I want you to imagine you live in the time of your hunter-gatherer ancestors. You’re running through the trees after a deer, trying to get within range, jumping over fallen trees and bouncing off of moss on the forest floor with astounding grace. You reach a clearing where there’s water, hoping that this is where the deer ended up for a drink. You reach over your shoulder and withdraw an arrow and begin raising your bow, mouth-watering in anticipation of your new kill as you creep your body around the last tree that conceals you within the forest.
And you see something you’ve never seen before.
Golden arches. A giant M. And some sort of strange, permanent shelter.
Though it’s not a deer, it wafts the most glorious smell of meat. Cooked meat. And hot fat – the scent seems to coat your starving stomach lining and you can imagine how satisfied you’d feel if you filled it with whatever lies behind those strong walls and the golden M.
You look to the left, to the water, and you see your deer drinking peacefully.
Do you take your kill, or follow the enticing scent to fried satisfaction?
As weird as this story may be, if there was no cultural fear of the unknown I guarantee you you’d walk up and order a burger, fries, and ice cream.
And in this strange story lies the reason why eating what you’re in the mood for isn’t working:
1. You’re going to be in the mood for fat and sugar, and your energy levels are going to be as up and down as your moods.
Our ancestors hung out in a time when calories were hard to find, and they had to work for them. We don’t even need to leave our couch to have a steaming hot box of survival delivered to our lap. Our systems – from digestive to endocrine (the one that regulates our hormones) are made for ancient times; not modern luxuries.
This isn’t meant to be super sciencey, but what it comes down to is that it’s programmed into us to want to feast on sugar and fat because they are calorie dense, and when food was hard to come by, it made sense to load up on fuel that was high in calories so we could survive.
When we eat fat and sugar, our brains release endorphins – little chemical signals that make us feel happy and satisfied; comfort foods are named that way for a reason. We don’t get these satisfying hormonal responses when we munch on broccoli or a piece of dry chicken breast (not that that’s all you should be eating).
Processed carbohydrates like breads and crackers quickly turn to sugar in our bodies; another reason we reach for these.
When you reach for a high fat and carb meal, you’re going to consume more of these macronutrients than your body needs for fuel, and some will be stored. In that process, you’re going to feel tired and drained.
If you’re eating what you’re in the mood for, you’re naturally going to want the high that comes from fatty and sugary foods, and like anything, what goes up must come down – your mood and your energy will be in a puddle on the floor.
2. You’re going to undereat protein.
Whenever I start my clients on my nutrition plan, I have them track their food as they’d normally eat for a week. Since we’re predisposed to seeking out processed carbohydrates and fats, we don’t generally reach for lean meats, dairy products, eggs, egg whites, or protein supplements. Although I know my clients are trying to be “good” when they know I’m going to look at their food, the average amount of protein they get in a day is about 80 g. 80 g of protein is enough for a 100 lb woman, if she isn’t super active.
Here are all the things our body needs protein for:
- Muscle-building – Once we have broken down our muscles with weight-training, the only way to rebuild them is through protein-synthesis.
- Hormone, enzyme, antibodies, other structure-builders; maintaining fluid and acid-base balance – Proteins do everything from composing your heart, muscles, bones, hair, and tendons to regulating your blood sugar. Insulin and hemoglobin are proteins. Proteins also speed up essential chemical reactions like liver functions, blood clotting, and digestion, and they even play an important role in immune function.
If you’re eating based on what you “feel” like having, you can imagine the damage you’re doing to your body by not getting enough protein.
3. You’re going to miss out on important micronutrients and fibre.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals our body needs to unlock the energy and protein in the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) we consume; they also do everything from supporting immune function to building tissues and bones. They’re found readily in vegetables and fruit (and if we’re eating what we’re in the mood for, the chances of reaching for the kale are low).
Adequate fibre intake is shown to reduce risk of developing disease, improve serum lipid concentrations, lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar control, promote regularity, aid in weight loss, and also improve immune function.
Top sources of fibre include: beans (all kinds), peas, chickpeas, artichokes, whole wheat flour, barley, bulgur, bran, raspberries, blackberries, and prunes. Good sources of fibre are: leafy greens, broccoli, okra, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes with the skin, corn, asparagus, cabbage, whole wheat pasta, oats, popcorn, nuts, seeds, raisins, pears, strawberries, oranges, bananas, blueberries, mangoes, and apples.
The only things we’d reach for out of the above based on our mood, would be fruit, and too much fruit means too much fructose (fruit sugar), which is linked to obesity.
Our moods are preventing us from getting enough fibre, vitamins, and minerals; reaching for what we feel like having is making us ill.
So what can you do about it?
Our bodies were designed for ancient times; times of feast and famine. You’d never find a cavewoman cutting the fat off her steak – that’s for sure – and for good reason! But our ancestors didn’t have fast food restaurants minutes away from their homes; they had to work for their meals. Still, we do have one or two things going for us that can help us overcome our innate desire for fat and sugar, and that can help us look and feel better:
Our prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that allows you to exercise will power.
Do you know what’s even easier than will power? Habits. Here are four habits to help you stop eating what you’re in the mood for based on your carnal instincts and get a warrior’s body in modern lives. Apply them and I guarantee you’ll feel and look better:
1. Meal prep – Cook a ton of healthy meals two days a week, so instead of reaching for something fast, convenient, and loaded with sugar and fat, you can make the easy choice that requires little willpower and grab a container that holds a nutritious and delicious meal.
2. Make your plates look like this (a small plate, 5-6 times a day):
If you’re more active, choose the anytime plate with carbs on it.
Good protein sources:
- The chart (not my chart) to the right, AND Greek yogurt.
Good carb sources:
- Sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, rice, brown rice, slow-cooking oats, corn, air-popped popcorn
- Have a “treat” post workout 2-3x/week. Keep this treat low fat (e.g. McDonalds soft serve (haha! But seriously McDonald’s ice cream is made with “ice milk” instead of cream, so it’s lower in fat), pop tart, etc.) so it can be used quickly to build and refuel muscles.
Good fat sources:
- Coconut oil, Olive oil (extra virgin cold-pressed), butter*, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, peanut butter, nut butter, nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, seeds, coconut milk, avocados, fish esp. wild salmon, beef, wild meat, chicken (skin on, or dark meat), pork, unprocessed meats, cheese (without modified milk ingredients)*, yogurt*, milk*, fish oil
* Consume these foods only if they do not give you digestive problems or problems with inflammation. Most people who have only mild problems can still consume butter and Greek yogurt.
3. Track your food using an app like My Fitness Pal to gain awareness what you’re really eating.
4. Create a supportive environment for yourself. Tell your friends and family how they can support you, and fill your brain with material that builds you up in your journey, like my nutrition newsletter. For signing up, I will send you a free “How to Eat Cheat Sheet” that shows three full-day example food logs for a woman with a weight loss goal, a woman with a maintenance goal, and a man with a muscle gain goal. I’ll also give you more info about my nutrition program.
So, I hope this helped you figure out how to master your moods, enrich your energy, and babe-alize your body. Personally, I’m just left with one question:
If a burger and fries from the Land of Golden Arches fell in that forest, would it still look basically the same today?