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Got Food? How to Know if You Are Eating Enough
A few people who train at CFO, aka CFOers, are doing a Paleo Challenge until March 30th. For those of you new to the whole Paleo thing, for the next 33 days their diet will consist of unlimited amounts of meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, coconut, veggies and some fruit (I like to frame it this way rather then focus on the foods that you can’t have). Although, I’m not officially participating in the challenge, I’ve joined their Google Group, where they stay in touch and get support from each other--which, by the way, is a brilliant idea!
Earlier this week there was in email from one of the participants, who shared that she’d been feeling chronically tired and hungry and was ready to call it quits. Fatigue, irritability and hunger are all common complaints I hear from folks switching from a high-sugar, high-grain diet (all grains/starch turn into sugar) to a lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat, higher-protein diet. This is often the result of two things: 1) the body goes through an initial adjustment period where it’s being deprived of sugar and now having to resort to burning fat for fuel and/or 2) the effects of withdrawal symptoms, particularly if you were eating a lot of dairy, gluten, or sugar.
That said, often when I hear this complaint, the first thing I do is look at what they’re eating. Always do the simplest thing first! Perhaps, those hunger pangs are simply your body’s way of saying, “feed me!”
So, just to be certain, I entered her breakfast, which consisted of 2 eggs, ⅓ can of coconut milk and berries, into a nutrition database and found that while it was a nice well-balanced meal, it only provided her with a mere 387 calories. So, how do you know if a 387-calorie meal is an adequate meal for you?
This is often where I see people make some of the biggest (and easiest to avoid) mistakes. When you’re figuring out how much to eat, how often to eat and how much of each macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrates) you should get, there are a number of factors that you will want to consider before putting that fork to your mouth. The #1 thing to remember is that we are each unique in our biological make-up and our tolerances or intolerances to certain foods. This is SO important! Just because someone who you train with is about the same size as you and benches the same as you, it does NOT therefore, mean you should both eat the same foods in the same quantities.
Here are some things to consider:
- What are YOUR goals? Do you want to lose weight, put on muscle, or maintain your weight? Knowing this will help guide you in choosing how much of each macronutrient you need at each meal. For example, those looking to lean out, may want to bias their meals towards more protein and less carbohydrate.
- How well do YOU tolerate cheese, milk and grains? How about sugar? How do you feel when you eat these foods? IF you get symptoms like, gas, bloating, belching, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, or congestion, your body is not handling these foods well and it’s best to avoid them.
- What’s your energy like after a meal? Do you crash after a meal? Food coma? Sure sign you had too many carbs/sugar or just ate too much.
- How active are YOU? If you sit for 8 hours a day, you probably don’t need to eat as much as someone who works on their feet all day. Even if you do CrossFit.
- How sore are you after workouts? Barring rare exceptions, if it takes you more than 3-5 days to recover from a workout, you probably need more protein.
- Are you hungry all the time? If you are hungry all the time, you are not getting enough food at your main meals. Your digestive system needs a break between meals and if you’re constantly feeding, you're putting a huge demand on your system. Also, if you're eating all the time, your body never gets to use its reserves (aka your body fat)! Most people can do just fine on 3 meals a day. Likewise, if you are not hungry, DON'T eat. Don't force food down your throat just because you think you should; your body will tell you when it needs to be re-fueled. I should also mention that often when someone has low-appetite (the one-meal-a-day person) it's usually a sign of a sluggish metabolism. Our metabolism will slow down to conserve energy if we restrict calories too much. Don't be a calorie counter. It takes the pleasure out of eating and will eventually cause your metabolism to come to a screeching halt.
The bottom line here is that each and every one of us is different in our dietary needs and this will most likely change at various stages through our life based on our training, health status, etc. Just remember to listen to your body. Don't ignore signals from your body. And don't get stuck in a rut with food; always re-evaluate the way you're eating and decide for yourself how well it is working for YOU.