By: Abby Keyes
I love summer. After long South Dakota winters, we finally get sunshine and warmth. But it always fiddles with my nutrition habits. Bonfires, grilling out with friends, and days at the lake. I enjoy it all. But it also means s’mores, cocktails, and snacks. To get back on track I have two, never-fail-me nutrition skills that I always use. They helped me get and stay lean.
I was once confused, overwhelmed, and unsuccessful with nutrition. You can see more about it in my Perfect Diet blog. I tried elimination diets and many forms of all-or-nothing plans.
When you are relying on rule-following only, it is hard to make anything stick long-term. You may find yourself getting caught up on the little details.
“I only eat sweet potatoes on workout days.”
“Can I eat lentils?”
You’re measuring every bite, counting every macronutrient, or taking an outrageous amount of supplements.
You may find yourself putting food into categories of “good” or “bad”. The “good” foods belong on the approved list from your current plan. And the “bad” foods are from the naughty list of that same plan. You feel proud when you eat the good foods, angry at yourself when you eat the bad foods.
I learned the phrase “mowing the lawn with your house on fire” in my Precision Nutrition Level 2 certification. When you get lost in the details or focus on the wrong things, it is like continuing to mow the lawn while your house is in flames.
Don’t worry about the fine details until you have the basics down.
What are those two little tricks I always rely on?
- Eat slowly
- Stop eating at 80% full
This is where I get blank stares and crickets. I can see people thinking “That’s it? This is your grand advice?”
It sounds too simple, but we forget that simple doesn’t mean easy, and that knowing doesn’t mean doing.
Don’t worry about minute details or complex strategies before you have these two basics down first. Put the fire out before you finish mowing.
Most of us eat too fast. This skill has little to do with what to eat, but instead how to eat. It takes about 20 minutes for the communication from the stomach and brain to take effect. When we eat too fast, we are more likely to overeat because our brain hasn’t sent its “full” signal yet. When we slow down, we tend to feel satisfied while eating less.
Work toward making your meal last 15-20 minutes. Time yourself at your next meal. The actual number may surprise you. Do you find you finish after just a few minutes? Try adding a minute at a time and continue until you are comfortable in the 15-20 minute range.
Make sure to sit for your meal and remove distractions like TV. Really taste your food. You can also try taking smaller bites and chew the food completely. Or, set the fork down after a few bites and take the time to sip water throughout the meal.
Aside from eating less, slowing down also helps us to notice our hunger signals. This leads to the next super-skill.
Stop Eating at 80% Full
This is best described as feeling satisfied; no longer hungry, but not stuffed. Many of us have been trained to clean our plates and not waste food. We end up leaving the table wishing we had our Thanksgiving Pants on, like Joey from Friends would say. It will initially feel strange and takes some trial and error. With practice you will be able to better gauge the right portion sizes and understand the 80% feeling.
Precision Nutrition Hunger Scale
Use this scale to help guide your understanding of hunger cues. Notice how you feel before, during, and after eating. Use a 1 (no hunger) to 10 (extreme hunger) scale to rank your hunger.
Immediately after eating
To be 80% full, shoot for about a 2 or 3 out of 10 on the hunger scale. Pause for 15-20 minutes before you eat more. This will give your brain time to catch up. You want to feel satisfied, not stuffed.
One hour after finishing
You should still feel physically satisfied with no desire to eat another meal.
Two hours after finishing
You may start to feel a little hungry, like you could eat something, but the feeling isn’t overwhelming.
Three to four hours after finishing
Check in. You may be getting a bit hungry, perhaps a 4 to 6 out of 10. If you’re around a 7, eat. Not really hungry yet? That’s OK. Follow your body cues.
Four or more hours after finishing
You’re probably quite hungry, like nothing is getting between you and the kitchen. If you’re around a 7 or higher, eat. Not really hungry yet? That’s OK. Keep checking in with your body. You may find you need to act fast once your body decides to be hungry — so be prepared with a healthy and quick option, just in case.
Put out the fire first
Forget about tiny details or complex plans until you have the basics down consistently, even when you’re trying to get back on track with old habits. Do your best to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Practice paying attention to the feedback from your body. Notice what hunger and 80% full feel like. Practice eating slowly and enjoying each meal. Once the flames are out (you can do both skills consistently), you can return to your mowing.