I am a huge nutrition nerd, but before I became one I had no idea what nutrition actually meant (let alone what it meant to count calories). Growing up, I wasn't counting calories. I was a pretty chubby kid, probably due to my incredibly picky diet.

Like a lot of children, my diet staples included pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese. 

I remember clearly when I started learning what calories were. In elementary school, my mother began buying snacks for my lunch with a huge “100 calorie pack!” label on the front. After a while it wasn’t hard for me to equate these lower calorie snacks as being the healthier options (even if they were still cookies). 

coffee, tea, cake, sweet, chocolate
Rachel Rosenstein

After getting a little chubbier in middle school, I heard of one particular app that was supposed to help you lose weight fast. That is, as long as you adhered to the personalized plan. I entered in my height, weight, age, and that I wanted to lose an average of 2 pounds per week. The app gave me a daily calorie budget of around 1,100 calories. 

I never questioned this calorie budget, I thought less calories were healthier after all. I also just assumed that anything within this calorie range was fair game. As long as I was within the budget, I would lose weight. I never considered the idea that the types of food I was eating would make a difference. 

beer, wine
Claire Rosenkilde

I quickly became completely obsessed with counting every calorie I ate. I was fixated on making sure what I ate stayed within the boundaries of my new diet. Every time I would add a food and it remained under the calorie budget, the chart in the app would stay green. But the second I put in a food that went over the daily limit, it would turn red.

Basically, whenever I went over budget and it turned red, I would feel like a total failure and the guilt would be overwhelming. 

It became a competition that I'd have against myself. Since the guilt of going over budget would consume me, I tried to stay as far under it as possible. Some days this meant only eating 800 calories. I did anything to keep myself from going over budget, and I thought it was totally normal and healthy. 

By this point I wasn't eating any healthy food. I saw a difference in my weight, but only because I was so obsessed with restriction. I still felt awful and I couldn't understand why.

vegetable, cabbage, pasture, carrot
Nancy Gao

It took me a long time to come to the realization that it's the type of food that the calorie comes from that counts, not the calories themselves. These apps are only concerned with numbers. It's so easy to fall into a pattern of disordered eating habits by using an app like this—it only took a matter of weeks for me.

It's important to realize that while the numbers do have some significance, it's really the nutrients that matter. When a diet is filled with nutrient-rich, whole foods, there is no need to be counting calories. Once I stopped counting calories and started counting nutrients instead, I developed a healthier relationship with food. 

vegetable, meat, beef
Kristine Mahan

When I finally accepted the fact that my eating patterns were not normal, I deleted the apps and changed the way I ate. Today I eat an entirely plant-based, whole foods diet and I no longer count calories. I feel complete freedom not being stressed about what I eat anymore since I know that all (okay, most) of what I'm putting into my body is full of nutrients.

Deleted this app and changed the way I eat and how I feel about eating for the better.