Do I Calorie Count? And Calorie Counting in Recovery

This is one of the questions I get asked most often by members of the recovery community on Instagram, Tumblr, and even in my support groups. “You still count calories?!”

Yes, I do. But let me tell you a secret that ED doesn’t want me to tell you: I wish I didn’t.

Do I think people should in recovery? No. I pretty firmly believe you shouldn’t, unless it’s prescribed by your treatment team, like it is for me.

I have consistently struggled with providing accurate nutrition for my body my entire life, despite being overweight, and then obese, preceding my anorexia. I was raised in an extremely disordered family, my mother being a binge eater and my father mostly absent.  My mother forced me on diets – to compensate for her own overeating – from a very young age (think pre-school and up) to prevent me from gaining weight like her. Of course, this only backfired and in turn caused me to gain weight.

I realize there are infinitely different stories out there, and as part of that there are bound to be many that mimic mine. But the point here is I was never raised with a normal eating pattern that taught me what a good caloric intake is. In fact, for years and years, a “normal” day looked like no more than 1200 for me. Yes, we religiously weighed and measured our foods. Well, to be exact, I did, and my parents supported my doing so under the cover of “dieting”. Others would try to keep up with me, managing it for maybe a week or so, but I have been tracking my food intake and exercise precisely since 2011.

Normally, upon entering the treatment program my parents chose to place me in last summer (they refused to send me to residential) they would take over my food, but because of the history there they were asked to continue tracking my food in MyFitnessPal on their own. Since I was almost eighteen, I was given say in my treatment plan, and I insisted (admittedly entirely ED driven) that I needed to stay involved. So I never missed a day of logging, of analyzing macros, and of course torturing myself over the details of what “massive” increases were occurring.

Naturally, this led to much internal struggling throughout the course of my “recovery”. I put this in quote marks because it was false and faked. A simple facade in order to fool my parents and team. They said I needed to gain x amount of weight in this amount of time, go to so much therapy per week, and I could go to college in the fall. So I did, and so I went. Of course, with this, relapse was inevitable. But…

I was still counting calories. So, my dietitian could see my relapse in progress. She was able to catch me each time before it was in full spiral. I share my MFP logs with her each week. So in short, my dietitian firmly believes she would have lost me completely within a few weeks, probably week one, if it weren’t for my calorie logs. Make of that what you will.

This cycle has happened once or twice per quarter consistently, and I have not been able to maintain within my prescribed healthy weight range, though I am well within the healthy BMI. Do I consider this recovered? No way. Do I consider this recovery? I am working on it. I am definitely making progress!

It also allows me to be more flexible with my meal plan. I can eat larger snacks and smaller meals in order to fit in my meal plan, etc. I can eat a wide variety of foods and feel ‘safe’. I realize that is very disordered, another drawback of allowing myself to stay in such bad ED behaviors.

The biggest drawback to this whole charade is the obsession. This drives my OCD up the walls. I cannot go more than literally twenty minutes without checking MFP to make sure something hasn’t changed, plan out my next snack, alter a meal ahead of time, adjust something, plan out the next day, calculate a new recipe (even ones I’d never make!), etc. This happens while I’m walking to class, talking on the phone, sadly even while I’m in lecture.

I can tell you one thing for certain. If I didn’t count calories there is no way I would still be here at college, I would have full out relapsed by now. I would second guess everything and always choose small quantities of low calorie options. I would not trust myself, with my own personal history haunting my every decision. I feel too alone here to do this, and still too alone even with my parent’s ‘supervision’. But, I’m in this quasi-recovery state while calorie counting as well. It’s quite the dilemma.

My therapist strongly disagrees with it, but she’s new around here. She thinks it’s making my anxiety, depression, and OCD too awful to be worth it. My dietitian won’t do without it, she insists I keep tracking until I can get support and supervision. My general doctor wouldn’t know the first thing to have an opinion on the subject.

Do you still count calories? What does you treatment team suggest? Do they all agree? Let me know in the comments below!