a 'bad' food we might change to feel better about ourselves. Again a slippery slope. 

Counting Calories is an Isolating Activity

Counting calories is a solo activity and often concealed from others. So it can interfere with our being social with our friends and loved ones. 

Increases Risk to Your Mental Health 

Counting calories can increase anxiety, a distorted body image and an unhealthy relationship with food.

Counting Calories is Inaccurate 

Our body's need for energy from calories in food changes daily, based on a whole range of individual factors. It's not a good practice to be depriving our bodies of the nourishment they need to keep us strong and well. 

Counting Calories Sends a Bad Message to Others

If there is one thing that could convince us not to engage in calorie counting, it's the impact it can have on others. My daughter, a ballet dancer, came to me one day concerned because the other senior dancers at the studio were counting calories and entering them into a book in the presence of other dancers as young as 5 eating lunch in the same room. That's scary stuff.

How to Stop Calorie Counting

If you have been calorie counting, here are some suggestions to stop. If this is becoming problematic and you have a hard time stopping, seek professional help. 

  • Avoid reading food labels
  • Delete any food calorie counting apps from your phone
  • Resist the urge to add calories to your head
  • Throw away any notepads that contain calorie information
  • Stay away from recipe books that report the calorie contents of meals
  • Resist the urge to talk negatively about food with friends and loved ones. 


If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek assistance at the Butterfly Foundation,


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