There are so many ways to go about managing your diet on a daily basis. Everything from eating what you want when you want to tracking all the minute details of everything that goes into your body. I'm going to let you read the ending to the chapter first by telling you that really, you need to figure out what works for you. If you are having a hard time doing that, I've got some pointers for you (keep reading).
There is some research that states that eating an unrestricted diet (regardless of food quality) is not necessarily good for you. What does that mean? Well, even if you are eating paleo/real food all of the time, eating as much as you want can cause your waistband to get a little tighter over time. This is not true for everyone, but most of us do not have a good sense of satiety because we tend to override our hunger cues by overeating and snacking when we aren't really hungry.
So, how do you figure out YOUR perfect portion sizes? Here are some tips:
1. KNOW WHAT YOU'RE STARTING WITH
This is so important. Use a food scale and measure the portions that you are already eating so you know what you've got. You are going to want to do this for about a week to get a really good idea of where you are at.
Using measuring cups and measuring spoons is also a helpful way to get a visual on your portions. The point of doing this consistently for a week or two is that eventually you won't be around your food scale and if you've been paying attention, you won't need it! If you are following a plan, this is great for staying on track with your plan. If you aren't following a plan you should be eating to satiety. This is not at all about restriction, but about giving you a baseline to figure out what does and doesn't work for you. Knowledge is power!
One of the very first things I do with many of my cpatients is have them keep a food journal. Most of the time I don't have them track exact amounts, because we are often working on making different food choices without paying close attention to amounts (that part comes later). But close to 100% of them are surprised by something once they start writing things down.
2. TEST, don't guess!
Pay attention to how you feel with different portions and sizes. Write it down in your food journal or a note on your phone. How long did it keep you full? This time will vary depending on what the ratio of macros in your meal was (if you are following a plan that may have been specific, if you aren't, don't worry about this right now). Fat and protein keeps you fuller for longer in most cases. If you feel like you need or want to eat more carbs, you'll probably need to eat more frequently. If you are eating real food carbs and get hungry sooner, eat again. It's ok!
If you are eating more frequently, you might need to have smaller portions each time too. This is especially true for athletes and active people. If your lifestyle doesn't allow you to eat smaller, more frequent meals, that's ok too. You can experiment with higher protein/fat. But be sure to WRITE IT DOWN. In a week you won't remember what you ate, how you felt, and how long it kept you full.
Test different combos and ratios of protein, carbs, and fats. Keeping details records will help you to figure out how to adapt your diet for specific situations (long plane rides vs. being at home all day) depending on what works for you.
3. BALANCE. THEN BALANCE again
If you eat a higher fat diet because you only want to eat three times per day (or only have time to eat three times per day). Allow four hours between meals. You will need to see how much carbohydrate feels good for you and it might vary depending on what you are doing that day. Also, including more carbohydrate might make you feel hungrier sooner.
If you are training for something, add more carbs. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes paleo/real food athletes make, not eating enough carbs. However, remember to write it down. Take notes and see what happens. If you are starving sooner than expected, or sooner than is convenient for your schedule, add more protein/fat.
It's also important to note that sometimes you can just add something (protein, carbs, or fat). But, sometimes if you add something, you may need to take something else away. Rebalance your plate. This is where having notes or a food journal is important because you can't effectively change what you aren't tracking.
People will say they add more carbs back and they gain weight. That's likely because they didn't readjust the rest. Adding more calories and not adjusting anything else means more calories overall. If you add carbs to fuel your exercise, then the extra fat that you've been adding to all of your meals might not be a good idea anymore because you have shifted your overall caloric intake.
I'm not big on counting calories, but the truth is that at some point they do matter. The quantity of food you eat does matter too. If what you are doing isn't working for you and your goals, you have to pay attention to the portions you are eating. And you have to keep testing and rebalancing to figure out what is going to work for you.
A meal that is a lot of fat and a lot of carb can become hyperplatable which is a perfect recipe for overeating (if you want to know more about this get Robb Wolf's latest book Wired to Eat). The first thing that comes to mind when I think of a lot of fat and a lot of carb together is french fries. How many of you can actually stop eating them before the whole plate is gone? I've probably only ever done it once or twice. Fat and carb are not generally found together in nature. Carbs come from fruit, veggies, grains, and legumes, all of which have relatively low fat. So, if you are increasing your carbs it's probably a good idea to decrease your fat a little as well.
So, the moral of the story? You've got to figure out what works for you! These tips should help to provide you a more systematic way of experimenting rather than just willy nilly trying things out.
If you need more help, I'd love to talk about macros with you. Unlike a lot of people who use macros, I feel like food quality actually matters. So, yeah you can eat it if it fits your macros, but eating a ton of artificial sweeteners and non-food things is going to impact your overall health. You need to eat your macros but also get as many micronutrients from real food as you can. Macros are important, but micronutrients are what make us healthier. There are lots of different plans and macro balances that work for people, but if we are not eating nutrient dense food at the same time, it's going to catch up to us eventually.
Who am I?? I am a Family Nurse practitioner with over eight years of clinical experience helping ordinary women cut through all the hype and figure out what actually works for their bodies. If you've ever been told by your healthcare provider that "it's all in your head" or that what you are going through is "normal," I can help! It's not all in your head and just because something is common doesn't mean it is normal.
Schedule a free consultation so you can get started on your path to optimal health now!