Tired of Counting Calories? Try this Instead.

Spring is a time of rebirth, of transformation. Can you feel the energy? I felt it last week while wrapping up a 6-month program with a client. I knew that she had transformed dramatically during our time together, but I didn’t realize just how much.

She told me she used to enjoy and feel motivated to “conquer” her weight by reality shows such as MTV’s I Used to be Fat. She dissected with concern the formula of these weight loss shows that networks are currently churning out: participants count calories, obsess over food, slave for hours at the gym and the kicker— alternately beat themselves up or receive abuse from the network appointed “experts.” A client, who had spent more than a decade stuck in a similar cycle with the accompanying emotional toll now told me, “the self-hate, the pushing, the counting, it just doesn’t work. It’s so sad because it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Indeed, she is an example that it doesn’t have to be that way. After six months of working to understand and transform her relationship with food, she ditched her iPhone calorie counting app, no longer punishes her body with grueling exercise and is meeting up with friends for happy hour without anxiety if she will stay “on-track”. But most importantly she feels free.  She no longer lives with the constant insecurity that she’s one “off-track” choice away from a binge. And, despite being in a healthy weight range for her height when we began working together, she still lost 5 pounds.


Lately my research and courses in the psychology of eating, further supported by my own experience and work with clients, has increasingly led me to the conclusion that women lose weight differently than men. Judgment, punishment and “motivation” don’t get you very far…particularly from the chocolate stash. Instead, what works is reclaiming your respect and joy for whole and real foods. On a physiologically level, your stress response decreases, firing up your metabolism. On an emotional level, your preoccupation with food lessens and guilt diminishes, along with emotional eating. The emotional and physiological effects gather momentum from one another lifting you to a healthier place physically and emotionally.

Here are 5 ways to gradually improve your relationship with food. I hope that you will try these on for spring and see a reflection of a lighter body and attitude.

1. When you go “off-track”, focus on how you feel. Notice if you are more tired, sluggish or depressed the next day instead of how many calories you are going to have to burn or restrict.

2. After an occasion of indulgence, don’t swing to the other extreme of restriction. Instead, resume your normal eating habits with an emphasis on eating whole foods and reducing your sugar intake.

3. Embrace your overeating episodes. Use them as research. Identify what triggered the over eating. What other remedies can you think of to soothe the trigger other than food?

4. Restriction doesn’t work.  Find healthier versions of your “guilty” foods as your taste buds upgrade.  And stock them in the house. For St. Patty’s Day, try this gluten-free soda bread.

5. Start making small steps at the things you think will miraculously occur at your goal weight. You may laugh at the following suggestions, but while giggling, think about what images you have in your own head about what will magically happen when you’re thin.

  • Think you’ll be magically chic once you reach x pounds? Start wearing nicer clothes now.
  • Do you think you’ll get a chance to relax on the beach when you’re a size 2?  Start planning a trip to a coast within your budget for this summer.
  • Is your life magically organized and minimalist at your goal weight? Do some spring cleaning now and get rid of everything that no longer serves you. Be ruthless!

The more you focus on these behaviors, the more your weight and sanity improve. I know this not just from research and clients, but from my self. Six years ago, I was suffocated by the restrict-binge cycle and obsessed with “conquering” my weight. Now, as Spring approaches and I pick out jewelry and music for my wedding, I realize the extent of my own transformation: I am ready for the Ball. Not in my wildest fairy tales of darker days, would I imagine myself preparing for my wedding, at the lowest weight of my adult life and happy in my body—all while not obsessing over food or being in “lock down” or “bridal boot camp” mode.

The past few years have taught me that as women, we don’t need fairy god mothers or princes. When we look to understand, support and cooperate with our minds and bodies, we transform ourselves along with our weight. With transformation through our own powers, we don’t turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight or at a plate of brownies.

As the season of rebirth approaches, isn’t it about time?