You know that calories count.
You know macronutrients matter.
You know how to eat a healthy diet.
So why are you still not as lean as you want to be?
You’ve been cutting back, and that’s great. But it’s not working.
Luckily, there’s a simple method you can use to start dropping fat almost immediately.
Eat only when you’re hungry.
Hunger is a good thing. It’s your body’s way of saying that you have a real reason to consume calories.
Yet most people consume calories at times when they aren’t hungry.
You might eat when your meal plan says you should.
You might eat when it’s convenient.
You might eat more because you made a tasty dinner.
This happens to me, too. Last week, I ate a bowl of yogurt and sliced bananas after dinner when I wasn’t really *that* hungry. I’ve still been dropping body fat, and I rarely do that, but it happens to everyone sometimes.
My friend Christopher Walker calls eating when you’re hungry the “easiest way to drop body fat.” And I agree.
There are several reasons you need to learn this method:
1. It will be with you wherever you go, no matter what you eat. you don’t need a digital scale, a meal plan, or anything else, for this to work.
2. It’s relatively easy, compared to tracking your diet or sticking to a meal plan.
3. It will make other methods of dieting, like calorie counting, If-It-Fits-Your-Macros, and meal planning, much easier.
“Just don’t overeat.”
Or in other words, eat only when you’re hungry.
Why you may eat when you aren’t hungry.
If this is so important, then why aren’t you doing it?
There are three primary reasons people eat when they aren’t hungry:
1. They don’t know what hunger should feel like.
Many people don’t understand what it means to be hungry. They think hunger means being tired or lethargic, or that they aren’t full. Or they don’t pay attention to their appetite at all.
This is what real hunger feels like:
- You have a kind of “hollow” sensation in your stomach.
- You think about food more than usual.
- You salivate more.
You should feel those signs before you start eating.
2. They eat when they’re distracted.
Studies have repeatedly shown that you eat more when you aren’t paying attention to your food.(1)
This could be from watching television, talking with others during your meal, or listening to music. It’s okay to eat while you’re distracted sometimes, but it shouldn’t be the norm. You’ll eat more without realizing it.
3. Your macronutrient intake isn’t balanced.
You may be eating too much of one macronutrient and not enough of another.
The most common example is eating a very low-fat diet. Even if you’re eating enough total calories, it’s easy to get hungry.
You need to eat a certain level of fat and protein to control your appetite.(2,3) If you don’t, you’ll still be hungry even if you’ve eaten enough calories.
How to eat only when you’re hungry.
Let yourself get hungry before your next meal. You should feel that hollow sensation in your stomach at least 30 minutes beforehand.
Even if you have a meal scheduled, don’t eat until you’ve been hungry for a little while.
Here’s the part that’s going to be hard for some of you — if you get hungry before you normally eat, then you need to eat.
A few years ago, I was going through a phase of starving myself that I almost thought would put me in the hospital again. I would eat nothing until about 7 pm, then I’d eat vegetables till I felt sick. That’s on top of several hours per day of training.
That period really damaged my trust in my appetite system. I was used to depriving myself when I was hungry, and then eating past the point of fullness at night.
You may not be doing anything that extreme, but it’s common for fitness nuts to work against their bodies.
As a general rule, try not to let yourself stay hungry for more than 1-2 hours. Otherwise it’s very easy to get cravings, which increases your risk of bingeing.
If you’re used to eating frequently, say five or six meals a day, and you aren’t hungry at mealtimes, then stop. Switch to a lower meal frequency. The reverse is also true. If you want to eat 5-6 meals a day, that’s fine. Just make sure you’re letting yourself get hungry.
Try to let yourself get hungry before 80% of your meals this week.
This is a required habit, but it’s not always enough.
Eating when you’re hungry is essential to staying lean. You can work against your body, like I did, but you won’t be able to maintain it.
But, just eating when you’re hungry isn’t generally enough to get lean. It will help you lose some initial body fat, and it will make the rest of your diet ten times easier, but it’s not enough to get you all of the way there.
This is part 2 in a series on Flexible Dieting. Click here to read parts 1:
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1. Wansink B. From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiol Behav. 2010;100(5):454–463. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003.
2. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373–385. Available at: https://www.ysonut.fr/pdf/Ysodoc/C0302.pdf.
3. McCrory MA, Fuss PJ, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary determinants of energy intake and weight regulation in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2000;130(2S Suppl):276S–279S.