You know that feeling after you’ve eaten a jar, bag or box of something and you turn it around to glance at the nutrition information thinking “Well, that couldn’t have been more than one or two servings” and then your gut sinks a little as you realize not only did you eat one serving but you ate five…Yep, that was me with an entire jar of Nutella. You know how many servings are in a jar of Nutella though? 10 servings...at 200 calories and 11g of fat per serving—you do the math.
At the beginning of my fitness journey (i.e. experimentation) I deeply believed that you had to either be 100% into something or 100% out of it. So when my diet wasn’t 100% perfect it was 100% terrible and if I didn’t go straight to the gym first thing in the morning I 100% didn’t try to get any movement into my day. It was a vicious cycle. As I continue to learn and grow I continue to find new things that work for me and it doesn’t come without a lot of trying and a lot of failing.
As of early April I’ve been cutting for a powerlifting meet, now only two weeks away (yay!), and I say April because all of March I was figuring out what was going to work. I tried calorie counting, macro tracking and just trying to eat “clean.” I hated it. I couldn’t stand not having what I wanted, my mood was dismal and my lifts were suffering so when my parents came to visit in early April I had a revelation—just eat whatever the hell you want. When they came for the weekend we got pizza, pork nachos and a flight of beer for lunch, popcorn at the movie theatre and ice cream for dinner. I listened to my body and ate until I was satisfied. I didn’t beat myself up because I ate “junk” all weekend I just enjoyed the food and enjoyed the time with my family. Fast forward two and a half months and I’m still doing the same—now down almost 15 pounds. After a lot of failing and a lot of trying I’ve finally figured out how to intuitively eat while trying to make a weight class, getting stronger and being happy!
Here are a couple of my tips on how I hacked intuitive eating and portion control to make this cut the most enjoyable endeavor in my fitness journey thus far:
DRINK A TON OF WATER
No matter what is going on in my day I never, ever let this one slide. My water bottle is never more than 10 ft. from my side and if I’m not at least a half-gallon deep (if not more) by noon I chug away. Fortunately, I’ve always been pretty good with water having suffered headaches all throughout middle school and high school I know the importance of staying hydrated and don’t mind drinking plain water 24/7. For those who find it a little harder to even get 32oz. in a day I recommend always carrying a water bottle. Having the physical reminder that you need to drink is easier than trying to seek cups and water fountains. If plain water just isn’t doing it for your taste buds try flavoring your water with lemons, limes, or fresh fruit. I also like to use artificial water flavoring, as I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a couple drops here and there. Start with a half-gallon and work your way up to a full gallon. I used to struggle with a gallon and now I easily hit a gallon and a half. Try it for a week and watch bloating and hunger go down while your metabolism is revved and your overall health is boosted. Nothing is more important during weight loss than water.
FOCUS ON FOOD TIMING
As a strength athlete this one is big for me and as a fiend for sweets I use it to my advantage. Before and after my training session I’m looking for quick digesting carbs (i.e. all the sweet treats) to provide my body with energy to fuel my lifts before and to aide in recovery after. I typically workout in the morning so I make sure that my morning meals are a little more “carb heavy” while the end of the day I tend not to eat as many carbs. This will be different for everyone based on activity level and how your body responds to food at different times of the day. If you work out in the evening focus on eating carb-heavy things later in the day and if you aren’t as physically active try to remain more balanced throughout the day.
LOOK AT CONSUMPTION OVER AN ENTIRE WEEK
On some days our bodies will need more food than on others and that’s okay. Hard workouts, stress and hormone changes will warrant a need for more calories. Don’t try to fight your body when it’s telling you that it needs a little more to eat. We don’t gain or lose weight in a single day—it’s an accumulation of weeks and months in a slight deficit that makes the difference. Adjust small things throughout your week to facilitate larger changes. For me, it has been putting a smaller amount of cheese in my eggs in the morning and only a tablespoon of peanut butter in my yogurt snack that over the weeks has added up to a deficit. It’s not necessary to completely cut things out or restrict large food groups because it won’t be sustainable.
UNDERSTAND THAT THE SCALE DOESN'T ALWAYS GO DOWN
The scale will never go down in a linear fashion. I’ve watched it go down, then not move at all, then go up, stall and then drastically drop. Water intake, carb intake, stress, lack of recovery and menstruation for women all play a role in that number—all of which have nothing to do with your actual weight. Just be aware of it and be aware of how your body fluctuates under different circumstances. And sometimes the scale isn't even an indicator of your success because the scale doesn't measure lean tissue or muscle. The only reason I care even a little bit about that number is because my sport requires it and for competition sake I have to compete against girls who are my size.
IT'S OKAY TO GIVE INTO CRAVINGS
After training one day I went straight to the store and bought mac & cheese because I had been craving it for almost two days. I bought the single-serve container, ate about a third of it with a balanced lunch and put it back in the fridge for later. The more we say “no” to our cravings the more you’ll fixate on it and before you know it you’ll be elbow deep in a jar of Nutella wondering, “What the hell happened?” Instead of denying yourself, have a little and then walk away. Savor the flavor that your body was craving, recognize that giving in doesn’t make you weak, and enjoy your food.
LEAVE ALL YOUR PRECONCEIVED FOOD JUDGEMENTS AT THE DOOR
Leave your “Carbs are bad” “Gluten is the devil” “Dairy is terrible for you” and “Fats make you fat” right where you got them. The point of eating intuitively is to realize that nothing is “off-limits.” There are no rules—and at first that’s scary but then it is freeing. Maybe your body doesn’t do well with certain types of food but recognize that it’s not a rule it’s a preference that is only applicable to yourself.
EXPECT IT TO TAKE TIME
Learning how to listen to your body while eating takes so much time and so much practice. You will not be perfect. I used to try and try and try to eat only a little bit of this or a little bit of that and after feeling satisfied I would continue to eat until I was miserably stuffed and then feel so bad about it after. It sounds too good to be true to be able to eat only half a cookie and walk away but it’s not—it just takes a lot of work. And that’s normally the case with things worth having—they take time and are hard.
Allow yourself the freedom to try. If what you've been doing hasn't worked what do you have to lose? As a coach, I feel more pride in someone who tries and fails than in someone who is perfect the first time around. No growth or learning comes from being perfect and I’m sure that once my goals and perspective change (like they always do) what I’m doing now might not work for me anymore and that's okay.