“Are There, Like, Cals In Gum?”: Life As A Calorie Counter

It should qualify as a skill set.

I was revamping my resume the other day (for my big ole move to Denver tomorrow! P.S. HIRE ME PLZ) and as I was modifying my skills I actually had a moment ((while eating Greek Yogurt and a handful of almonds)), that I smirked to myself and considered including:

  • Fluency in Calorie Counting
    • Sharp cache for all sugar, carb, fat, and sodium grams
    • Extensive fieldwork into the calorie counts of all processed and baked goods
    • Well-versed to all sugar in fruit juices, caffeine, and alcohol

Eating disorders are amazing lil boogers. I was completely focused on perfecting the language of my resume and yet as I glanced down at the yogurt, I caught a SMIDGEN of the label and my brain went all “Beautiful Mind” and added the calories of the almonds and yogurt quicker than I could stop myself.

Not to brag, but I am like the Speedy Gonzalez of calorie counting. My brain doesn’t really retain historical info, or anything actually pertinent or useful- but bloody hell, I can count calories on a plate of food about as quick as Kobayashi can choke down a hot dog.

My work husband and I used to go to the snack bar together every afternoon.

What about this, he’d ask, holding up a package of pop tarts.

xxx calories a piece, I’d say. xx or xxg of sugar.

He’d look at the label. DAMN.

I’d grin, smug with useless knowledge.

What about this Coke? He’d ask, as he waited for it fall from the vending machine.

Coke’s the worst, I’d say. Something like xxg of sugar, xxx cals.

xxx, he’d say excitedly. You’re wrong! Not xxx- but xxx! You’re 10 off!

For 2 years we did this… because the truth is I’ve never really forgotten calorie counting.

When I first got out of treatment, I used to feel guilty as shiz that my brain still automatically scanned food by numbers.

I shouldn’t be doing this, I’d say to myself as I approximated and added up that medium-sized egg with that whole wheat slice of bread.

xx cals for the salt that’s probably on there, I’d think. AND WHAT IF THEY FRIED THE EGG IN BUTTER. Better add xx cals for a tablespoon of butter.

You’re such a liar Lindsey, I’d think. You’re still sick.

What I didn’t really understand then was F-YEAH I was STILL sick. Duh. You don’t snap your fingers and leave a disorder. You don’t just “forget” the calories in food when you’ve memorized them over the course of 8 years.

It’s so unfortunate too. In light-hearted moments, I always joke about what a great Jeopardy contestant I would’ve been had I not ONLY fixated on calorie counting. Sigh- win some; lose some.

And at 16 years old, I chose to fill my brain with Fast Food calorie counts instead of any valuable trivia.

Truthfully, I don’t recall exactly what or when my first calorie count session was. I just vaguely remember that it started with fast food. I was already embarking down the ED road of restricting and puking in the school bathroom, and calorie counting just inevitably fell in line with all that.

I have blurred memories of being 16 and driving to Sonic with my best friend and ordering our typical Grilled Cheese with cheese Tater Tots.

I wonder what the calories of all this are, I thought – having recently decided cheese was”bad.”

This was back before the days of iPhones (otherwise, instant knowledge) and I made some obtuse guess in my head and then went home later and googled it on our desktop computer.




And so started the plunge into the deep end.

For the first couple years, it was only about the calories. I wanted to be under a certain uneducated, unresearched calorie count every day. Didn’t matter what I ate – I could eat 5 candy bars in a day – as long as I didn’t go over this certain number.

I became co-dependent on cereal and granola. Cereal felt like it had less calories in it, and I enjoyed it as a replacement meal at any time of day.

Granola was a bit different. I knew it had higher calorie counts but I had learned about fiber and how high amounts of fiber fill you RIGHT up. ((Also, quite frankly I never measured any of my food back then so I just took blind guesses at serving sizes and convinced myself that half a bag of granola was “probably” 1/4 a cup.))

In turn, it all became a domino effect. Eventually one observation led to another. Granola had high fiber, but at some point I recognized sugar as well.

I googled one too many times and ran down the rabbit hole of “weight fear” that our internet explodes with. Through it, I read articles on the cons of sugar, carbs, fats, and sodium. I read about how Americans don’t understand portion control and how restaurants serve too much food, which aides in our obesity epidemic.

I read it all. In turn, it made me paranoid.


I started to take caution of measurements. I shifted priority from calorie counting to the addition of sugar grams and carbs ((and sodium if it was a soup))

I. Googled. Everything. 

I googled restaurants and if I couldn’t find nutritional info I ate salad without all the condiments and dressing on the side (yah, I was that girl). My favorite website became “Eat This Not That” because they had lists I could addictively shuffle through for hours.

My best friend passed away at 18, and I started to keep food diaries to fill up my time.

When I look back at those bleak couple years after his death, it wasn’t so much the immense amount of grief that propelled me deeper into my ED, but more the loneliness.

I MISSED MY BEST FRIEND. I couldn’t call him; couldn’t feel his affection; couldn’t hear his laugh; couldn’t text him something meaningless.

Yes, I’m an extrovert and had plenty of old friends – as well as new friends I’d made at college – But they weren’t Bradley. No one was Bradley.

Bradley, 2007

And my eating disorder certainly kept me preoccupied from that loneliness… so I calorie counted 10-12x a day. I even picked up a job at the school gym a few months after he died because I reasoned that I was in there all the time so I might as well make some money off it. ((not to mention I figured being around all the fitspo people in the gym would encourage me to WORK. OUT. EVEN. MORE.))

When I felt that wave of grief, I switched my thoughts to food to feel better.

How much have you eaten today? I’d ask myself – starting to count.

x calories for gum, I’d mutter – and so on and so on.

Ah good – I’d think. I’m doing well today.

Or – Ah no. I need to go work out xxx amount of calories after this class.

On it went for years. But as all eating disorders go, it came in waves more turbulent than others.

If I drank wine, I was usually a’ight… well, alright for me: meaning I’d eat and be too tipsy to remember how to count properly. Was I likely eating enough? No, but alcohol was a beautiful way to exhaust the voice.

Even last night to an extent, 2 years later, I went to dinner with a girl who is in the middle of relapsing from a 12-year eating disorder- and at points I found myself getting triggered so WHAT DID I DO? Oh yeah- reached for the wine. I only had a glass the whole dinner, but it’s like the moment I felt that tick, I just straight up went for the Merlot.

…SO. What’s the point of all this? Idk. I never really write with any direct conclusion. I write to just be honest with myself, and in turn hope it relates.

Am I getting better? Hell yeah. Even within the last 6 months, I’ve noticed a difference. But it’s a long go. It’s like if you play soccer for 10 years – you don’t just lose the ability.

I’m not blindly guessing when my work hubs asked about a certain snack food – but I’m DEFINITELY starting to lose that innate ability to guess sugar, carb, sodium, and fat when prompted.

Another positive I’ve noticed: I don’t calorie count meals when I eat out… unless, of course, the meal has the calorie count next to it on the menu and then I do that fun little thing where I judge how much I’ve eaten of the meal and mildly guess what the range might be.

Another big milestone? I don’t count food anymore. I don’t count how almonds I “should” have, or how many strawberries or blueberries I throw into a yogurt.

I don’t ((often)) register when I’ve mindlessly eaten half a cookie, or chomped down on a loose granola bar.

Tonight yo – tonight on my last night in TX before driving to Denver – I ate Texas De Brazil with my family and my ambiguous friendboy – and I just grabbed a sausage and a bacon-wrapped chicken and sweet potato.

DIDN’T EVEN COMPARE SIZES – didn’t even cross my mind to count.

I find lately that I do it more often than not –

…And when I do?

Well hey – be gentle on me.

Scratch that – I’ll be gentle on me.

You be gentle on you.

Be gentle on your children, on your mother, on your partner.

We human – and we all just trying to be happy  <3

My best friend’s beautiful daughter – born 3/7/16

8 thoughts on ““Are There, Like, Cals In Gum?”: Life As A Calorie Counter

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  2. Loved and Worthy of Love – Portland, OR – I'm 24 years old and a lover of strong coffee, cats, and gregarious laughter. In addition to painting my toenails, watching reality TV, and riding my bike, I'm currently documenting my recovery from anorexia and pursuit of self-acceptance at www.lovedandworthyoflove.com
    Loved and Worthy of Love

    I can relate to this post so well. It is in edible hard to give up the calorie counting game for good, and we all have slip ups, but it sounds like you’ve mad incredible progress!

    1. Lindsey Hall – Brooklyn, NY – Eating Disorder Recovery blogger at award-winning I Haven't Shaved in Six Weeks.com & Lindsey Hall Writes. IG: @lindseyhallwrites
      Lindsey Hall

      Totally hard! We can’t just retrain our brains that quickly unfortunately. BUTTTTT as long as we’re not too hard on ourselves; I think the progress comes (just in tiny little ripple waves) 🙂 Thanks for your comment!!

  3. Good reading for a Sunday afternoon. I am crossing my fingers and hoping you land a terrific job in Colorado. You have so many accomplishments, and glad you can credit yourself with getting better all the time.

    See you in September.

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  6. I used to freak out if I missed even one meal on MyFitnessPal. And if I couldn’t look it up or guesstimate it?! AAAH! I have those moments where I see the calorie count and change my choice because “there’s too many calories.” Most definitely is a long go.

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