Stop Fearing Calories: Travel Lessons and Questionable Salads

When you are about to leave for a road trip, you fill up your car’s gas tank, or at least plan to before you reach long stretches of road with no gas stations for miles. When you notice you have about half a tank left, you probably make note of that and do some mental calculations on how much longer you can keep going until you fill up again. With a quarter tank left, you start making plans to stop soon. Once that empty light comes on, the panic sets in. You become stressed and frantic, praying you make it to the gas station.

When you get up in the morning, eating breakfast is almost like filling up your body’s gas tank for the day, giving you energy to at least make it the next couple hours. Snacks are sometimes like the extra top-off you might add to your gas tank if you stopped on your road trip to go to the bathroom, and decided you might as well put in a few extra bucks of gas since you are already there, knowing it could prevent stress later. When you start feeling hungry, you need to start planning for your next meal or snack, otherwise that same panic and stress you feel when your car is on empty might appear in your body in ways that can be extremely uncomfortable- shakiness, dizziness, irritability, headaches…

You wouldn’t try to drive very far with your car on empty, so why do so many of us try to go through our days without eating? Food is our fuel, something we absolutely and unconditionally need each day. Trying to get through your day without any fuel in your tank is going to leave you feeling, thinking, and performing at a sub-optimal level.

One thing that I often point out to clients, (the thing that elicits the most “huh…”) responses is “the point of eating isn’t to trick yourself into feeling full.”

Let that sink in.

The point of eating is to give your body energy. To feel satisfied. And yes, full. Not to fill up on low-calorie, low energy foods like salad, and try to make it through the rest of your day without adequate fuel. Okay, salads are fine. They can be delicious. They CAN be a meal if you add enough stuff to them. They are full of vitamins- plus fiber and water so they make you feel full for a bit. (What’s missing? Energy. Calories.) But what I often see is that people think they are the gold standard for what “healthy” eating is. Which results in eating a “big salad” at least once a day, and maybe another meal suspiciously resembling a salad, but this time with hot ingredients (I’m looking at you, chicken and steamed veggie dinner-eaters). Does this fill you up? Probably, for a little while. But does it make you feel satisfied for 3-4 hours? I’m not so sure.

Sometimes I eat a big salad, or chicken and veggies- like I said, they can be delicious. But I also know that the days I eat those things are definitely the days I find myself looking for snacks a little earlier or more frequently than I normally would. I know if I am going to go for a run or to the gym, I definitely shouldn’t try to get by with a vegetable-based meal beforehand. And I know that if I eat one of those things for one meal, I’m probably going to be hungrier for a more substantial meal later.

It’s taken me time to learn this, as I am sure it will for you once you start questioning the purpose of the different food items you eat, but it’s super helpful to realize that you aren’t out of control around food at night because of lack of willpower, you are just hungry!

Learning how food makes your body feel (energized or lethargic? Leaving you wanting more? Stuffed? Satisfied?) is one of the most important things I believe everyone needs to understand better in order to be their healthiest and have a normal relationship with food. Experiment with different combinations of food throughout your day, and pay attention to your own body, not what you think you are "supposed" to eat.

Again- you don’t put a bunch of water in your car’s gas tank and expect it to run correctly, so why do you do that to yourself?