Again, this post deals with calories, weight loss and food.
First I feel it is very necessary to sing the praises of intuitive eating. If you’re not familiar with this approach, you can read about it here.
Intuitive eating was absolutely invaluable when it came to ‘legalizing’ those foods I had once completely banished from my house. I couldn’t bake because I wasn’t to be trusted around baked goods. I couldn’t order packages of Liz Lovely cookies because I would eat them all in a week and then feel terrible *and* have no cookies. I saw complete avoidance of these foods as the only option. Don’t get me wrong, I could have a cookie or a brownie, but only when I could go out and buy just one. This was less problematic when I lived in Atlanta and had easy access to all sorts of vegan goodies. Here, it involves an hour long drive which would make it completely ridiculous to just buy one treat.
So I took the advice in this book and filled my kitchen to the brim with all kinds of formerly forbidden foods. It was honestly terrifying at first, but eventually it worked and those foods ceased haunting me with their very presence. I now keep ‘bad’ foods in the house with no problem. In fact, I recently had to toss two packages of Liz Lovely cookies because I hadn’t eaten them and they’d gone all stale. (Note: from now on put expensive, delicious vegan cookies in the freezer.)
There are other parts of the general intuitive eating philosophy that I think are great. And truly, I would recommend reading up on it regardless of your goals (getting healthier, healing your relationship with food, losing weight etc…)
Do you sense the big but coming your way? Yeah yeah, I’m fairly predictable.
But I don’t think honoring one’s hunger is necessarily at odds with watching your caloric intake. And I don’t believe that simply listening to your internal cues will put everyone at the most appropriate weight for themselves.
Really, how I approach food has a lot in common with intuitive eating – just some tweaks here and there.
Here’s what I believe; trying to exert willpower over your hunger is the best strategy so long as your goal is to be miserable, always be an inch away from bingeing and to end up gaining weight. (See what I did there? You don’t want those things. I’m so awesome.)
However, satiety can be ‘manipulated’ if you want to eat at a small calorie-deficit every day. This is because fullness isn’t totally based on eating a certain number of calories. It is influenced by a number of factors both physiological and psychological. And if you understand a bit about how it works, you can stay satisfied.
Foodwise, protein, fat and fiber contribute the most to satiety. The actual bulk of the food you eat does as well, I believe, although to a lesser extent.
In terms of how I might apply this to what I eat, I make sure that each of my meals contains fiber, a good amount of protein and healthy fats. This helps keep me satisfied between meals and can help me reach the same level of satiety with slightly less calories*.
What about the psychology of satiety? An interesting book to read about this is “Mindless Eating.” The author details hundreds of experiments done which show how plate size, serving size, how much total food is available etc… can all change how much people eat by a fairly impressive margin all without affecting their self-reported satiety.
Now, I’m not about to go on the old tiny plate diet, but understanding the ways I can unconsciously overeat has helped me make small adjustments which, again, can allow me to eat slightly less without feeling deprived.
So what’s the point of all of this? Am I trying to sell the attrice diet (burn fat while you exercise and eat slightly less than before!….ok, I’m gonna have to talk to marketing about that line.)? No.
One of the problems I had while trying to eat intuitively was the feeling that I spent a ton of time thinking about what I wanted to eat while trying not to think about what I wanted to eat. Like, I was trying to get in touch with some inner eater who, if allowed to take charge, was going to eat a nutritionally complete and well balanced diet. Except my inner eater sometimes wanted food that made me physically feel gross and sometimes my inner eater didn’t want breakfast even though it would leave me tired and ravenous by lunch.
Now I balance that inner voice with what I know. I know that eating a bowl of lentil and sweet potato soup with half a sandwich will fill me up as much a whole sandwich with fries on the side. I know that if I order a small popcorn at the movies (and allow myself the knowledge that if I finish it and want more, I can have more) I’ll eat less popcorn than if I get a large and that I won’t even notice.
Mindful eating is about honoring my hunger and using my brain to make choices that will help me lose weight without those feelings of deprivation that are part of so many people’s attempts to lose weight.
*This is such an important point that I kind of feel like I should say it in bold and all caps. For your sake, I will refrain, but keep in mind that I’m talking about a gradual and small decrease in calories over time. So if an average meal for me was once 700 calories, I’m talking about dropping that by 100 calories at most per meal.