How much food is enough food?!
Such a simple question but so. so. so hard in practice because there are 1000 diet plans out there. We tell ourselves, it should be easy: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
Well, it is super simple…and it isn’t. There is so much information out there that it’s hard to know what’s true, what’s BS, and what’s finally going to get you results. In reality, it all comes down to one idea, portion control, but there are a thousand ways to achieve it (this is why nutrition coaches have jobs 😉 )!
Your best bet is always to work 1:1 with a coach, because he or she can troubleshoot the different methods, BUT today, I’m talking through some common strategies AND sharing my foolproof strategy to automate your eating.
Stop at 80%
What is it? It’s all about listening to your body. When you’re hungry, eat up. Once you start to feel the food hit your belly (that feeling where you are first feeling satisfied), stop eating.
Why does it work? Your body does not start to feel full until about 20 minutes after you start eating. The idea of the 80% is that you could keep eating, in fact eating more still sounds good, but you stop knowing that you’ll be more satisfied in about 15-20 minutes. This can help you achieve your goals by ensuring you are not eating until you’re grossly full.
It’s also beneficial when you’re eating rich foods or eating out, because it makes you more aware of how full you actually are. Because let’s be real. Two tacos is definitely plenty.
What’s the drawback? This method requires a lot of awareness into your own hunger cues, which is super hard for those of us who have lived in the restriction space. I also, personally, can’t do this one well because I want to stop eating when I’m full! If I don’t, I feel very unsatisfied.
6 meals a day (the eat every three hours approach)
What is it? Early 2000s diet industry at its best! Portion control is achieved by eating small, snack sized meals every couple hours. The idea is that eating every few hours will stoke your metabolism, keeping you burning fat all day long.
Why does it work? You never get super hungry, so you’re less likely to binge eat. It’s very effective for people who are afraid of eating large volumes of food, like folks in eating disorder recovery.
What’s the drawback? Well, I hate to break it to the BeachBody people but there is literally no scientific evidence that eating small meals every couple hours burns more calories than eating three to four larger meals. Think about it this way, if your car is going to consume 10 gallons of gasoline over 100 miles, it doesn’t really matter if it consumes it all in one day or over the course of a month. The same amount of gasoline is burned. Same with your body.
This method is also tricky because people end up eating a lot more over the course of a day if they plan for five or six meals. As an example, I consumed about 300-500 calories LESS per day when I switched from eating 6 smaller meals per day to 4 bigger meals.
What is it? Either using an online calculator or the help of a trained nutrition coach, you determine the number of grams of protein, carbs, and fat you need in a given day. Once you have your numbers, you record and track them.
Why does it work? You’re literally counting every gram of food going into your mouth, so it becomes really difficult to overeat because you’re hyperaware of your intake.
What’s the drawback? Counting macros can be time consuming and can lead to obsessive behaviors, especially if you have a history of obsession or an unhealthy relationship with food. In that way, the strength of this approach is also its weakness.
It can also be inaccurate, because it relies on the accuracy of food labels. For this reason, I suggest counting macros in conjunction with another approach.
Use your hand
What is it? This is Precision Nutrition’s tried and true method of calorie control that uses your hand to determine portion sizes. Again, this method will require tweaking to fit your needs (I for example, eat more veggies than PN suggests and allow my clients to enjoy non-starchy veggies in nearly unlimited amounts). It’s an awesome tool to have in your toolbox for when you’re eating out or anywhere where you don’t have a lot of control over the food quality.
Why does it work? It uses your hand size to determine how much you should eat. It’s super cool because the sizes of our hands vary (duh), and this is correlated to how much food you need. This method is amazing for teaching you proper portion sizes of the foods you eat.
What’s the drawback? I’ve found this method to require a lot of personalization depending on activity level, tolerance, and preferences.
Katherine Lynn Fitness Approach to “Diet Plans”
Want to learn how I approach the question of “how much do I eat?” My checklist for eating for fat loss breaks it down and teaches you how to turn ANY meal into a fat loss meal. Check it out and let me know your thoughts!
These are the exact steps I take when traveling or when I’m eating out a lot. They’ve helped me maintain my weight and progress, even with lots of meals out!
How do you handle portion control?