Have you ever wondered why we (humans) spend so much time trying to figure out how much we should eat?
We can send a man to the moon, make a super computer small enough to fit in our pockets, communicate with nearly anyone around the world instantaneously, yet we cannot figure out how much to eat!
Yet every other animal can figure out how much to eat without logging their food in an app, knowing the macro and micronutrients for everything they consume, or running numbers through a calculator.
“Once you pop, you can’t stop”
Does that sound familiar?
This was Pringle’s slogan for years.
The slogan is perfect, because it describes the number one problem when it comes to trying to understand why we have such a hard time figuring out how much to eat.
As soon as we start to process a food we alter its caloric density. The unnatural state of these foods make it hard for us to judge the caloric density and detect the satiating nature of them.
Consider this: how many plain baked potatoes could you eat?
No salt, butter, cheese, bacon, nothing but potato!
I bet most people could only eat one or two potatoes.
Now turn that potato into french fries, or better yet, Lay’s BBQ chips (my jam back in the day!).
How many potatoes could you eat then?
I could easily put away a family size bag of Lays BBQ chips, I bet that is way more than 2 potatoes, not to mention a whole load of fat and all kinds of “flavoring”.
Research has actually proven out that once the caloric density of a food item surpasses 1.7kcal/g that humans have a hard time judging the energy density of the food item.
Lay’s BBQ chips come in at a whopping 5.4kcal/g!!!!
When our diet relies on processed foods it becomes much harder for us to judge how much to eat because we just have not evolved eating these foods.
What other side effects do processed foods have on us?
The reward for eating them is great and we will give a lot more to obtain them.
Now I am sure some of you are saying “Did he just say the reward is great?”
Yeah I did, it is not a typo.
Evolutionary the reward is great.
All processed foods have a unique combination that is rarely found in nature, they contain both fat and carbohydrates. This means one thing to us, calories. Calories were a good thing ancestrally and when we found them we would go a long way to obtain them.
Honey is one of the few whole foods that has a caloric density greater than 1.7kcal/g, it comes in at 3 kcal/g. Now consider what our ancestors would have to go through to get honey. They first had to find it, they couldn’t run to the store and get any. If they found any, they then had to get it from the hive….without a bee suite. Most likely they were going to have to climb a tree which comes with a risk of falling. Remember there are no hospitals around. That is a lot of risk but our ancestors would almost always try to obtain the honey if they found it. The reason they would take this risk? CALORIES!!!
Research has proved this out by showing people are more likely to pay for foods that combine carbs and fat and have a harder time judging the caloric density of the very same foods (backing up the study above) . Today we pay for these things with money, our ancestors were paying with their health and survival.
Getting A Handle On How Much You Need To Eat
If we want to figure out how much to eat then we need to do four things.
- Eliminate Processed Foods
- Track Food Intake
- Track Weight
- Journal about satisfaction after eating
Your only chance to re-establishing your true natural hunger cues is to eliminate the processed foods that are causing them not to work properly.
I wish I could say that doing that alone will get you back on track, unfortunately for most, it won’t. Most people will still have a hard time controlling their hunger signals from decades of processed food consumption. This is where I think tracking both food intake and body weight as well as journaling for a short period of time can be helpful.
The weighing and tracking of your food helps you tie the nutrition and caloric content of the food to what you see visually on your plate. For example, after 2 weeks of tracking you know what is in 4 oz of chicken breast and what a 4 oz chicken breast looks like. Once you do this for a majority of the foods you consume, which probably is a small amount of foods since we tend to eat the same time over and over again, you can accurately judge how much food you are eating just by looking at it.
The next step is to tie the amount of food you are eating with what you actually need to consume to maintain your weight. This is where tracking your body weight comes in. If you are eating a certain amount of food and your body weight is relatively stable for 2 weeks you know you are eating enough to maintain your weight. If your weight goes up or declines ON AVERAGE over the course of 2 weeks then you know you need to eat less or more.
Finally, and probably the most important part, is journaling about how each meal makes you feel in the hours after you consume it. If you ate a meal that had a decent amount of calories in it but you find yourself feeling ravenous 2 hours later that is probably not a good meal to consume often because it is going to leave you wanting more, If you find you eat a meal containing a relatively small number of calories but feel full in the hours after you know that is probably a good meal for you. The journaling portion of this process is key in helping you get to the point where you can trust your hunger sensations again.
If this process takes longer than 2 weeks that is no big deal, be patient, take as much time as you need. Once you get to a place where your body weight is stable, you feel comfortable judging the caloric and nutrient content of the meals you are eating, and you know what meals work best for you, you have done it! Congrats! You now can stop tracking and you know exactly how much you can eat without needing to do anything else than listening to your body!
Eliminating environmental mismatches like processed foods, is what forms the basis of my whole practice and is at the crux of what I work on with clients on a weekly basis. It doesn’t matter if you are an athlete looking for peak performance or a grandmother looking to be strong enough to play with their grandkids, addressing environmental mismatches can help everyone. My newsletter is packed full of helpful tips to help you address these environmental mismatches in your own life. Jump on now in order to get this free, useful content delivered to you automatically. You can easily sign up using the form below.
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- (2018, June 14). Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and … – Cell Press. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.cell.com/fulltext/S1550-4131(18)30325-5 ↑