Tip: How to Autoregulate Your Diet

Are you controlling your diet or is it controlling you? Here's how to use autoregulation to avoid becoming a slave to your diet.

Autoregulation: From Training to Eating

You've heard the term autoregulation used when talking about training. Basically, it's like instinctive training. Instead of following a workout plan to the letter, the experienced lifter pays attention to his body's daily physiological fluctuations. He goes hard when he's firing on all cylinders and pulls back when something isn't quite right.

Well, it's time we also learn to autoregulate our diets. Many people have an internal on/off switch when it comes to their eating habits:

  • Sometimes they flip the diet switch on. They eat less, choose healthier foods, and find ways to manage their diets, oftentimes via excessive calorie and macro counting.
  • Sometimes they flip that switch off. They eat anything within reach that doesn't fight back.

There's no happy medium for these folks. They're either on a strict diet or way the hell off. It's unhealthy, and it's a crappy way to live. If you look at the cognitive and behavioral patterns displayed by these guys and gals, they overlap considerably with those of anorexics and bulimics. It's just a different category of eating disorder.

Control Your Diet. Don't Let It Control You

This isn't necessarily about a lack of willpower or lack of nutrition knowledge. The root problem is that many people, even outwardly fit people, can't autoregulate their eating habits. The solution? Take care of all the underlying issues that sabotage the ability to autoregulate.

So, are you able to autoregulate? If you have to count every calorie and every macronutrient every damn day, then you can't. Not yet at least. Your diet has you in a headlock.

You're externally regulating, which is okay if you're trying to get unnaturally shredded for a contest, but it shouldn't have to be a way of life. And if you're always alternating periods of micromanagement and gluttonous binging then you have a problem.

So How Do You Autoregulate?

Here's the quick and dirty:

  1. Ditch all cheat meals. This includes the typical weaponized faux foods made from the addictive fat/salt/sugar combo. In short, junk foods override your ability to autoregulate your eating. Most pre-packaged foods are purposefully made to trigger overeating without causing you to feel full. Really, they test this stuff on rats, and if the rats display addictive behaviors then the products are sent to the snack food aisle.
  2. You need a long period of cold turkey. You literally need to go through withdrawal to rewire your brain and short-circuit the cravings. This won't happen when you have cheat meals. Sorry. But after this period of "detox," cravings will fade and disappear, putting you back in control.
  3. Take sleep as seriously as you do training. Here's the deal: If you can't wake up on time, without an alarm, every day, then your sleep habits are out of whack. And the problem with sucky sleep is that it alters your hunger-regulating hormones, like leptin and ghrelin. When these hormones are screwed up, you're wracked with cravings and basically your body is sending you false "feed me" signals.

    One tool to help you get your sleep habits in order is ZMA®. This will help you get to sleep sooner and get more replenishing, quality sleep.

  4. Take care of your gut health. When the bad bacteria in your gut dominates the good bacteria, you get hit with (you guessed it) junk food cravings. It's literally like a drug addiction. Unfortunately, cheat meals, even once a week, can fertilize the bad bugs.

There's more to it than that, but those four are at the foundation. Takes some work of course, but it leads to a lifetime of anxiety-free eating.

The No-Diet Diet

Remember, an auto-regulated eater doesn't have to diet. His body is free to signal when he needs to eat more or less. These signals are no longer blunted or altered by biochemical misfires.

Sure, he'll need to whip out the food log and get super strict if he decides to do a physique competition, but generally his "walking around weight" is healthy and looks good.

You can call this "instinctive eating" but that only applies if your natural instincts haven't been hijacked. Hopefully, taking care of these root issues will become the next big nutrition trend, and not another fasted-raw-paleo-juice-cleanse diet.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram