Learn How to “Eat by Feel”
Written by Kim McLaughlin and Fritz Nugent
Let’s begin by stating that this article is written for those who constantly track their food. Perhaps you bring a gram scale on vacation. Maybe you dream about macro percentages and spend more time each day on MFP than Instagram. If you are happy with that, carry on. Maybe read the rest of this article, just to get a taste of what else is possible. Or maybe you dislike your nutrition tracking habits and are seeking a change.
There are Many Ways to Navigate Your Nutrition
If you want to be precise with your intake, weighing foods with a gram scale is arguably the most accurate way to estimate. However, tracking calories, counting macros, and weighing every single thing that you eat can be cumbersome. Some studies suggest that nutrition tracking habits can fuel the fires of eating disorders. If you happen to be a chronic food weigher and tracker, hopefully this article helps to teach you 1) how to wean yourself off of those habits, and 2) replace them with a new series of habits supporting an “eat by feel” approach:
Circle Back Often
There is a semblance of a sequence here. Like almost all learning, it’s not linear, meaning you will have to cycle back numerous times to earlier steps. If you want to learn how to eat by feel, it takes a while. Stay the course.
Here’s the quasi-linear with circling back often “list”:
1). Once you have a consistent and specific nutrition intake, begin to check in with how you feel before, during, and after meals.
What is your level of hunger? Your level of hunger should feel different before/during/after each meal throughout the day. Learning to feel and understand your baseline hunger and habits surrounding feeding can take a few weeks (or more). If you want to be data-driven here, you can rank your hunger on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is how you feel after stuffing yourself after thanksgiving dinner, and 10 is how you might feel if you haven’t eaten for a few days and you were hiking the rockies hunting bighorn sheep with a rock and a spear.
For simple reference here, people who want to lose weight should be hungry before meals AND a little hungry afterwards, too. If you want to lose weight, you will have to learn to live with hunger. If you aren’t hungry, ever, you better be training your ass off. Athletes who want to gain weight are instructed to eat until full at one meal each day, and until mostly full at the other meals. If this is how you eat, then you might be on my weight gain plan…
2) Start to guess and check.
If you normally eat 170g of Greek yogurt for breakfast, scoop what you recognize as 170g and then check with a scale to verify. Notice your tendencies. Are there certain foods that you tend to overestimate or underestimate? If you are off by 5,10, 25g of something what effect will that have on your overall intake for the day? An overestimate of avocado by 30 grams (50 calories) will have a different effect than an overestimate of grapes by 30 grams (20 calories). Learn where you need to be more diligent and less diligent on your eyeball measurements.
There are some places where underestimation is a good thing. If you underestimate protein-rich foods, that error will play into your favor if increasing lean body mass is one of your goals.
3) Begin to decrease tracking to less days each week.
If you currently track 7 days/week, consider decreasing weekly tracking to 4 weekdays and 1 weekend day. After a month, 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day. After another month, 1 weekday. The process of peeling back tracking days can take a few weeks to months depending on your comfort with this change. The trick here is to complete the transition slowly enough that you can maintain the success that you have had up to this point. Success is defined by you, of course. Importantly, you must maintain confidence in your eating style. Paying attention to your energy, sleep, and performance in life and in the gym will help you build confidence with the changes that you are making.
4) Remove tracking.
Once you have confidence in monitoring and satisfying your appetite with less tracking, then you can remove tracking altogether and continue to monitor your metrics (body weight, how clothes fit, 1-2 body composition tests each year, etc.) that matter to you while working to maintain a balance between nutrition, sleep, and stress.
5) Cut back on tracking.
Initially after cutting out tracking completely, you can track once every other week, then once a month to ensure that your skills of estimating your intake remain accurate.
When your goals change or when you start to feel like your progress is going in a direction that you don’t want, reassess your macros and start again with weighing and measuring 5-7 days a week and then gradually working your way back down to eating by feel.
Once again, this is a non-linear process. You may have to go back up this list a few times as you progress along the learning pathway. We wish you luck, and are here for support! If you have questions, comment below and we’ll get back to you. If you would like to follow a more structured approach, consider signing up for the Invictus Nutrition Program!