It happens a lot. A new client comes into the gym to get some help improving their nutrition and pretty early on in the conversation looks at me worriedly, saying “I can’t just eat vegetables though. I’ll be really hungry.” I haven’t said anything at this stage, I’ve just been listening to the what, why, how, where and when of their existing eating habits. I have at no stage suggested they must transfigure into a rabbit, or in any way given the impression that I am an ogre from the Food Police.
I get it though. There’s a fear around changing nutritional habits, and a lot of that comes from the screwed-up lies, half-truths and headlines that have nutritionally misinformed people for the longest time.
For instance - and this is just scratching the surface - these ideas:
- Eat Low Fat
- Calories In vs Calories Out Is All That Matters
- Eat Less, Move More
have not put us on the right path, and that’s putting it mildly. They’ve all lead to the dominant prevailing idea that we need to eat less, and less, and less, in order to lose or manage weight. It’s no surprise therefore when someone arrives for nutrition coaching and thinks I’m going to kill off all their favourite foods, put them on a strict diet of kale and seeds and essentially ask them to starve their way to their goals.
No. That’s not how it goes.
It’s not about eating low fat. It’s about getting your macros (carbs, protein, fat and fibre) into the correct balance and eating a broad range of foods. You may need a counter for that at first, whilst you learn how much of this and that is in what food, but ultimately, what we’re aiming for here is for you to learn to use your internal cues about what satisfies your hunger, gives you energy and protects you from cravings. For that, you need to tap into your body, not tap numbers into your iphone.
It’s not automatically about eating less calories. It’s about eating the right amount of calories for you: your resting metabolic rate, your activity levels, your muscle mass and so on. Again, you may need a counter for that at first, whilst you get a gauge on how many calories are in what, but ultimately, what we need is for you to learn to use your internal cues to assess when you’re hungry and when you’re full. That’ll naturally guide you as to how much food you need in order to reach and maintain a weight that you - and your body - are happy with. I’ve many a time coached people to eat more calories and they’ve successfully lost weight and got leaner. You are not a sparrow. As such, you’ve no need to eat like one.
It’s not about eating less and moving more. Well, sometimes it is but still, that’s too simplistic. Sometimes you’ll do better to eat more and move more - but eating more of the right stuff. Sometimes, you’d do well to eat less and move less. You’ve probably guessed by now that this too is about learning how to hear what your body needs from you. We all need to move so, if you don’t, you’ll probably “hear” your body through aches, pains and stiffness. But we also can go too far the other way too, and again, your body will speak to you, usually through injury, illness, lethargy. We need to eat enough to sustain us, but not so much to put on weight we don’t need to carry. That’s not about any kind of body-superiority or bias against heaviness, but a point about the weight set point at which your body feels happiest.
Learning to follow your bodies cues can be tricky at first.
“Eat till you’re satisfied”
for instance, is a fight of a habit to own. Sometimes, you won’t know what satisfaction feels like because you’ve not tuned into that frequency for many a year. But if you start listening - and that means mindful eating, slowing down your eating pace and paying attention to your body for the short while you’re consuming food - you’ll get better at knowing when to stop.
Bear in mind that “eat till you’re satisfied” refers to physical satisfaction. Not emotional. Have you ever carried on eating long after you’re full, even till you feel a little sick? That’s what it’s like to seek emotional satisfaction through food. Doesn't work, does it? Food does not change emotions.
You know the truth of this - I know you do because every time I say this in a talk the whole room laughs with the plain bonkersness of the idea that muffins eradicate sadness, crisps reduce anger and wine eliminates anxiety. If you seek emotional satisfaction or change, do not look to food. You won’t find it there.
Likewise, this one:
“Eat when you’re hungry”
Not eat when you’re stressed or eat when you’re bored. It’s a process to unpick some of the weird motivations that get you all tangled up in eating when you don’t need to, or that make you make poor choices. But unpick it you can, if you really want to.
If you need some help with this stuff, you know where I am. But if you take nothing else from this, take away the idea that your body knows what to do and will tell you if you’re listening. The power, smarts and truth that is wrapped up in the body that you walk around all day in is phenomenal. Tune into that and you have the key to the kingdom.