This morning, I woke up extremely hungry, so I ate a very big breakfast.
At 6:30 in the morning, I ate two fried eggs, two slices of toast, 1/4 avocado, some cucumbers and peppers with hummus, a yogurt with sunflower seeds and peanut butter, two squares of chocolate and two dried figs.
That's a lot of food and much more than I would normally eat that early in the morning! But I was incredibly hungry, so I ate.
Eating this breakfast got me thinking back to my old days when I used to count every calorie to be sure I don't over eat. I set myself an arbitrary number to follow, maybe 1600-1700 calories a day, and told myself that I need to stick with it, no matter what.
Of course, I never realized that running 60+ minutes a day which I did 6 days a week, burns another 500 or so calories, so by eating 1700, my net came down to 1200 calories. Hello, hormonal imbalance and hypothalamic amenorrhea!
Your Body Is Not A Math Task
The problem with trying to eat a certain number of calories a day is that our bodies' needs can vary a lot from one day to another.
For example, on days when you work out a lot, your caloric need is higher than on your rest days. For me personally, the hunger shows up even stronger the next day after a very active day.
Last week, Saturday was a heavy leg day for me, and Sunday we ended up waking some strenuous hills. Sometimes hard exercise can suppress appetite, which happened to me as well, so I wasn't extremely hungry yesterday and didn't probably eat enough to make up for energy that I had spent.
And that's okay, but it's not that surprising that I woke up extra ravenous this morning.
But there's more to hunger levels than just physical activity. Hormonal fluctuations make the difference. The amount and quality of sleep we get, affects our hunger. There are so many variables that change, and eating the same 1600 or 1700 calories (or whatever the number is for you) every day, doesn't really make sense.
On the other hand, there are definitely days when we eat less than we would normally eat. When you're not hungry, are you supposed to still eat? Unless you're recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea or an eating disorder, then yes, you really need to. You want to get your 2500 or so calories in daily. But when your health is good and hormone levels are normal again, you want to learn to eat normally again, stopping when you're full. Then trying to hit a certain number and eat if you don't want to, isn't necessary either.
Here's an example of someone who might be counting her calories and/or macros, and eats more than she would actually like. This person thinks that she needs to eat 150 grams of protein every day, but buy 10 in the evening, she hasn't hit that number yet. So she's going to eat an extra piece of chicken to get her protein in, although she really didn't want to.
Someone who is competing in body fitness, may have to do it. But if that's not you, it's much more enjoyable to eat according to your real needs. You don't have to eat something that you don't want, at 10 in the evening!
What to Do If You “Over Ate”
If you ate a lot of food because you were truly hungry, then don't worry about. Don't feel guilty about it. Guilt is a funny thing — we say that we feel guilty for skipping a workout or eating a certain thing, making it sound like we committed a crime!
My breakfast was huge this morning, but I'm completely honest when I say that I don't feel anything about it. I did what my body asked me to do.
I know exactly why this happened. I could have prevented this big hunger by eating a larger meal last night, but I just wasn't that hungry then. Like I said, exercise can suppress appetite. Also, it was a really hot day here yesterday which meant I didn't want to eat as much as usually would. Result — I was super hungry waking up today.
So, if you feel like you “over ate” but all you did was just gave your body proper nourishment, stop thinking about it. Yes, it's true that sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and when we're super hungry, we tend to over eat. If that's what happened, don't intentionally try to restrict yourself, because you likely need less food at your next meal. Our bodies are pretty awesome regulating themselves!
Is Calorie Counting Always a Bad Thing?
I don't want to say that it's always a bad thing, but I also don't want to say that you should count yours.
I think it's good to have a general understanding about nutrition, calories and macronutrients. But meticulously counting your calories and/or macros is where we can get in trouble, especially if we severely under eat, and don't take our physical activity into consideration.
I've seen it so many times how women set themselves crazy numbers to follow — maybe something like 1200 calories a day — and then feel super guilty when they exceed this number. Going over this number is not a big surprise because like I mentioned earlier, our bodies are seeking for balance. They're doing it by asking more food!
We don't have to eat the same number of calories every day, because our bodies are not the same every single day. How much energy we need depends on our activity levels, where we are in our cycle (if you have one…), our stress levels, and more.
Even if we try and take our fitness and activity levels into account and type all that into some sort of online calculator that's supposed to show us how much to eat, we may still not get the accurate number. Our bodies are more than simple math tasks!
Instead, focus on eating mostly whole foods with whatever snacks or treats you want once in a while, and trust that your hunger cues are right. In other words, don't be scared to eat when your body asks for it, because there's a reason for why it does!