#14: Appetite Management
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
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In post #12: Racing Weight I introduced this idea of leanness and why being lean is beneficial for the cyclist. Building upon that concept I am now writing a series of blogs tackling the 6-step process developed by Matt Fitzgerald in his book Racing Weight. The first and most important step in this process is covered in #13: Diet Quality which can be summed up by adding high quality foods and eliminating low quality foods from your diet.
In this post I want to tackle Step 2 of the Racing Weight plan: Managing your appetite. We'll look at the reasons why we overeat and then how to avoid doing it. At the end I'll give you 8 simple steps to managing your appetite.
I'm pretty sure we are all familiar with the phrase "overeating." But just for clarity, Merriam Webster defines overeating as "to eat in excess." One of its synonyms is to "pig-out." And unfortunately we live in a culture where overeating has become the norm. In fact, sometimes it becomes a bragging right. I'm not gonna lie, I often find myself boasting about how much food I can put down. I've even come up with methods to optimize food intake. For example: When at Chipotle, order the burrito bowl with a tortilla on the side. The tortilla is free of charge and you end up making your own full-sized burrito with about a half bowl left over because the bowls are always way bigger than a normal burrito.
There are several reasons behind why we overeat, but the two main causes are desire and intent.
Hedonic Hunger: eating for pleasure.
Physical Hunger: a real need for food communicated from the body to the mind.
Appetite is simply the desire to eat and can be caused by 2 types of hunger: Hedonic and Physical. These can also be referred to as belly hunger and head hunger. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial for appetite management. Both forms of hunger can cause your mind to think you are hungry depending on the situation. I may have just eaten a huge breakfast 30 minutes ago, but you know when my boss brings in doughnuts I'm gonna throw back half a dozen! When we are tempted with our favorite foods it increases the feeling of hunger, but this is not physical hunger and leads to excess eating. This is hedonic hunger and can be your worst nightmare if you are surrounded by low quality foods.
Fitzgerald argues that "perhaps the most powerful psychological determinant of how much we eat and how full we get is intent." I don't think he means we stuff our selves silly and practice unhealthy eating habits on purpose. We live in a culture that naturally encourages overeating and we often practice mindless eating. This is not a good combination for someone striving for race weight. We simply don't think about how much we are eating. We just eat what is put in front of us without a second thought.
If the goal to losing weight is to eat less calories than you burn than the first method that comes to mind is keeping track of those calories. Thus, the art of calorie counting.
Calorie Counting can work, it's just hard. Who wants to log every single food they eat at every single meal throughout the day? Even if you use a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal you still have to figure out how many servings of each food you're really eating. This app is pretty cool because you can just scan the barcode for each item and it automatically uploads all the nutrition data for that specific item. That definitely makes it a lot easier. But when you get into home-made meals or eating out it can get pretty complicated.
I'll usually use the MyFitnessPal app every few months to get a snapshot of my macro-nutrient intake. What I mean by this is that I'll use the app for about a week and input all the food I eat for that entire week. And then MyFitnessPal will tell me exactly what portion of my diet is made up of carbs, protein and fat each day. This helps me to make sure I'm getting adequate intakes of both carbs and protein. The screenshot to the right shows this within the MyFitnessPal app. More on macro-nutrients to come in a later blog.
There are several things wrong with calorie counting. For it to really work you have to be really accurate on the serving sizes you log, which is a lot harder than it seems. Often times we just eat our food without weighing it or measuring it so we are estimating our portion sizes which can lead to inaccurate counts. Another point of inaccuracy is when you eat out. Most of the time the sizes served at restaurants don't match the calories written on the menu. By the end of the day you can easily end up 10% off of your actual calorie intake which could take you from being calorie negative to calorie positive, thus defeating your goal if you're trying to lose weight.
Side Note: If someone could develop some kind of device that could be inserted or implanted into your mouth or throat that would automatically log all the food you consume without any scanning or weighing then counting calories would be so much easier. Be on the look-out for a Purple Lightning Power prototype coming soon. Now accepting human volunteers.
There is a better way.
The moment you've all been waiting for. Introducing a simpler, better way to weight loss: appetite management. Instead of taking on the difficult challenge of counting calories each and every day, you can simply listen to your bodies natural hunger signals and set up a method of eating based on these signals. No counting calories. No weighing portions. No scanning of food. Just listening to your body.
"Appetite management is not a matter of going hungry for the sake of getting leaner. Appetite management is controlling the amount of food you eat by feel plus a little manipulation of your food environment to make your feel for how much to eat more trustworthy." -Matt Fitzgerald, Racing Weight
Your body knows when it's time to eat. Your stomach growls. Your focus and energy start to wane. You may even experience some hunger pains. These are how our bodies signal to us that we need food. Like we saw earlier, this can be caused by either physical hunger or hedonic hunger. Is your stomach actually empty or are you just tempted by the doughnuts you walked past at the bakery? Figuring out these two hungers is crucial to appetite management and there are two methods of implementation: mindful eating and food environment.
Mindful Eating: eating with awareness.
One of the problems we face is mindless eating. This is eating without thinking about portion sizes or being distracted while we eat. This can be caused by things like eating with the TV on or eating with other people. We are focused on the distraction instead of our meal and end up eating more than we should. Mindful eating is taking control of your awareness while you eat. I'm not saying to eat in a solitary confinement box, but don't just turn off your mind and awareness when you eat. Even if there are distractions.
This also involves daily meal planning. I don't mean meal prep, but rather figuring out when you are going to eat. The method behind this lies in simply listening to your body. When your body tells you it's time to eat then it's time to eat. The goal is to only eat when you're truly hungry. When your body gives you the signs of belly hunger (not head hunger) then you should eat your next meal within 1 hour of when those feelings arise. This may take some tinkering. For example: If you eat an afternoon snack at 3pm and then eat dinner at 6pm despite no belly hunger then you need to either eliminate the afternoon snack or push dinner back to a later time.
Food Environment: physical presence of food that affects a persons diet.
Another obvious problem we face is the presence of food. The food we surround ourselves with creates our food environment and there are times when this is in our control and times when this is out of our control. You control what goes in your kitchen and what doesn't. For specifics on what foods to shop for I'd recommend going back to blog #13: Diet Quality. If your pantry is full of low-quality foods it's going to be hard to avoid these foods and eventually they are going end up in your belly. So the best method is to not even buy them in the first place. You are the master of your pantry!
For the times when your food environment is out of your control Fitzgerald introduces a method called implementation intention. He defines it as "the practice of making specific plans for dealing with temptations before they arise." This can be applied to things like eating out at restaurants or visiting Aunt Betty's house which is filled with home-made cookies and pie. Maybe this means planning ahead to order a salad or only eating one of Betty's famous chocolate chip cookies instead of six.
8 Tips for Appetite Management
The following is from Matt Fizgerald's Racing Weight:
Learn the difference between belly hunger and head hunger. Do not eat when you simply feel like eating and do not have symptoms of belly hunger.
Clean out your kitchen. You will be much less likely to eat low quality indulgences if doing so inconvenient.
Use small dishes. People naturally eat smaller portions when they eat from smaller dishes.
Spoil your appetite. Start each meal by filling some space in your stomach with a food or liquid that has low calorie density.
Keep healthier foods handy. Make it more convenient to eat high quality foods away from home.
Plan for temptation. Apply the implementation intention method described above.
Avoid distracted eating. People tend to eat more when distracted because they are even less attuned to their body signals than normal.
Limit variety. We automatically eat more when we have more flavors, textures and even colors to sample in a meal.
There is a good place for counting calories and I believe that is only periodically throughout the year. The goal of this type of calorie counting is not on actually counting the calories, but gaining a better understanding of the content of your diet. This is important for endurance athletes who want a high-carb diet.
For the best way to gain control of your eating habits I recommend appetite management. The two key methods behind appetite management are mindful eating and food environment. Simply being more aware when you eat and controlling the food in your pantry can go a long way when you're trying to reach racing weight.
Next step: Balancing your energy sources.