This is one of the top questions that I get from new clients. Honestly…it makes sense! Nobody ever really taught you how to eat, and when you did try to learn, you probably learned it from BS diet culture that told you not to trust your normal hunger and fullness cues. Followed by years of dieting, restriction, thinking you need to suppress your appetite, and feeling like you have zero willpower…it’s no wonder you have a hard time figuring this out!
What you first need to understand is that we are all biologically different.
Our nutrition needs are highly personalized and can change from day to day depending on a ton of different factors. This is why it is super important to understand your body and what it needs. This is achieved by first understanding what different nutrients do in and for your body. This is (one) of the parts that many diets leave out. They don’t give you any real education on why you should or shouldn’t be eating certain foods. They make it more confusing, which, in return, makes you more reliant on them. So, working with dietitians who can help to teach you what food does is step number one toward understanding how much you should be eating.
The next thing that you need to do is get comfortable with the idea that it isn’t going to be perfect right away – especially if you have been dieting for a long time. I know this is scary, especially for my perfectionists out there, but understanding what your body needs takes some trial and error. It takes time to build up that skill. But, rest assured, your body knows what it is doing. It will tell you what it needs!
So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me explain how I like to walk clients through this.
First things first, start with the basics – PHFF at every meal (protein, healthy fat, fiber). The starting point for these is a range (again, our needs are all unique!): 20-30 grams of protein, 10-30 grams of fat, and 5-15 grams of fiber at each meal. Start at the lower end and work your way up from there as needed. Optimally, your meals should keep you full for 3-4 hours. If you are getting hungry sooner than that, then you need to bump these macronutrients up. I like to start with increasing protein, then make sure I am getting at least 5-10 grams of fiber, and then move on to adjusting fat if I have already done the previous two. Check out these blog posts for more on PHFF: PHFF for the whole family, tips for PHFF grocery shopping, and plant based PHFF meals.
When you first quit dieting and shift to eating in this balanced way, it can take some time to get it down and figure out exactly what you need at your different meals and snacks to keep you full. It is also normal for these needs to change depending on your menstrual cycle, quality of sleep, how much energy you use throughout the day, etc! If you have been undereating, it is also really normal to start feeling hungrier a few weeks into it. This is a good thing! It doesn’t mean you are doing PHFF wrong.
Relying on your biofeedback is going to be one of the best ways to measure if you are eating enough, especially if you are still struggling to have a regular appetite. Check in with yourself. How is your: sleep, energy level, concentration, patience, sex drive, bowel movements, mood, PMS symptoms, hunger, sugar cravings, strength in the gym, workout recovery, etc.? All of these are forms of biofeedback that can give you some major insight on adequate nutrition intake.
But what if I am eating too much?
Odds are you aren’t, but if you think you are, try this… Plug your info into a TDEE calculator and figure out what your estimated maintenance amount of calories should be. I love when clients do this because it allows them to see how much they actually need throughout their day, and how much they need to be eating in order to maintain muscle and get their body to a place to sustainably lose fat. Honestly, 95% (maybe even a little more) of the clients that we see are not eating enough.
I want to add a disclaimer for this last thing that I am going to recommend. This is NOT something that you need to do every day. This is just a useful tool to make sure that you are eating an appropriate amount. Spot-check your nutrition from time to time. Plug your day into a tracker to make sure that you are actually getting the amounts of food that you need. Sure, you want to make sure that you are eating adequate calories, but the breakdown of your macronutrients also matters. Spot checking from time to time will help you to understand where you need to add in more nutrients or where you need to adjust. I only recommend this for those who have a rock-star relationship with food. And only to be used to see how you can better support yourself – not what you need to cut out like typical tracking has you do.
The biggest takeaway that I want you to understand is that sustainable fat loss does not equal low calorie. That is so 2001. Figuring out how to increase your calories and/or how to redistribute your macronutrients can feel overwhelming. This type of high-touch, 1:1 work is something that we do in VIP coaching. You can fill out an application here to see if you are a good fit! If you are looking to join the next round of our group program, Metabolism Makeover, you can do that here!
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