Everybody recovers differently and everyone's struggles are different. This is what I did to cater for my recovery. Feel free to use and tweak or completely dismiss this. ..
Looking back, the way that I broke away from this irrational fear was to completely change up the structure in which I ate food. This meant escaping from counting ANY calories. Below is a list of the many other things I had to do in order to get myself out of quasi-recovery. All of these things very much helped me stop calorie counting...
I realized that I had picked an arbitrary calorie limit out of thin air.
Seriously though, ignore those BMR calculators that are lurking about on the internet. When I was in the depths of my eating disorder and even when I was attempting to get out of the torture, the so-called 'personalised calorie information' they provided for me, messed me up big time. As "scientifically" calculated, I was advised to eat a certain amount of food, which now I know was catastrophically too little for my malnourished body AND also for my recovered body.
These generic numbers of calories are thrown around a lot on the internet and that incorrectly emphasised to me that it was a lot of food. Of course, my eating disorder used this as leverage.
So, when I began recovery on my own, I had a self-imposed judgement that increasing my meal plan by just a fraction was a huge deal (it was not). I was convinced and obsessed with the fact that I was eating SOO much food. I was very scared and honestly, unaccepting of it.
In order to become unstuck from calorie counting, I first had to relieve the judgements towards certain numbers of calories. This does not mean surrendering and eating despite knowing it was a lot of food. No, I had to realise that I was absolutely wrong about anything to do with calories and all my 'facts' were absolute garbage.
I had a 'DON'T DO LESS THAN THIS' meal plan.
One of the reasons I was against switching from a calorie counting focussed meal plan, to unrestricted eating was that I didn't believe that I could trust my hunger cues. I was very scared that my eating disorder would not allow me to feel hunger and then I would end up restricting even more than I already was!...and that seems fair.
To support me with this, I had a meal plan guideline that would act as an absolute minimum.
The way that it was structured to help me personally, was to not indicate any calories but provide examples of meal and snack components. I would have portion guidelines, but they were given in cup measurements rather than in grams/ounces. This was important for me because this challenged my rigidity around needing to be precise, to the exact gram.
*I know that some people will say that measuring food with cups is just as rigid. However, for me, it was what I needed to knock me out of my obsessive way of calculating and I soon after abandoned measuring altogether.
The meal plan also put in structures to help me with other struggles such as eating consistently throughout the day. So, I have to eat 6 times throughout the day, regardless if I'm hungry or not.
OH AND ALSO, my meal plan wasn't some measly basic meal plan. Just because this meal plan was my minimum, doesn't mean that it was a minimal amount of food...or even a 'normal' amount of food (whatever on earth that is). If you are trying to recover from an eating disorder and you need to get out of an energy deficit (no matter how much of a deficit) you are doing yourself a disservice by having a small baseline meal plan. Of course, you could argue that it doesn't matter because you can eat a lot more anyway but when has it ever been easy to convince yourself to eat a lot more?!
Stop letting the eating disorder put up barriers!
I forced myself to voice my fear/scrumptious foods.
I still sometimes have a hard time voicing my recovery oriented thoughts. For example, if I'm looking at a menu at a restaurant and Mum asks me what options do I fancy, I find it strangely difficult to express what actually looks good! I mean, I get that all the foods I actually want are fear foods, but just because I say it out loud doesn't mean I then have to order it!
Say I saw a bacon cheeseburger, eggs benedict and a salmon steak. Granted, all three options are challenging and all three options I FANCY yet, I couldn't say that the burger looked good!
I guess my eating disorder was scared that if I said it out loud, my support system would become very encouraging of me doing it, which would lead to 2 outcomes.
1. I would probably end up doing it
2. I would get harassed by my ED because "HOW DARE I say I want a burger! See, I'm choosing to become fat on my own!"
So, as you can see, one of my struggles is that I feel I need people to tell me what to do. I would feel so much more comfortable if I ate a burger that someone said I needed to have rather than me deciding I wanted to have it. The guilt of me choosing something I 'didn't need' to have seemed way too torturous.
I had to make myself just blurt out all the foods that would constantly circulate my mind. The foods I was tremendously mentally hungry for. Breaking this barrier and eating the foods did cause me insane torment but after continual practice, I realised that there was nothing special about asking for a burger, there was nothing wrong with wanting chocolate cake. I was wrong about it making me fat because I didn't get fat!
It's restaurants and delivery every day!
My commitment to totally abandon preparing food on my own was the most vital step for me to become unstuck from my half recovered state.
While I know that it is important to be able to make your own food and eating out forever is extremely unfeasible, I had to take a good hard look at what I was doing that was keeping me stuck. I had to honestly acknowledge my triggers. I had to be brave.
Counting, measuring and under portioning was keeping me drowning in my eating disorder. Even when I had the greatest intentions to eat more food to make myself feel better, the action and many choices when preparing and portioning my food was too triggering. It seemed that I had to restrict.
The longer I kept trying to eat more but still portioning and counting calories, my body went further and further into a deficit and every day I would feel worse and worse.
I couldn't afford to keep trying the same thing, I had to change my tactics COMPLETELY. and for me, that meant eating out every day. This way I didn't have to make any decisions other than what to order on the menu. The chef was not going to restrict for me.
and I ate everything on my plate.
I forced myself to voice my fullness and lack of fullness (HUNGER).
This one is pretty similar to the one about fear foods.
I had to speak up when I felt hungry! This means voicing my hunger even if I had already eaten my meal plan or if I was hungry at the 'wrong' times. I had to realise that my body is the head boss, the one in charge of my food decisions, not me!
Our bodies don't just tell us they are hungry for a laugh. It isn't playing a joke on us. If I'm hungry then I physically need to eat. My body doesn't care about random time rules or food limits!
Eating outside of the food rules I randomly created for myself was terrifying and again, needed to be done so I could see that my ED was once again...LYING.