Editor’s Note:This is a guest post by JC of JCD Fitness.
When discussing eating habits, especially within the fitness population, the subject is often a very touchy one. To many, eating is much more than some task we must perform in order to survive and merely function, while for a select few, it’s nothing more than simply supplying energy needs.
For those of you who’ve no idea who I am, when I first discovered this health and fitness stuff, I was a mess. I followed all the old school dogma of eating clean and very frequently (often 6-8 meals per day). I was obsessed with every minute detail about eating healthy but I was completely missing the forest for the trees. After months of following strict, rigorous diet guidelines, I would go on week-long binges only to feel like a complete failure afterward. Needless to say, I was tired of the everlasting cycle, so I sought answers. I found my cure in the form of Intermittent Fasting (IF).
Nowadays, I am not too concerned with my food choices as long as they fit in with my current training and aesthetic goals. I basically eat when hungry while focusing on fresh, whole foods along with some junk throughout the week.
False Hunger Cues
As creatures of habit, we often get used to a certain schedule, especially regarding our dietary habits. Now these habits can be deemed good or bad depending on your perception, beliefs, and goals. For the readers in America (and those outside of America who know how fat we are), I think we can all agree that the western diet is pretty crappy in terms of food selection and caloric density when compared to a diet full of fresh, unprocessed food.
I’ve found that those who are overweight and unhappy about it often have some pretty foul eating habits. When I say foul, I’m referring to their food selection and frequency of their intake. Their intake is normally high(er) calorie foods and they often eat as a result of false hunger cues: these cues being TV commercials, soft drink ads, co-workers bringing in donuts, etc.
There are no more “I’m truly hungry so I am going to eat now” thoughts. It’s usually “oh, that pizza looks really good right now; do they deliver?” despite just getting done with lunch 2 hours ago.
This is a HUGE problem and we need to fix it.
Relearn What Hunger Feels Like
So how does one actually relearn what hunger feels like? You just don’t eat for a while; seriously. If you want to know what hunger feels like, I encourage you to go on a 24-hour fast . I guarantee that by the time it’s over, you will be hungry. You might feel starved even though in the real sense of the word, this is hardly the case. You simply aren’t used to not eating.
Hunger pangs are largely controlled by hormones in the body (ghrelin, letpin and others). So when one is used to eating multiple times during the day and are on a constant sugar rush, hunger pangs will be at an all time high. This is a good thing, however.
In order to change our bad eating habits, we must relearn what hunger feels like. Once we do this we will need to be reminded of what it’s like to feel full.
Make Yourself Feel Full
Being full possesses a plethora of meanings to many people. For some who eat slowly, it’s the immediate second their brain receives the full signal. They will stop eating, even if their plate has remains of food energy to be consumed. Thank goodness for refrigeration.
For others who eat very fast (like my former self), it’s after that 5th plate of food when I should’ve clearly stopped at 2 plates. However, I ate so fast that the hunger feeling didn’t manifest until I was on my 5th helping. Consequently, by this time, I need a couch to pass out on to cope with my bloated and miserable self.
We need to find a happy medium. If you’re an athlete or very active weekend warrior, our energy demands are higher than the average desk job employee. So our food choices may be slightly different or higher in kcal energy than someone who is not very active. The principles still apply though. But what are the principles?
Principles to Feel Full
When relearning what it’s like to feel full, there are a few ways I like to go about it. I stick with whole foods and I eat only 2-4 meals per day depending on my training. On days I’m really active, I eat more often and on the days I am sedentary, 2-3 meals will usually suffice.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when satiety is your sole focus.
Eat protein at every meal. It’s the most satiating nutrient and will help preserve lean muscle mass.
Eat lots of fibrous veggies. They are very low in calories and provide a lot of bulk for your diet, not to mention all the vitamins, minerals and fiber they possess.
Eat more fat. Fat is satiating but also very easy to overeat on. I recommend nut butters, cooking lightly with butter and consuming semi-fatty cuts of red meat.
Instead of processed carbohydrates, focus on fruit. The water and fiber content of fruit will leave you feeling full much longer than some cereal or bread.
Eat slowly. There is no rush.
Incorporating Intermittent Fasting
If it weren’t for intermittent fasting, I’d probably still be a neurotic basket case when it comes to my nutritional protocol. There are multiple ways to go about fasting so feel free to choose the one that will fit your schedule and temperance.
First, we have the (up to) 24 hour fast in which you eat nothing and drink only water, tea, coffee, etc. for the entire fast. You stop feeding at one meal and then eat nothing all the way up until that same time again the following day. This approach is best practiced only 1-2 times per week. Always allow 2-3 days of feeding in between your fasts.
Or you have another option made popular by Martin Berkhan . This method consists of a 16 hour fast every single day. For most people’s schedules, it’s ideal to fast up until about 2-4 p.m. and then eat your allotment of calories in an 8 hour window. Once you are done eating, you fast throughout the following morning/afternoon and do it all over again. This is my preferred method of fasting as it fits well with my training and academic schedule.
After The Fast (Feeding Time)
Now if you want to drastically change your eating habits, you must learn some self control. You will definitely feel hungry and may have a headache or what not because you are simply not used to going this long without food. Some self-discipline will come in handy at this point. Remember to focus on whole, natural foods as they tend to fill you up faster than processed, sugary junk.
Remember to eat slow enough to allow the full signal to reach your brain in a timely manner instead of stuffing yourself silly, only to feel miserable and regretful shortly after breaking your fast. There is no excuse to go on an all-out binge here.
You will want to keep track of your calories just like you would on any other diet. Fasting does not present you with a wondrous cure to eat whatever you want and magically attain the body of your dreams. Self-control needs to be a focal point here.
However, the beauty of IF makes our diets simple and allows us to remember what it’s actually like to feel satiated and recognize real hunger cues as opposed to the false ones.
Nothing has to be set in stone. If IF doesn’t fit with your schedule, there is no need to force fasting for the long term. It will only take a few weeks of IFing to relearn hunger cues and to get oneself back on track. Once you regain a firm grip on eating out of necessity as opposed to other reasons, you can resume your normal schedule and eat when you feel hungry, not when someone brings in a pizza or when you hear the donut commercial on your way to work.