How Much Fat Should I Eat? How Many Calories Do I Need? What If I’m Still Hungry? And What About…

Very valid, and commonly asked questions. 

Most people who come to Paleo for weight loss goals are coming from a mindset of counting calories. 

Those that entertain being primal without weight loss (or gain) goals are still familiar with the idea of portion sizes, whether they use the schematic of ‘one portion of protein equals the size of the palm of your hand’ or the more numerical approach of weighing and measuring their foods.

When I work with a client, I try to make it clear from the get-go that a prescribed number of calories is usually a guestimate.  Even if one has their basal metabolic rate measured in a lab, there are still going to be some nuances to their precise number of caloric intake needed per day.

Factors like training volume (or lack thereof), intensity, frequency and type of exercise, the nature of one’s work-a job involving physical labor versus sitting at a desk; basically how much one moves during any given day, is going to play a large role in potentially altering that number.

Athletes with lots of volume training during a weekend, for example, would likely feel more hungry than usual on a Monday, even if it’s their recovery day, as they may have created a large caloric deficit on Sunday that even with their pristine Paleo nutrition, still left them a little ‘under’ by the end of the day.

If you were to rigidly adhere to a number on a piece of paper and let it supersede what your body is telling you, you could be selling yourself short and compromising your body’s ability to recover properly from training if you’re an athlete. 

Regardless of whether you are an athlete or not,  say you ignore genuine hunger pangs because you thought arbitrarily that you needed 1,800 calories per day, but you’ve already eaten that.  Your stomach is growling,  you’re feeling a bit dizzy and irritable, but you firmly stick to that number.  You’re putting yourself in an unhealthy situation which can either lead to a frenzied eating bout of ingesting everything in site, or, if you ignore your body’s cues long enough, begin to set the stage for your body to become catabolic and break down its own muscle tissue.

I’ll use myself as an example.  At my most recent physical exam, my doc measured me on her latest impedance scale, which is one method (although far from the most accurate) method of measuring one’s weight and body mass index, variables from which one’s BMR may be estimated. 

I weigh 116. Her formula suggested I need 1,432 calories per day.  This is the number it would theoretically take for me to just ‘be alive’ but lying in bed, motionless.

If you broke down all the Paleo goodness I eat on a daily basis, I’d likely have consumed that much by mid day, due to my training volume!

So what’s the winning formula, then?

I firmly believe our bodies tell us.

For some, it’s a journey to relearn what real hunger cues are, particularly if you’re coming from a background of being overweight for a long period of time.  Don’t worry, though; the body is so resilient that if you keep Paleo and present your one body that you have with real, fresh, whole food, you will (hand on my heart) relearn what it is to be hungry and eat accordingly.

Yes, having numbers is a good starting point, but I cannot stress enough the importance of learning to eat when you’re hungry and to not eat when you’re not.

It is that simple.

Just remember balance.  Balance the timing of your meals, and balance the macro nutrient ratio of the meals.  In other words, at each meal (the exception being right before or after a workout), have some fresh vegetables, then add some lean, wild protein and a bit of fat.  Maybe a little fruit.  That’s it.

Stop before you feel full.

Before you know it, you’ll have your particular portion sizes nailed down and, as as result, experience a fantastic balance of even, steady energy levels all day long.

Yet one more beautiful things about the Paleo lifestyle!