Today I want to talk about something that permeates the fitness industry which is the concept of supporting lifting big weights with eating big meals. Now to some extent, and for some goals, this is a totally valid methodology! If you want to move big weights around, it helps to have more mass to do so. But if you’re looking to get leaner through strength training, the “eat big” mentality can sometimes be inhibiting your results.
Before I got into lifting weights, I had some pretty disordered eating habits. I always wanted to lose weight, so I would try to restrict my calories as much as possible for as long as I could, but would eventually “crack” and binge on whatever I could get my hands on. I didn’t like to eat in public because I feared that people would judge me, so I waited until I got home and everyone in my house was asleep before I would ransack the kitchen. This is a bit of a different story for a different time, but I just wanted to give you a little history of what I’ve put myself through in the past.
When I started lifting weights, I was relieved to “learn” (i.e. read on the internet) that you could eat whatever you want and stay super lean as long as you lifted heavy enough!! Lifting weights became my excuse for eating a lot and I would justify my large portions with the fact that I had to support my lifting! The problem was, I wasn’t seeing the results that I thought I would. Sure I was getting a lot stronger, but the leanness that everyone talked about achieving from lifting weights just wasn’t happening for me. I chalked it up to my thyroid disorder (another post for another day) and figured it just wasn’t in my DNA to be “lean.”
As a Precision Nutrition coach, I have successfully helped countless people who are struggling with weight loss reach their goals. I feel that I have a solid grasp on nutrition and the principles behind eating for fat loss. When I meet with my nutrition groups, one of the FIRST things I talk about is eating slowly and stopping at 80% full (a.k.a. satisfied.) For the most part, as a culture, we eat too quickly and we don’t understand the difference between satisfied and full. We scarf down our meals to the point of discomfort and feel the need to unbutton our pants after eating!
Well, sometimes we have to hear things multiple times in multiple different ways before they actually click. For me, I was so focused on making sure I was making all the right choices as far as food selection went, that I never really paid attention to my own advice to think about how fast I was eating or how full I was feeling after each meal. I had been so immersed in the idea that being super active meant I didn’t really have to focus on my portion sizes very much.
About 6 months ago, after saying it out loud again to another client, I realized that eating slowly and stopping myself at 80% full was something I had never truly worked on myself. I was at the point of total frustration because I knew I was doing everything else “by the books” so I figured I might as well see if this strategy would work for me. Low and behold, this had been the missing piece to the puzzle for me. Slowing myself down during meals (striving to take 20 minutes to finish each meal) made me realize that I had been giving myself portions that I actually couldn’t finish. The only reason I had been finishing them before was because I was eating so quickly that I didn’t realize I was full!
Such a simple strategy has helped so many of the people I have worked with, but as a fitness professional and someone who has been influenced by others in the industry saying that people who lift can eat huge portions, I had never employed the strategy to my own nutritional habits!
If you think that this might be something you should try for yourself, here are some action steps to start taking. A key thing to realize is that this change was not necessarily easy for me at first. I had to take steps that were challenging initially, but have now become habit and much easier to implement!
Action Step #1: Set a (realistic) timer!
The thought of slowing down my meals was actually really scary at first. Due to my job, I usually go 6-7 hours between meals, and by the time I was ready for a meal, I felt like I had to get as much food in my body as possible! Setting a timer for 20 minutes to finish my meal felt like an eternity! So I started by just timing how long a “normal” meal took me to eat. It was about 3 minutes. Going from 3 minutes to 20 minutes would have been torture, so I set my first timer at 10 minutes. Even that felt like forever! But eventually I was able to feel more relaxed and I kept adding time each week until I was able to get to 20.
Action Step #2: Set new expectations of portion sizes!
Once I was able to slow myself down, I realized that what I thought I could eat was actually way off. I had to re-learn how much food to give myself for each meal! I started using smaller plates and bowls and serving myself much less than I would ever have before. This wasn’t because I was trying to limit my intake, but because my body literally didn’t want the amount that I had been feeding myself before – I just hadn’t been listening!
Action Step #3: Go back for seconds rather than filling your plate to the brim!
I don’t know about you, but my parents DRILLED the idea of eating everything on my plate into me when I was younger! Being a member of the “clean plate club” was what we strove for in my household! So if you’re like me, you don’t like seeing food left behind on your plate. What I realized was that it was easier to serve myself a smaller portion, and then wait. If after 20 minutes I still felt hungry, I could always go back for more! But if I put it on my plate to begin with, I would pretty much always finish it. I find more and more that when I think I will end up going back for seconds, I am actually satisfied and don’t feel that need to refill my plate.
If you think that you are someone who is eating all the right foods and following all the advice out there on what to eat, but still aren’t seeing the results you want, maybe these steps could work for you too! It’s actually one of the simplest things you can do and doesn’t require much planning or preparation, but it’s something many of us neglect to consider and it could be hindering your results!
Learn more about getting fit with the Unify Approach, a new, four-part fitness methodology.