Is there a way to avoid overeating without having to count calories? Or is it just a "go by how you feel" and "adjust as you go" thing?
Well, the intuitive approach to eating can work great IF you've had enough experiences in the trenches of weighing, measuring, and adjusting your food. Intuition is not magic; it's a natural consequence of experience and practice. If you don't have the experience and practice, you can't possibly develop intuition.
Based on that, you can definitely use the "go by how you feel" approach. I like to use a combination of subjective and objective measures. The subjective measure I use is called HEC (hunger, energy, cravings) or SHMEC (sleep, hunger, mood, energy, cravings).
These are acronyms I came up with to help my clients have a window into their hormonal functioning/balance. If your HEC or SHMEC is in check, your hormonal system is likely balanced and the approach you're using is going to be far more sustainable. The objective feedback comes from body composition results.
Here's Something to Consider
Those eating low calories and burning a lot of calories (dieters) and those eating a ton of calories and burning none (couch potatoes) both suffer from HEC/SHMEC being out of check. That's because both of these metabolic states, when taken to the extreme, are a stress to the system.
What does the metabolism do when it encounters a significant stress? It tries to get back to balance. It does so by making you move less (less energy, less motivation) and eat more (increased hunger and cravings). Remember, most stressful things the body encounters will turn on our ancient survival software – the starvation response.
Now that you understand, you have a tool to know if you're going too far with things. Be aware also that the EMEM (eat more exercise more) system of eating can easily move into an EMEL (eat more exercise less) regime if you're not careful. (More info here: The Anabolic Toggle.)
There are several things we know that can keep a lid on the compensatory mechanisms of the metabolism. First, make sure you're balancing any training with plenty of rest and recovery. Athletes train hard, eat plenty, and spend a lot of time resting and recovering. You should do the same. Control those stress hormones. They're highly correlated with increased food-seeking behavior.
Another trick is to raise your calories the smart way. What a lot of people do is go for burgers, pizza, nut butters, and guacamole. These foods make it easier to increase your calories, but they also make you eat more at the current meal and crave the same kinds of foods at future meals.
This is why I'm not a fan of cheat meals and refeeds done with highly palatable hedonistic foods. Keep your food choices on the blander side. The combination of salt, sugar, starch, fat, and alcohol will light up the reward centers in your brain like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Use these three tips:
- Read the hormone signals (HEC and SHMEC).
- Pay attention to rest, relaxation, and recovery.
- Keep to a more bland diet.