Meals built for you, by you, to manage hunger, cravings and energy
Wondering how to get your SHMEC in check? As we continue with this month’s theme, I’d like to give you an approach to get “HEC in check” first – using food! With a bit of tweaking using your detective skills, you will have the tools that you need to build a diet that best serves you. And the best part? You can rinse and repeat this same process any time your metabolism changes, your goals change or your results slow down!
Instead of giving rigid one-size-fits-all plans, this approach puts you in control. By following this 5-step process, you will learn how to adjust macronutrient ratios (protein, carbs, and fats) and meal frequency to build a diet that best serves you.
How it works: This 5-Step Process involves five dietary tweaks, shown below. You don’t need to go through all of the steps to get HEC in check. For instance, the approach outlined in step 1 may get your HEC in check, or step 2, or step 3, and so forth. Continue working through steps 1-5, until you reach a step that keeps your HEC in check. If you’re wondering how you’ll know if your HEC is in check, keep reading! I got you.
Your 5-Step Process to get HEC in check
1. Add protein, fiber, and water (such as lean protein and veggies).
2. Add in fat.
3. Add in starch and subtract out the fat.
4. Add starch and fat.
5. Add one or two snacks between meals.
Even though there are 5 steps, you may need several weeks to go through this process. Take as much time as you need.
- For consistency purposes, tweak the same meal each day (ex. lunch).
- Structure your day to eat all of your meals and snacks within a 12-hour eating window, for example, 7 am-7 pm.
- Depending on sleep, an eating window that ends closer to bedtime (say, within 3 hours) may be better for those of us with issues falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Being too hungry at bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. And low blood sugar during the night can trigger cortisol levels to spike, which wakes us from sleep – a sign from your body that it’s time to find food! Most of us do not find this particular response helpful for weight loss.
A few things to keep in mind
This approach is not meant to be low-calorie or restrictive. Eat enough food to feel satisfied. Eat frequently enough to keep your hunger, energy levels, and cravings balanced and in check. Be mindful of eating practices, including those driven by emotions.
The metabolism is not static. As you learn to read your body’s cues, you will better understand what your body is telling you and how to modify your diet to optimize your metabolism. For menstruating people, these needs may change based on cycling hormones throughout the month. In general, what you need right now may be different than what you need 3 months from now. That’s because the metabolism is always adapting and reacting to what you are doing.
This is just a template/jump-off point. Building an individualized approach to diet and eating practices like this takes time and effort. When we are starting off as metabolic detectives, listening is more enough. Notice when you are most hungry, or when cravings hit. When are you most energetic? When do you feel like you’re dragging yourself?
Minimize additional stress or obstacles before you begin. This is not meant to be stressful or difficult. Consider what you like to eat. Pick a few of your favorite vegetables, protein sources, starches (beans, rice, oats), high-fiber vegetable starches (tubers, sweet potato, yam), and fats. As much as possible, avoid anything refined or packaged for this experiment. Prepare a meal plan, go food shopping, and make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go. Check out this blog post on how to meal prep healthy protein smoothies for weight loss.
Adjust meals and snacks to balance hunger, energy, and cravings. When these hormonal clues are in check, it is a sign that your metabolism is in balance. Remember that this is just a template and it may need to be adjusted based on your needs, lifestyle, personal preferences, and goals. Your body will determine what is best for you.
How will I know if my HEC is in check?
Before we get started, use the following numeric rating scale to check in with yourself and to assess how you feel from one meal to the next. This rating scale will guide all future metabolic detective processes.
Since your last meal, on a scale from 1-10
- Was hunger less than 5? (1 = feeling of least hunger/ 10 = worst hunger)
- Was energy 6 or more? (1= exhausted /10= great energy)
- Were cravings less than 5? (1 = feeling of least cravings/ 10 = most cravings)
The goal is to keep hunger and cravings less than 5 on a scale from 1-10 and to keep your energy above 6 on a scale from 1-10.
Let’s get started
Step 1. Start with protein, fiber and water (such as lean protein and high-fiber vegetables)
This will form the base of the meals (ie. lunch, if that’s what you are working on first):
- ½ – ¾ plate of vegetables (2-3 types). This will likely be about 2 cups of vegetables or a mix of vegetables and fruit, and
- a palm-sized amount of animal or plant-based lean protein (approximately 2-3 oz)
Monitor your HEC (hunger, energy, and/or cravings). If they are in check, repeat this meal “formula” for your next meal, then rate your HEC again (just to be sure). If HEC continues to be in check, then you’ve found a formula that works for your metabolism.
If they are not in check, then move on to step 2.
Step 2. Add in fat
Add the following to your next meal:
- 10 grams of dietary fats (ie 1 tbsp of raw oil, nut butter, flax seeds, ¼ avocado, etc).
Bringing it together, this is what your next meal might look like:
- ½ – ¾ plate of vegetables (about 2 cups) + palm-sized amount of lean protein (2-3 oz) + 10 grams of dietary fats (ie 1 tbsp of raw oil, or nut butter, or flax seeds, or ¼ avocado, etc).
Monitor HEC. If they are in check, repeat this meal formula for your next meal, then rate your HEC again. If HEC continues to be in check, then this “formula” works well for your metabolism. Meaning, your metabolism responds well to fats in your diet.
If they are not in check, then move on to step 3.
Step 3. Add in starch and subtract out the fat
Add the following to your next meal, but take away the fat:
- 5-10 bites of starchy carbs (ie sweet potato, yam, etc, and/or fruits).
Bringing it together, this is what your next meal might look like:
- ½ – ¾ plate of vegetables (about 2 cups) + palm-sized amount of lean protein (2-3 oz) + 5-10 bites of starchy carbs (ie sweet potato, yam, squash, etc and/or fruits).
Monitor HEC. If they are in check, repeat this meal formula for your next meal, then rate your HEC again. If HEC continues to be in check, then this particular “formula” works well for your metabolism. Meaning, your metabolism responds well to starchy carbs in your diet.
If they are not in check, then move on to step 4.
Step 4. Add starch AND fat
Add everything to your next meal.
Bringing it together one last time, this is what your next meal might look like:
- ½ – ¾ plate of vegetables (about 2 cups) + palm-sized amount of lean protein (2-3 oz) + 5-10 bites of starchy carbs (ie sweet potato, yam, squash, etc and/or fruits) + 10 grams of dietary fats (ie 1 tbsp of raw oil, nut butter, flax seeds, ¼ avocado, etc).
Monitor HEC. If HEC is in check, then your metabolism responds best to a little bit of everything!
If they are not in check, then move on to step 5.
Step 5. Add one or two snacks between meals
Consider adding a snack between meals, especially when you notice HEC is the least in check. For many of us, that’s in the afternoons between lunch and dinner when we experience that energy dip or “lull”.
In addition to snacks, here are two other ideas:
- Add more food at each meal. Start with vegetables and lean protein first (step 1), since these foods are nutrient dense but not energy dense (meaning, these foods are filling without being high in calories). Start with 2-3 extra bites of vegetables or lean protein, depending on your dietary preferences and needs.
- Was this meal pre or post workout? You may need a few extra bites of starch around workouts. For example, half a banana in your protein shake post workout.
Looking back at all of the combinations, which meal kept your HEC in check the most? Let us know in the comments below!
Getting HEC in check is one piece of the puzzle
Getting HEC in check is a very important first step when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Common weight-loss approaches such as “eat less, exercise more” often backfire, leaving us hungrier, craving more, and with less energy!
We need a stable metabolism to buffer “metabolic compensations”. This approach arms you with a process to support the hormonal side of weight loss by getting HEC in check first, making it easier to stay on track with your health goals.
Now that you have a personalized template for meals based on your unique metabolism, next question is, does it support your body change goals too? More on this topic in future posts.
Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash