Today we are going to focus more on the dynamics of eating, which will cover what your plate should look like (what's on your plate), tips for eating out, "being present" while you eat, & letting hunger be your guide. Do any of these sound helpful for you? I hope so! Let's jump in!
Step 6: What's on Your Plate
There are a TON of opinions out there on what your plate should look like, once it is filled with food. Many of the whole-food focused plate ideas are pretty similar, with a few differences. And like everything in life, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all on this one either. Do you think that someone who sits in an office all day and then goes home and watches TV at night should have the exact same meal plan as someone who is putting in hours at the gym, runs marathons, or does physical labor all day for their work? Of course not. Even your own plate ratios from day to day is going to fluctuate based on a number things like activity level, injury recovery, sickness, pregnancy, etc.
Here is my favorite illustration for what your plate should generally look like. It is what I believe will be sustainable and help you live a healthier life. Remember, it's a guide. So don't get all OCD on me about it... :) The key points being:
- Start with roughly the size of your palm (2 palm's worth if a male) to select your size of (quality) protein. Some will find a little less is better, some a little more. Start here, see how you feel and adjust as you pay attention to your body (for example, if you're having problems with constipation, you may be consuming too much protein or may not being getting enough veggies and/or water).
- Fill approximately half your plate with non-starchy veggies (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, etc). I don't think you'll find many people argue that the more veggies you can and are willing to eat, the better. Load them up!
- Make sure you include enough good quality fat(s) in your meal (avocado, good oils, olives, grass-fed butter, coconut, etc.) Keep in mind that some of your fat intake will come from your protein source.
- Eat starchy vegetables, fruit, legumes, & grains as more of a garnish than a main dish; around 1/4 cup-ish (unless your activity levels are high or if you're pregnant/breastfeeding).
- Prioritize water in your day. Try not to drink your calories with sweet drinks that provide little to no nutrition. Tea and lemon water will do wonders to help with digestion.
- If you feel that you need to sweeten something, keep it minimal and try to use whole-food sweeteners.
I'm Eating Out... What Should I Eat?
Food! Oh ok... Since we just talked about what should be on your plate, hopefully we can use this information to help make decisions when eating out.
- Most places will have a salad option that will either come with some protein or can be added for a little extra charge.
- If there isn't a salad option available or you just aren't in the mood for one, look for an entree that features a protein and some vegetables. Often times, an entree will have a protein and a starch (e.g. mashed potatoes) that comes with it. If your activity levels have been/will be high enough that day, then maybe you'll want to have the mashed potatoes. If you've been more sedentary, your body will definitely benefit more from a non-starchy vegetable option if you can substitute for one (broccoli, roasted veggies, a side salad, creamed kale, etc.). Most places will let you substitute a starch for veggies without a problem. It never hurts to ask.
- Whenever possible, I try to look at the menu ahead of time to see what options will be best for me. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always call up the restaurant before you get there. It is in the best interest of a restaurant to accommodate you so you will go there again.
- When I go to a Mexican restaurant, I really like to order fajitas. I don't eat the tortillas (or you could get corn instead of flour) but the dish is naturally some meat and vegetables and usually topped with guacamole! Even though it's not authentic, I think the Chipotle carnita salad with fajita veggies & guacamole on top is a delicious eating out option!
- We also love to get BBQ sometimes because we can usually get the sauce on the side (which is often pretty sugary) and there are typically other veggie sides that can be picked to go with the meat.
- At an Italian restaurant, it's common to find multiple steak/chicken/fish & veggie entrees or there is pretty much always some kind of soup and salad combo.
- Chinese is kind of tough in my opinion because the protein rarely seems like very good quality and almost all of the sauces are full of soy and sugar. There are often steamed vegetables available, and then I try to look for meat that isn't breaded or coated in a sugary sauce.
- My in a hurry, drive-thru kid protein are the grilled chicken nuggets at Chick-fil-A. It surprised me but my kids won't eat the breaded nuggets!
"Being Present" While Eating
Now that we know what we are aiming to put on our plate to eat and have some tips on ordering out, let's cover "being present" while eating.
Let's try a little challenge, yes, right now. Go grab 10 raisins or 10 nuts, or something small like that. Now I want you to see how long you can take to eat it. For some, this will actually be really difficult (like me, for example). Did you notice any differences in the flavor between each raisin (or whatever food you chose)? If I am not paying attention, I am someone who would throw all 10 raisins in at once, hardly chew them, and then swallow. I eat so quickly sometimes that I have no idea I have already made myself ill from overeating; at which point I am already past the point of no return. Can you relate? Let's try to help all of us do better than that...
I'm a mom, I've been employed "full-time" with the only option to eat in the car/on the train/on the go some days. I get it. Sometimes you just aren't going to "be present" while you are eating (screaming kids sound familiar?). And that's 100% okay. But we do want to increase how often we are able to really notice what we are eating and enjoy the whole experience and what it has to offer. So I want to challenge you to try to take a minimum of 15 minutes (30+ would be better) for each meal you have today. Try to really notice the flavors of the food and how your body is feeling as you eat. How does it taste? Are you full? You may be surprised at what you notice.
Hunger as Your Guide
Once we actually take the time to slow down and notice how we feel when we eat, we have the ability to let hunger be the guide and stop eating when full. Another part to this though, is to only eat when we are actually hungry. I am totally guilty of this too. Especially first thing in the morning. I hop out of bed and head straight to the kitchen to make breakfast. Whether I am hungry or not, I usually cook up some kind of delicious egg hash, topped with avocado and eat it. Not a big deal, but definitely not the intuitive eating that would better serve me.
Everyone has their own eating schedule. My husband, for example, isn't really hungry in the morning until about 10:00. I am usually hungry right after I wake up. To make it work for us, I make extra breakfast, of whatever I'm eating, and save a serving for my husband to take with him to work the next day. Then he can eat it whenever he is hungry and I don't have to worry about getting up early to make sure he has something to eat before leaving.
If you are not hungry for a while in the morning, that's just fine. I know many people who keep their eating window to approximately 8 hours (e.g. 10am-6pm or noon-8pm). It's called intermittent fasting. Many men do pretty well with this method and tend to find they just aren't hungry really often. It can be a really effective method to burn body fat too. Women need to be more careful with intermittent fasting but it could be an option as well. The point though, is to pay attention to your body. Are you really hungry or simply tired, bored, or dehydrated?
If you are someone who has been eating without paying attention to your body's hunger signals for a while, try skipping a meal or maybe even two meals until you feel the real hunger pains again. I have no intention of starving you but I do want you to eat when you are legitimately hungry and to nourish your body.
Keep me updated on progress and questions. On to Step 7!