What Should You Eat and How Much? Part 2
It isn’t enough to just not overeat.
You also need to make sure you’re getting enough food to keep your body functioning properly, both to lose weight and for good health.
We started the discussion in Part 1 talking about WHAT to eat (start there if you haven’t read it yet). Now let’s move on to figuring out HOW MUCH to eat.
Not Talking About Jimmy
I’m not good at buffets.
I look at most people’s plates and their meals kind of make sense, like a little Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there with a slice of prime rib, an enchilada, and an egg roll.
It’s such a hodgepodge of food that it could never taste good collectively even if the individual food items were amazing.
(And let’s be honest, most buffets are more about quantity than quality anyway.)
The goal at a buffet is usually to eat as much food as possible to get your money’s worth. When you’re just eating normal meals on a day-to-day basis, the strategy needs to be quite different.
It’s not just about calories. You also need a basic understanding of macronutrients, aka macros.
The 3 Macros
Introducing protein, carbs, and fat.
You’ll rarely eat anything that contains only one of these macronutrients. But most foods are a majority of one or another and are regarded as only one (sometimes two) when piecing together a meal.
Here’s a picture we posted on social media awhile back to give you a short list of examples:
It’s the relationship between these macros and calories that help you determine how much food you need to eat.
The amount of food you need differs from person to person, but there IS a guideline to start with, and then adjust as needed for your goals.
This might seem a little complicated at first, but keep reading and you’ll see how to simplify it.
An appropriate serving is (roughly):
Carbs — 25g for women, 50g for men
Protein — 25g for women, 50g for men
Fat — 9g for women, 20g for men
Both men and women need about 3-4 servings per day, unless you’re more active. In that case women could need 4-6 servings, and men could need 6-8 servings.
As you can see, that already leaves a lot of wiggle room.
Your natural size, body type, and activity level make all of this pretty fluid. Start with whichever recommendation makes the most sense to you based on your activity level, then adjust if you aren’t seeing the changes you want.
Putting It All Together
The main problem now is it can become tedious to always look up how many grams of each macro are in the food you eat.
On top of that, some foods will require you to eat a lot more calories to get you the grams you need.
Here are a few pictures to help you get a better understanding of what this looks like:
As you can see, if you only consider macros, there are still some problems.
For example, peanut butter as a protein source is nearly 5x more calories than chicken. And an eighth cup of pasta might get you the right amount of carbs, but it certainly won’t fill you up.
On the other hand, (as we discussed in Part 1) if you only focus on calories, you could end up not getting a balanced meal.
At this point you have a couple choices.
1. The Simple Way
For those of you familiar with it, all of these numbers match up quite well with our “hand guide,” making everything much easier.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the macro breakdown is like this:
Carbs — 1 cupped hand size serving for women, 2 for men
Protein — 1 palm size serving for women, 2 for men
Fat — 1 thumb size serving for women, 2 for men
The number of servings is the same as mentioned above in the “Portions” section.
You might ask, “What about the fact that some foods are higher in calories than others? How does that work?”
Just eat a wide variety of foods. Sure, pasta will give you more calories than rice. So don’t eat pasta all the time. The more variety you have in your meals, the more this will all balance out in the end.
(For an infographic giving a visual example of the hand guide, read Stop Counting Calories.)
2. The Advanced Way
The other option is to carefully track all the food you eat, paying close attention to both the calories and macros of every food in every meal.
There are plenty of people who do this with great success. Most of them are people who are either involved in fitness professionally, or enjoy it as a hobby.
If that’s not you, I recommend sticking with the simple option.
(Side note: If you do want to put in the work with all these numbers, Precision Nutrition has a great calculator for determining your calorie goal.)
When and How Often
The last thing I’ll mention is that it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat, or how often.
Well, that’s mostly true.
The time of day you eat mostly comes down to individual efficacy. If you don’t like eating first thing in the morning, and avoiding it doesn't seem to get in the way of your goals, don't do it.
If your last meal of the day is right before bed, it's likely not a problem. (Unless your diet isn't on track, then it could become a problem, as you can learn more about here.)
How often you eat is also about individual efficacy. You just want to eat often enough to prevent yourself from feeling starved and overeating at any one meal.
In the end, all of the information I’ve given is more flexible than you think.
It’s not a list of rules, just guidelines. It takes a little bit of playing around with it to find what works best for you.
As long as you eat mostly whole foods, have plenty of veggies, and keep the portion sizes at least somewhat near these recommendations, you’ll be fine.
You can, and should, adjust as you go.
If it all still seems a bit overwhelming and you’d like some help, or just some accountability, our online group nutrition coaching program may be the answer.
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