Is the food you eat working for you?
Over the years in the food/nutrition industry there’s been a real focus on meal ratios, how to eat healthy, lose weight and prepare meals that are super fast, delicious and nutritious, all designed to keep up to pace with our busy lives. But there is no focus whatsoever on understanding your body and how to listen to the way it responds to what you eat.
The ratios of protein to carbohydrate to fat is extremely important to how you respond to food and therefore, how you feel, think, look and behave. So lets dive into it, shall we…
If you look at the image above you will see there is a continuum of food ratios. At one end there is a small amount of meat (this represents protein and fat) and there is a large amount of salad (this represents carbohydrate). At the other end there is a large amount of meat (protein + fat) and a small amount of salad (carbohydrate). In the middle is a balance of the two. EVERYONE sits on this continuum. Diets of the world and of different cultures sit on this continuum – there is no right or wrong, it’s what works for you. The quality of food you eat is a separate issue.
Below the continuum you will see a yin/yang type symbol – this represents optimal conversion of food to energy and optimal nutrient availability. If you think of it in car terms, it means if you put unleaded 91 into a diesel engine it won’t work and you won’t go anywhere. The same applies in your body – if you eat the wrong ratio, your conversion of food to energy will be poor and the amount of nutrients you extract will also be poor.
Of course, gut health (in terms of the balance of bugs in your intestines), the acidity of your stomach and the health of your mucosal lining of your cells are also important factors to take into consideration, but let’s just stick to ratios for now.
So, what ratio should you eat?
There are questionnaires you can do that help give you an indication of where you sit on the continuum and how you respond to food. My issue with this is that most people eat and then carry on with their lives and they don’t fully understand how their food impacts them – they just know that they lack energy or they get a foggy brain around 3pm, their sex drive is non-existent, they can’t sleep at night, wake up between the hours of 1-4am, and crave coffee in the morning. Sound familiar?
I tell most clients (and you will have seen this in our first blog) to start with a 1:1 ratio of protein to fat to carbohydrates. The portion sizes of this ratio can be found on our blog, click here. Start following this ratio for 1-2 weeks and then create a checklist of the following questions:
Within 2 hours of eating, do you:
Feel hungry OR feel physically full, but still hungry
Not satisfied with your meal?
Crave something sweet
Need to snack between meals
Have a jumpy mind/ almost ADD-like behaviour
Feel ‘tired but wired’
Energy drop, fatigue, exhaustion, sleepiness
Feel mentally slow, sluggish
Inability to think quickly or clearly
Overly rapid thoughts
Inability to focus
Hypo traits: Apathy, depression or sadness
Hyper traits: Anxious, obsessive, fearful, angry, short, irritable
Your body will talk to you in 3 different ways:
- your appetite and cravings
- your energy levels
- your mental and emotional wellbeing
You need to listen to all three.
If you consistently eat the 1:1 ratio across ALL meals and you keep answering YES to some of these questions you need to adjust the ratios you’re eating.
Remember, you only change one macronutrient at a time. You might for example, start by adding an extra 2 tablespoons/mouthfuls of protein to your meals. If that changes your reactions and the signs improve or disappear completely, then you’ve found the ratio for you. If they improve but you still experience some reactions, try adding more protein (another 1-2 mouthfuls).
Alternatively, if the signs worsen, go back to eating a 1:1 ratio for 3 days. Then add 2 mouthfuls extra of carbs.
If that changes your reactions and the signs disappear completely, you’ve found the ratio for you and can now play with ratios of starchy / non-starchy vegetables.
If however you’re still experiencing some of the signs, you can try adding more carbs. If you add an extra 2 mouthfuls of protein or carb and it changes nothing, try adding an extra 3 or 4 mouthfuls and then follow the same process. If you get no result there, then try adding extra fat to your meals.
Yes this takes some time, but once you’ve done it a few things will have occurred:
- You will have figured out exactly how much of each macronutrient fuels you best
- Your energy, sleep and general wellbeing will dramatically improve
- You will have learnt how to read your body better, so that the next time you hit an energy slump at your desk at 3pm and want to go get a chocolate bar or coffee, you’ll be able to figure out why that happened and what to do about it.
Please Note: This won’t work when you’re under huge amounts of stress, if a work deadline is due soon – wait until afterwards and you can be more in tune with your body. If you have gut problems (reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, pain, bloating etc) you will need to address these issues as well.
(Article written by Emma Brake)