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Is what I just ate right for me?

As a species, we seem to have lost our intuitive ability to know what it is we need food-wise.  Your body will let you know in pretty certain terms, whether or not the last meal you ate worked well for your unique biochemistry.  You can learn to understand and work with its food-response language. You’ll then find yourself more satisfied, energised, healthy and alert.

What to look for

There are three areas you’ll want to look at within an hour or two after eating a meal – satiety, emotions and energy. Satiety – you should feel completely satisfied when you finish your meal.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a desire for more food, something sweet, or for tea or coffee. If there is, it’s a distinct sign that you’ve not fuelled yourself appropriately. Emotional wellbeing – you should feel emotionally better for having eaten. If there’s any irritation, depression, apathy, anxiety etc., once again, you’ve not chosen your meal correctly. Energetic wellbeing – you should feel more energised after eating. Feelings of hyperness, sleepiness, lethargy or nervousness, for example, will indicate a negative reaction to the meal.

What should make up a meal?

A meal (and preferably, a snack) should consist of the three macronutrients – fat, protein and carbohydrates.  When all are consumed in proportions appropriate to your biochemical needs, your post-meal effects will be very positive. People may require greater or smaller amounts of one or the other macronutrients. If you consistently don’t meet these needs, you may end up impacting very negatively on your health, your weight and your general feeling of well-being.

Working it all out

Here are some quick pointers for establishing whether or not your last meal delivered too many of a particular food group.

Too many carbohydrates:

  • headache,
  • anxiety,
  • don’t feel satisfied,
  • get hungry quickly,
  • crave fats and proteins,
  • may crave sweets,
  • jumpy mind,
  • tired but wired,
  • jittery,
  • nervous energy,
  • energy highs and lows.

Too much protein or fat:

  • lethargic,
  • sleepy,
  • dull or depressed mood,
  • mentally sluggish or slow,
  • heavy gut,
  • feel full but hungry,
  • may crave sweets,
  • may crave tea or coffee.

You’ll notice that sweet cravings can happen in both instances so you’ll need to experiment with both groups of macronutrients, in order to establish which is driving your sweet needs.

All in all, I find this a very helpful way to remain ‘in charge’ of one’s diet and health.  Try keeping a record of what you eat, an idea of the proportions of carbs, fats and proteins. Of course, how you felt after each meal, within the context of the three areas mentioned above is also key to document.

In addition, if your appetite is light, aim to eat more carbohydrates than fats and proteins and reverse this if you have a big appetite (i.e. more proteins and fats and less carbs).  Again, keep a record and you may find a pattern emerging, e.g. a heavy appetite in the morning, light at lunchtime and moderate at dinnertime, or variations on this.

The bottom line is that, as humans, we have an innate ability to tell what foods do and don’t work for us – we’ve just become confused by mainstream advice which applies generic nutritional protocols.  Get out there, experiment and find out what works best for your body…

In this video and this video, I talk about your body’s unique food response language.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.