Hi T-Nation! I’m hoping to get some advice for a return to intuitive eating after many months of dieting for fat loss.
I’ve not been officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, but my habits have been characterized as disordered eating: I weigh, track, log, and obsess over nutrition details in a way that conflicts with my family’s general well-being.
I’m happy to provide relevant details to set context, but I’m wondering how folks have successfully worked back from similar situations: I begin my journey down that road today.
@ChongLordUno I think you’re right there, for sure. Ordered 5/3/1 Forever, hoping that an understanding of the system will help me properly focus my goals.
@TrainForPain I’m 42 years old and I’ve never eaten to support my workouts—before a year or two ago, I was naive and oblivious to nutrition, or, once I finally learned a few things, eating to support caloric restriction.
But now enough is enough. After hanging around here for a bit, I’m beginning to understand there’s a better way.
Dude, I hear you. Weighing and counting calories are my go-to as well (and I still think it can be extraordinarily useful in a lot of situations). I found my daughter was taking note, much like your habits aren’t supporting who you want to be at home, and that needs to be that.
You’ll get there. Try being active multiple times a day, through walks, calisthenics, whatever. I feel like that helps a ton with appetite regulation.
Eat the same stuff pretty much everyday and then you can make easy adjustment from there, it’s what I do. I just started counting (loosely though) like 3 weeks ago to support a more drastic weight loss, but I’ve been counting-free like 8 years
Also, if you cook your meals and don’t eat obvious garbage, it’s hard to really mess up your diet
Good call, @aldebaran. I prep nearly all my own means and my menu is somewhat limited. What I need to be mindful of, I guess, is that the difference between 340g of broccoli (painstakingly and tediously measured, counted, and tracked) and 362.3g of broccoli (eyeballed and enjoyed) isn’t going to make me fat—it’s the boxes of Krispy Kremes and whatnot that I’d eat day in and day out without any real physical activity, let alone any kind of weight training, that put me there.
In retrospect, I went from “naive and oblivious” to “informed and militant” way too fast—and so I’ve tricked myself into believing that being militant was the reason for any success I’ve had the past few years, rather than being informed and making right choices. I just went from one extreme to the other.
Anyway, thanks for the advice and best of luck with your new “more drastic” goals—you’re looking great!
This is super common and I’ve also fallen into the trap of wanting to track everything and stressing a little if I had something I didn’t know the macros of or if my family wanted something “not on my plan.”
What I find helps is having a mix of meals that are consistent (I have the same breakfast and snacks everyday) and being flexible with the other meals. For those, I try to concentrate on hunger signals. If I’m trying to lose weight, I stay a bit hungry, maintain = comfortable, gain = a bit full.
It definitely takes some time and practice and is something I still have to work at.
The one thing I like about intuitive eating is how versatile it is, at the core of everything.
I’d like to emphasize that part where you say “return.” Essentially, I’m throwing out the idea of not even having to “return” to it? What if…it’s just something you implement continuously?
You’ve done good at implementing it when dieting, maybe work towards implementing it as a permanent, month-to-month, year round thing?
There’s a number of us, including myself, who struggle with eating issues on here as well. You’re definitely not alone, and there’s a lot of members who offer support.
There’s been a couple of people on here who’ve offered some very solid advice, and I’d like to echo the notion of stepping back from measuring every detail of the food you eat. At the very MOST, I’d say gather your daily total macros, divvy them up accordingly, and let your own better judgment pertaining to your specific assessment and implementation of intuitive eating handle the rest.
This is like…spot on. I think waiting for your body to produce hunger signals takes away from instances that can possibly spring up from the cycle of tracking, weighing, counting, etc. For me at least, it also starts to leech into when I allow myself to eat, instead of just eating when I have a clear signal to actually eat. There’s no need to fret over if I should eat or not, when my body is very clearly telling me to eat.
I’d also just like to say in general, that there’s a lot of overlap concerning intuitive eating, to the point where I often don’t call intuitive eating, ACTUALLY Intuitive eating. I often times will call it Bio-Regulation. Simply because there’s instances where solely relying on your hunger may or may not fall short.
If we’re using IE (just gonna shorten it), to measure hunger as far as weight loss goes, there might be instances where you’re not receiving any physical hunger signals. But it’s been a good gap of time since your last meal, and it might be time to eat again. What do you do then? For me, I try to observe any signals that I otherwise wouldn’t really pay attention to. Does my head hurt in certain spots that usually dissipates when I eat? Am I noticing a drop in energy levels? Am I craving other nutrients or foods different than what I usually eat? When was the last time I went to the bathroom? Is there a difference in the frequency with which I go to the bathroom day after day?
I find viewing IE more in terms of BR (also shortening Bio Regulation just for simplicity sake), to be helpful when doing the opposite of fat loss. I think this really helps in terms of most people inclination to do too much too soon, which usually results in gaining too much, which then can cause a negative cycle leading to disordered eating habits.
Right off the bat, for me, going from fat loss, to lean tissue gain, I freeze up because I’m no longer relying on hunger signals to help me pace the frequency of my meals. Again, what do you do then? Same thing with using other signals outside of hunger signaling. This is where fueling your workouts really shines through. But I think going into detail on the “whats” and “hows”, is where people can actually apply the advice they’re given. So some questions to ask would be: What am I trying to monitor? Let’s keep it simple and say Performance. What about Performance? Energy, focus, effort given towards training, etc.
How are you moving concerning your lifts? Smooth? Rigid? Not with enough power? Lacking energy? These things help overall with trying to decipher how to go about eating, when to eat, and what to eat. Along with how you can progress in your training, while still keeping your physique goals in mind. Even more so, keep using that to monitor yourself outside of the gym. How are you doing at work? With the family? How are you sleeping? Are you sleeping enough, and what’s the quality of your sleep? Are you stiff more often than not? Do you experience headaches a lot? Drops in energy?, Etc…
That’s just what I’ve noticed in my personal goals, so hopefully what I said makes sense, and you found something useful out of it.
When i was with my ex I gained a few kilos, but I didn’t mind. TBH I’d rather smack an ass like that and be extra fluffy than the other way around
But that’s okay, like you say, both being a bachelor or a family man have their perks, I shall enjoy the freedom for now!
Oh yeah I remember the only time I really counted all, and sometimes at the end of the day I would have like 7 F, 16 P and 28 C left and I would have to do math to know what eat and all and it was just more stress for the same results…
@Tougher I like the idea of solid, consistent meals + some flexible ones, and that’s the path I’m on. Just gotta be intelligent about the flexible ones!
@planetcybertron Lots of great stuff here, too—thanks for the detailed response. The phrase “too much, too soon” really resonates with me, whether regarding fat loss (which is what got me into trouble in the first place) or regarding lean gains (which is where I’d like to head). Patience is not my strongest virtue. I also like performance as a driver—similar to what @ChongLordUno suggested: move away from the physique game and focus on getting stronger and well conditioned. If I can do that successfully, I suspect the physique will take care of itself.
@aldebaran “I would have to do math to know what eat and all and it was just more stress for the same results” Yes, this! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Thanks for contributing to the discussion, everyone. Please keep the ideas and advice coming! I appreciate the input.
That works. Another term I like is mindful eating.
One thing with intuitive eating is that it works a lot better with unprocessed foods. If you’re having pizza or fast food, then 800 calories isn’t going to feel like 800 from a satiety standpoint compared to rice and chicken, for example. This is where a history of tracking is actually a benefit. If it’s pizza night, I know a slice is going to be 250, give or take and I just keep this in mind. I also know what 2400 cals/day feels like, as well as 2800 and 3200.
There are only two main times I track now: once a month or so for a couple days as a check in and if I’m in a fat loss phase. The second one is mainly to make sure I’m getting enough protein in with the lower calories.
Mindfulness has played a huge role in my ability to feel satiated. When I don’t measure, it’s like a free-for-all: I inhale my food, realize I don’t feel full when it’s gone, and continue inhaling. But when I’ve measured it and know the quantity’s limited, I purposely savor every. single. bite. And 9 times out of 10, that works—I feel how I want to feel at the end of the meal. So now the trick is to continue that same pattern without sweating whether or not the portion is exactly X grams or whatever.
Part of mindful or intuitive eating is also being aware of what your eating as well as how you’re feeling. You’re right, if you are making up a big plate or going back for seconds and inhaling your food so you miss the satiety signals, that could backfire.
What I try to do is think about what I ate that day, what I may want to eat later, my activity level, how hungry I am, and what my goals are, and put food on my plate based off that. (It’s more of a gut feeling than anything overly analytical and probably takes about 5 seconds of thought). That usually gets me right in the ball park. When I finish my plate, if I want some more, I make a conscious decision based off my goals.
A couple big things that helped me was:
The realization that if you’re aiming for maintenance, 100-200 calories either direction isn’t going to result in any noticeable weight loss or gain, if any at all. You don’t need to be exact.
When trying to lose weight, until you start getting lean, targets don’t have to be exact.
Your calorie demand can change day to day. You may be hungry because you didn’t eat much the day before or you did a lot of physical work. It’s ok to eat more than normal. You also may not be hungry because of the opposite reasons and it’s ok to eat less. I just focus on making sure I get enough protein in.
@SvenG Tough topic. Kudos for posting about it and I’m happy for you that you have realized the downside to your current habits. That you see the distress that it causes yourself and others, and I’m happy that you seek to ameliorate it.
But that is what they are, habits.
Personally, food and eating has been a problem for years now.
Presumably, your ideals and mine differ. Therefore, all I could do is share what does and doesn’t work for me to inspire you to tweak certain elements of your lifestyle. However, I believe the best thing to do is to envision what you want a weeks worth of food to be and then build habits to support that (without inviting the disorderly bit).
In my current life, I have a lot of leeway to use a kitchen scale but if I imagine what I want my life to be regardless of whether or not I am on my own or have a family I’d much prefer it if I could eat enough to sustain myself and even have the intuition to adjust on the fly to adjust to my activity levels without having to involve a kitchen scale.
The scale absolutely wrecks my trust in my own choices. Not necessarily my intuition. I’ve done blind tests, where I’ve portioned food and then weighed in and more often than not it ends up being pretty suitable at least as far as protein counts go. Nevertheless, if I regularly use it I find that whenever I cannot or whenever I cannot meal plan/prep I experience anxiety from not having as much control as I would otherwise. I abhore that anxiety, and so I routinely seek to rob myself of becoming reliant on the scale.
For a busy week, I’ll try to keep things I like eating readily available and may “prep” things in isolation/make them easy to finish with seasoning to differentiate between dishes and cook things that can be paired with other things on an ad-hoc basis. For a less busy week, I’ll cook plenty of meals which is less time-efficient but can be metamorphised into something positive for the family.
Currently, me and my present company will go through some leaflets with recipes and pick a few that we’d want to eat and ensure that we end up going through them. I’d argue that most end up at around 700-1000 calories depending on what accompanies the main dish, so 3 meals and a protein shake on a training day fits the bill for me and my size.
If you desperately feel as if you need some guideline for portion control I recommend the Precision Nutrition model. All the details that you’d need to implement it is available for free on their site.
@Voxel Thanks for weighing in. I’m encouraged by everything I’m reading here.
Yes! I’ve realized this too, but only just recently—I don’t struggle with what, or even how much, to eat so much as with idea that it’s the precise control over how much I eat that has driven my fat-loss success over the past 16 months (after years of naive and uninformed struggles to drop the fat).
In fact, after all that careful measuring/tracking/etc., I actually know what I should eat, and like you, testing reveals I can now eyeball portions pretty well. Sounds like we also share the struggle to trust in that ability, and the perceived loss of control without a scale.
So, maybe—at least for me—it’s not about “intuitive eating habits” after all. Maybe it’s really about control. Ugh. Heavy stuff.
Thank you—I’ve not encountered the Precision Nutrition model before. Thankfully, I’m on solid footing headed into this transition: my wife and kids are behind me 110% and my counselor didn’t push back when I suggested it was time to move in this direction. (And trust me, he will when he perceives an issue!) And the feedback and support I’ve received here–and in just a day or so since posting the topic—has been incredible.
Nevertheless, I appreciate the pointer to this resource.