Ask a Health Coach: How Do I Stop Snacking? Do You Believe in Tracking Food?

Man eating a granola bar while sitting in front of buildingHey folks, Board-Certified Health Coach, and Primal Health Coach Institute’s Coaching Director, Erin Power is here to answer your questions about satiating hunger and tracking food. If you’re looking for skillful, caring guidance we’ve got strategies, tips, and support. Have a question you’d like to ask our health coaches? Leave it below in the comments or over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.

Satiating hunger

Tamara asked:
“What’s the best way to stop feeling hungry between meals? I depend on snacks to get me through.”

Ah, hunger and snacking. You’re not alone with this question, Tamara. You know, I think one of the reasons we reach for snacks is…because we’re hungry. That may sound funny, but I’m being serious. Sure, many folks snack out of stress, boredom, or emotional eating. But I’ve helped many coaching clients cure that sort of mindless eating simply by helping them go through life more well-fed.

Now, to be clear, there are certain foods and lifestyle factors that mess with our hormonal and other signaling systems. A diet high in processed carbs and sweets tends to interfere with our natural, healthy hunger and satiation signals. It also causes our body to revolt against the constant insulin bath triggered by MORE carbs, MORE sugar, and frequent snacking. Similarly, lack of sleep and chronic stress and anxiety mess with our hormones and can throw hunger signals way out of whack.

But if you’re eating a Primal diet featuring an abundance of real, whole, minimally processed food, including high-quality protein and healthy fats, you’re well on your way to being in touch with true hunger and minimizing the need (or desire) for snacking.

However, if you’re eating Primal most of the time and still feeling hungry throughout the day, I’ve got a fairly dependable solution: more protein.

Here’s the thing: Your hunger comes from your cells, and your cells require nourishment. Specifically, they need:

Fuel (calories to provide energy for your body and brain)
Building blocks (amino acids and essential fatty acids that help your body continuously build and repair itself)
Information (minerals, vitamins, cholesterol, prebiotic fibres, etc.—all of which have incredibly important and nuanced roles in bodily function)

When your cells ask for food (i.e., you feel hungry), it’s to satisfy these needs. If cells aren’t getting these needs met, they are undernourished and cry out for more nourishment.

Now, of course, every body is different, and people bring different health conditions, life circumstances, and goals to the table. That said, if we are to generalize, there’s an easy way to give your cells and body more of the calories, building blocks, and information they’re asking for: eat more protein. As one of the most nutrient dense “human foods” on planet earth, it ticks all of the boxes in terms of the nourishment our cells are asking for.

How much more protein? MORE. Rather than get caught up in measuring and micromanaging, keep things simple: just aim for more, and see how it goes.

Time and time again when working with coaching clients, I find that this simple rule of prioritizing protein completely changes the game with hunger, appetite, and cravings.

Why? Well, protein-rich foods are incredibly high in minerals and amino acids, two of the most important factors that your cells are crying out for. If you eat more protein, you will feel less hungry. And I can tell you from experience that walking around feeling less hungry is a miracle cure for mindless snacking. Start there, and see how it goes!

Tracking food

Randi asked:
“Do you believe in tracking food? Do YOU do it?”

When it comes to eating in ways that support and nourish us, there are many helpful strategies out there. For SOME people, tracking their food intake for a while can be helpful (whether they are doing it on their own or working with a coach).

Done in a supportive way, tracking food can help some people develop greater awareness around what they’re actually eating and how that makes them feel. It can also add a layer of accountability. The act of tracking influences our choices and in this way might lead to helpful change.

I say “supportive way,” because there are many ways of tracking food—some more helpful than others. What’s more, the particular method that’s supportive will differ from person to person. To be clear: I am not a fan of simply counting calories. If you’re up on the Primal basics, you know that the number of calories we consume is meaningless with considering food choice and the wider context. This goes for weight-loss goals, health goals, or anything else.

But what about more Primal-focused tracking, such as number of carbs? Or cutting numbers out altogether and simply journaling about food consumed and how it made you feel during and after?

Yes—depending on your goals and your individual tendencies when it comes to changing habits and implementing healthy change, those might be helpful. Only YOU will know this, however, and finding out whether it’s helping will likely take some self-experimentation and trial and error.

However, I do have a pretty big, important caveat. For some people (self included), tracking food is not helpful. In fact, it can reinforce stressful food patterns and even disordered eating. I’ve helped over a thousand clients lose fat, gain energy, and fit back into the pants hanging in the back of the closet—all without tracking, weighing, or counting their food.

Why? Well, for starters, if I told MY clients that they had to track, weigh, and count their food, they would bail.

Many coaches, nutritionists, and dietitians DO have their clients track food intake. Their clients are looking for a methodical, tactical way to keep tabs on their consumption, and they are even excited to count and measure their food. It motivates them, and many of them really like knowing the numbers.

But MY clients? No way in hell. My clients and I have already spent most of our lives worrying about every calorie in and every calorie out, undertaking strict dieting and punishing exercise. We are DONE. It’s not that we don’t want to track, or are too lazy to track, or are too undisciplined to track. It’s that we did that already—for decades. We lost most of our lives to food fixation.

We already know how many calories are in a medium-sized apple and how much protein is in a 4-ounce chicken breast. We won’t ever unlearn these random food factoids because we did them so hard. But that information is not helping and has not ever helped us to have a trusting, respectful relationship with our food and body. We are so exhausted from everything that feels like tracking and dieting that we just can’t bring ourselves to look at food that way again: as numbers.

The good news? Your body doesn’t look at it that way either.

Turns out, prior to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when we first started micromanaging our food in earnest, humans walked around generally lean and healthy without any fussy food fixation. They lived their lives in their body, enjoying food without journaling it. It’s your birthright to not have to track, weigh, or measure your food. It’s your birthright to have an effortless relationship with food and your body.

Getting back to this flexible, free, flow state is a process and is not always easy (to put it mildly!). Know what though? It’s also not as complicated as many people tend to make out. Even “just” prioritizing the 10 Primal Blueprint Rules a bit more of the time will already move you in the right direction.

Those “rules” work because they align with our biology. They work because they hark back to times when tracking food would have been not only unnecessary but ridiculous. Follow them (even just most of the time), and you’re already doing great. No tracking required.

If you’re still struggling or want an extra layer of motivation, inspiration, accountability, and support, that’s where a coach can come in. If so, and if you’re someone who does NOT find tracking helpful, just make sure to find a coach who gets that and can meet you where you are, in ways that best support YOU.

Whether or not you’re “Team Tracking,” working with a coach for even a month or two can help you put solid strategies in place for staying Primal and developing a kinder, more intuitive relationship with food and your body. Visit myprimalcoach.com to learn more and get started!

Do you track your food? Find it helpful, or not so much? Let us know and drop other questions for me in the comments!

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About the Author

Erin Power

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