There is a trend right now toward intuitive eating and not counting macros, which has been popular among the fitness community for some time. While I agree that intuitive eating can be quite freeing and a liberating step for some people, for others it may not fit with their goals or they may not feel comfortable enough to do so. If you’re working toward a goal of weight loss, for example, eating intuitively from the start may not be the best way to get there. That doesn’t mean you have to track every food and drink to the gram, but being mindful of eating choices or using one of the strategies below may be a better option for you.
Eating intuitively involves careful listening to your body – What is it craving? How hungry are you? Are you truly hungry or thirsty?
For many just beginning, this can be a daunting step. Perhaps you’ve spent years ignoring your body’s cues and instead eating for the mouth pleasure, not for the nutrients contained in food that will fuel your body for the day ahead. Many of the more processed (and popular) foods are genetically manufactured to keep you eating more! As Lay’s says, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”
Eating intuitively is also associated with eating at a maintenance level of calories. If you’re listening to your body, you’ll be eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. However, with a goal of weight loss a deficit of calories is required. This means you’ll expend more than you consume. As a result, some level of hunger should be expected! It’s difficult, when eating intuitively, to ignore this.
To move toward truly eating intuitively or to make progress in a weight loss goal, you may have to take a more structured approach. Let’s look at three options that might be a middle step toward an intuitive eating approach or ways to make progress without weighing and tracking all of your food:
Choose healthy options and save yourself one fun snack at the end of the day.
I think it’s safe to say that all of us know what “healthy” food looks like as we walk through the grocery store. No, I’m not talking about the “healthy snacks” like banana chips, Mango Naked Juice, and high calorie granola bars. Often times, these snacks are marketed as health and therefore seen as low calorie; that could not be further from the truth. (Check out the YouTube videos!) While yes, many of these grocery store favorites are free from additives and use organic ingredients, for someone with a goal of weight loss and caloric restriction, the calorie content packs a punch, even with foods such as kale chips!
While I typically do not like to label food as “healthy” or “unhealthy” because I think most foods have a place within our diets, it’s hard to deny the health benefits associated with eating less processed, nutrient dense foods. By filling your day with foods such as leafy greens, fresh veggies, lean proteins, beans and legumes, a little fruit, and whole grain or starchy carbs, you set yourself up for success from the start. Of course, if you eat too much of any food and develop a caloric excess, it’s likely going to cause of weight gain. But, it’s more difficult to overeat chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and veggies as it is on a burger and fries.
Start off your day strong and choose meals to incorporate that contain a base of these types of foods. Then, save yourself a treat or snack that may not be as nutrient dense. For me, this is ice cream. I love ice cream and having a sweet snack after dinner is always a favorite. I plan my day to include this at the end. I stay within a rough calorie goal, while still incorporating desserts. Win-win!
Track a handful of meals one time so that you know the calorie content, then piece them together.
It’s no secret that keeping things simple makes it easier. If you’ve ever read a meal prep article (heck, even my meal prep article!) there are a million and one different ways to make healthy eating easier. That’s one of the benefits of meal prepping food; everything is cut, cooked, and ready to eat when you walk in the door after work.
But what if you don’t like to meal prep the same. exact. foods. for every meal of the week and you don’t want to be constantly focused on calories and macros? Well, one thing I use is a kind of pseudo-intuitive eating.
There are a few meals and specific foods I know the calorie content of simply because I’ve eaten them so many times. They’re my favorite go-to choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And, since I know the calorie content, I can track them without logging each item in MyFitnessPal!
Think of it like this: Say you know you have to eat 1800 calories per day. Maybe you enjoy a big dinner so we save 600 calories for that. Breakfast and lunch are about the same, so we allot 400 for each. That leaves us 400 calories to split in half for a couple 200 calorie snacks or a dessert after dinner.
This is where we’ll take some time to track calories. Think about your favorite foods and take the time to formulate them into meals for each time of day, staying within the calories accounted for during that time. Once you have your meals, you can pick and choose between 3-4 options for each, all while staying within your calorie goal for the day!
Of course, there are going to be days that you’re not 100% and that’s perfectly okay! But by having a library of meals to pull from without having to track, it makes it easier to not feel burdened with constant tracking of macros.
Use your hand for portion sizes.
Not everyone owns a food scale, and I know not everyone wants to have one. One way to estimate portion sizes as you’re just starting out is to use your hand. Check out this graphic from Precision Nutrition on how to estimate using your hand.
There will be a level of error, depending on body size, but chances are it’s a great starting place! In 1985, no state had an adult obesity rate higher than 15 percent. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, in 2015, “obesity rates exceeded 35 percent in five states, 30 percent in 25 states, and 25 percent in 46 states”. As the obesity rate in adults continues to grow, it’s impossible to ignore the facts: portion sizes are increasing and, often without realizing it, American adults are consuming food well above the required amounts. This excess in caloric intake is a major factor in the rising obesity levels.
Using your hand as a measuring tool allows you to gauge an appropriate portion size for each meal and food within each meal. Even if you’re still technically eating slightly above your recommended calories, chances are you’ll at least be eating in less of an excess. Initially, this is a great way to begin making progress towards a goal of body fat loss.
At the end of the day, each person has an individual journey and you’ll find what works for you may not be what is best for your coworker, friend, or family member. Be cautious of new trends and the hype surrounding them. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t be afraid to stop using them if they don’t work or fit. Allow people to try what works for them without judgement or coercion toward a specific diet or way of eating.