Have you ever had one of those nights where you can’t sleep and you just can’t get going the next day? Or maybe you stayed up late because your to do list was out of control? The next day all you can think about are lattes, cookies, cake, pizza, lasagna, <insert food of choice here>. Good luck sticking with making healthy choices when that happens, right?
Have you stopped to think about why that is? It’s pretty simple – carbs. When you’re exhausted, your body wants energy and it’s smart enough to know that the fastest way to get that energy is to load up on carbs. Carbs, even those that are slower digesting, enter the bloodstream much faster than proteins or fats to perk you up.
Similar processes take place when you’re dieting or eating fewer calories than you burn. Your body realizes it isn’t getting enough calories so it’s much easier to convince you to eat carbs for energy than it is to burn stored fat. Burning fat takes effort that your body doesn’t want to expend. That’s when those cravings kick in, hunger picks up, and you end up dying for a quick fix.
This wouldn’t be a huge problem if we didn’t have such easy access to fast food and snacks. Imagine you were trapped in an orchard and carb cravings hit. It would take a while to eat several hundred calories in apples. In the meantime, you’d probably get full after eating a couple and stop there. It would be rare to overeat.
Now envision being trapped in a Krispy Kreme (my personal favorite) and craving carbs. You could quickly eat quite a few calories and end up overstuffed and miserable before it registered with your brain. Then if you’re like the majority of us, you’d blame it on your lack of willpower, beat yourself up for giving in, and maybe even eat more since you’ve already ruined your eating for the day.
That binge and restriction method is eventually going to reflect in the scale and on your body. So what the heck are you supposed to do about this? We’ve been talking lately about stopping the diet mentality and focusing more on just getting healthy instead of obsessively counting calories, ignoring hunger, worrying about the scale, and other typical diet thoughts.
Listening more to your body and what it’s telling you, allows your weight to trend towards it’s natural setpoint. Eat for hunger, eat until you feel full, and then stop. This part is really difficult if you’ve been dieting for a while. It was next to impossible for me after my first competition. I’d ignored hunger for so long and was so exhausted from working out that my body screamed carbs every moment of the day.
The first step nutritionally in learning to recognize true hunger is to eat balanced meals. When you combine carbs with slower digesting proteins at each meal, your body gets its immediate need for energy met and then can use the proteins to sustain the need for a while longer. The protein-carb combination is the key here.
If you eat a meal of mainly carbs, your energy will spike quickly, fall fast, and then you’ll crave more carbs to continue that cycle. A meal of mainly protein when your body needs energy won’t help either. Protein will take too long to digest and your body will keep photo bombing your thoughts with cake and cookies to convince you to give in.
Focus on meals that are made up of approximately 1/4 protein like eggs, meat, fish and 3/4 carbs like veggies, bread, crackers, fruit. This will keep you going for 3 to 6 hours depending on how much you eat. Check in with your stomach after 3 hours and see how you feel. Are you hungry? If so, repeat with another balanced meal. If not, wait and check again each hour or so.
Notice I didn’t say eat 4 oz of chicken, 2 slices of bread, and 1 cup of broccoli or something similar. That’s your brain telling your body what it needs to eat. Think in quarters or even thirds if you like the 1/3 protein, 2/3 carbs ratio better, but NOT in terms of calories or measurements. I also didn’t tell you what to eat. Just put your meal together with carbs and protein you like for now, eat it, and do the hunger check I talked about.
If you don’t eat again until you are truly hungry, your body will tell you when it needs more calories. If you eat a large balanced meal, it may be 5-6 hours before you’re hungry enough to eat again. If you eat a smaller balanced meal, you’ll probably be hungry sooner. It will take a little bit to get used to mentally and physically just like any new habit.
If you keep repeating this, you’ll be allowing your body to start regulating itself and you’ll begin thinking in a new way. Pretty cool concept, huh. There’s more to come. 🙂