Have you ever been tempted to buy an XXL jar of spread or take advantage of a promotion of three packets of pasta for the price of one? Yes, probably, and especially in this period of inflation. Unfortunately, this type of promotion often has a perverse effect: we buy more, we eat more. Without necessarily realizing it: we tend to underestimate the quantities of food we consume. Some of my patients have a fairly balanced diet, but are unable to lose weight because their quantities are too large for their size. It is sometimes enough to reduce this quantity by 10% to see an impact on the balance.
Variable energy needs
According to the French health authorities (Anses), women need, on average, 2100 calories per day. But it is indeed an average. In reality, the need can vary up or down from 100 to 800 calories compared to this average according to the size, the age, the weight and the level of physical activity of each one. It can also be impacted by health problems, the level of muscle mass, heredity (some bodies, alas, genetically burn less than others). If you eat quantities that allow you to stay in the ideal caloric range, you keep, in principle, a stable weight. Yes, but how to assess the quantity that suits us?
Some dietitians will make clever calculations to translate these calories into grams of protein, fat, carbohydrates. And will recommend, for example, a lunch consisting of 120g of meat, fish, eggs or vegetable proteins + 40g of raw starchy foods + 250g of fruit and vegetables for the lunch of a 40-year-old woman of average build. But who wants to weigh? Isn’t that the best way to beat yourself up?
Quantities based on the level of hunger
This is what I explain to Agnès, who is used to following “turnkey” diets with precise menus and quantities. I offer him another, more sensory option. I invite her to experience, for herself, the quantities that suit her. For each of her meals, she will pay attention to her level of hunger and try to eat the appropriate amount to properly address that hunger. I invite him to observe what signals his body sends him (and not his head) to show his need to be nourished and to notify his satisfaction, both physically (the belly is full) and sensory (the pleasure has been sufficient). Hunger is thus expressed by a little fatigue, a hollowness in the stomach and gurgling. Satiation associates physical fullness with the end of the desire to eat.
You have to trust your body to know how much to eat.
It’s a small revolution for Agnès who tends to “anticipate” her hunger and is always afraid of running out. She feels reassured in the face of very full plates and does not really trust her body. “If I’m only a little hungry, and I eat little, I’ll never last until the next meal,” she told me. Possible, but not certain.
The whole point of the exercise is to confront fantasy with reality. To really experience that what thought tells us is not necessarily what happens in reality. We can then gradually learn to trust (or re-trust) our body to tell us the right quantities to consume. Just as babies and toddlers intuitively do, almost unable to eat beyond their needs.
The hand as a landmark
I am aware that this proposal can destabilize and seem “fuzzy” at first sight. This is why I also propose some benchmarks, but still without scales! I invite Agnès to trust her “hand” to assess the right quantities.
Our hand is proportional to our corpulence: it therefore allows a tailor-made adjustment. For a lunch or a dinner, the good quantity of vegetables will thus be the equivalent of the volume of two clenched fists, that of starches will correspond to a fist, and the portion of meat (or tofu) to the size of the palm of the hand. The portion of cheese will be long and wide like a thumb and that of butter equivalent to the size of a knuckle.
Super simple, intuitive and effective! Agnès now has fun with each consultation to offer me photos of her meals with her hand in the field. This method reassures her, but she also gradually manages to listen to her body and to experience that smaller quantities are enough for her. I also invite him to be attentive to his pleasure and to know how to spot when it decreases enough for it to be possible to stop eating.
It is not mandatory to finish your dish if you have already enjoyed it: the last three bites of a nice plate of carbonara pasta are not the most satisfying. “And if I want to eat and I’m not hungry, it’s no? said Agnes to me. Fortunately, it’s not that rigid! Gluttony is part of the charm of our human condition. My credo for not being afraid of it or being overwhelmed? “Give yourself the smallest quantity possible to have fun”.