So with this post, I am starting a three-part series on a favorite topic of mine: eating!! Eating healthy can sometimes seem to intimidate those on their own personal health journey and can be the big factor that discourages people striving for a healthier lifestyle. With all the news, data, and information out there, it can be hard to know who’s and what’s right. That’s why I have put together this series to teach you the basics of how to eat, what to eat and lastly, maintaining that healthy eating style. Living this way certainly does not mean giving up “yummy” foods or flavors or depriving yourself. In fact, some of the tastiest meals I have made are completely healthy–you just have to play around with it! But before you decide and figure out what to eat, let me inform you of how you should eat. (And no I am not talking about dining etiquette or the correct way to hold and use a fork.) I’ll be discussing a topic that encompasses how and when you should nourish your body based on what feels right for you.
Probably the biggest thing I have learned about eating is this: for the most part, listen to your body. Now, I say “for the most part” because there are what I believe are some exceptions to this that I will get into a bit later on. Because food is what is fueling your body to live and function, it is going to be the best indicator of when, what (part 2 of the series), and how much to eat. For example, a growling stomach is probably a good indication that you are hungry. Unless you just ate in which case the rumbling is probably digestion sounds–in this case, drink a glass of water and wait at least 20 minutes after you finish your meal to see if you are truly still hungry. Other signs your body gives that shows it may be time to eat is shaking, headaches, drainage of energy, light-headedness, or crankiness otherwise known as “hangry”. And yes, from personal experience hangry is a completely real thing people. Hungry is very physical and your body will certainly show/tell you when it needs food and fuel. This also applies to stopping when you are full.
As for the exceptions, some people coming off of disordered eating such as binging, very restrictive dieting, etc. may have whacked their internal system up. When you eat very little and restrict what you are eating or go the opposite and eat too much and purge, you actually mess up your metabolism. After this type of eating, your body gets used to living and scraping by with very little fuel or without certain foods (carbs is the big one people seem to eliminate). If this is the case, then you may get very full after a small meal or not feel hungry at all. However, a big part of recovery is to slowly increase your calories and food intake to get your system back to a good state and therefore, relying on your body may not be the best until you have recovered. This is exactly how I am: I get full easily and don’t always feel hungry. And on top of that, exercise (which I do 4-5 days a week) can suppress hunger too. There are times I have to eat even if my body is showing no physical signs because I know my body needs the fuel to recover. If you believe this applies to you, it is best to see a doctor, therapist or some other professional to set a good eating plan for you.
So for the most part, your body can tell you when you’re hungry. However, don’t use this is an excuse to always snack because you mistake hunger for something else such as boredom, loneliness, etc. Here is a great article about how to tell if you are actually hungry or not that may be of help.
Your body can also tell you how hungry you are (to know how much to eat) and what kinds of foods sound good. Unfortunately, if you say your body only ever wants chips, candy, and soda…that might not be the best idea to follow. However, if you eat mostly healthy and for a snack your body is craving ice cream or a brownie, having a small sweet-treat is okay. This is what is called the 80/20 eating plan and is very effective for healthy eating and living. The basics is that you eat clean, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time and still leave room for 20% of less nutritional foods. This way you still have room for your go-to treats while maintaining a whole, well-rounded, nutritious eating style.
One way I have seen people break this down is just doing a straight up percentage of total meals. For example, say you eat 5 meals a day for a total of 35 meals a week. 80% is 28 meals so you eat 28 clean meals a week and 7 are left for a little indulgence. The issue with this can be whether people count dessert as one of their meals or if they they split the 7 up (1 a day) or consume more than 1 unhealthy meal in a day. So instead of doing a percentage, you can just balance your foods and figure out what 80/20 looks like in your life.
Other variations could be 70/30 if you want to be a little less strict or 90/10 if you want to tighten the reins a little more. Whatever this give-and-take balance looks like for your life is going to be what’s best for you! The reason this seems to work is that it still allows you to indulge in what your body craves every now and then, while still eating clean and healthy to fuel your body. (I will discuss more what clean eating looks like in part 2, but for the basics think fruits and vegetable, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole-grains.) This way if your body is telling you it wants something, in moderation it is okay to listen, give-in and not completely reject a food or food group.
The last area surrounding this is how often to eat. You’ve probably been bombarded with information about why you should eat 6 small snacks/meals a day or no, no 3 large meals a day is best when the truth is everyone and everybody is different! For some people, eating 3 large meals a day keeps them full and satisfied while for others a small meal every 3 hours works perfectly. For me personally, I eat 3 good-sized meals a day plus 1-2 snacks depending on my activity level for the day. But even then, sometimes I eat 3 snacks a day especially on my rest days when I get extra hungry or if I eat a pre-workout snack. The point is find what makes yourself and your body happiest and most satisfied. This could even mean switching it up, some days its more snack and some days more substantial meals. What you want to avoid is constantly snacking out of boredom as opposed to actual hunger (read above). If you aren’t sure what works best for you, mix it up until you find what does. Don’t be discouraged if the answer doesn’t magically come in a week or two, it can take time. Heck, I’m still even trying to figure some of this out for my own self!
The main idea of all of this is that different things work for different people! There is no “one right way” on how to eat. Each body, each person, each lifestyle is unique and different on its own. That is exactly what being Beyoutifully Healthy is all about, even with how you eat!
I would love to hear from you and any thoughts you have on this subject!