Eat when you are hungry, and then stop eating when you feel content. Hunger is simply a request for fuel; your body is telling you it burned off what you gave it and needs a refill. To disregard hunger is abusive. Just as you would not withhold food from a hungry infant, you should not withhold food from your hungry body. If you do, you will start to crave sweets (a physiological response to calorie deprivation) and end up eating "junk".
While counting calories is one way to educate yourself how to fill each 500-calorie "bucket", you can more simply pay attention to your body's signals. Keep checking in with yourself. Ask, "Is my body content? Or, does my body need this fuel?" If confronted with large portions that would leave you feeling stuffed, consider letting the excess food go to waste, not to your waist.
Rather than categorizing a food as being good or bad for your health, think about moderation, and aim for a diet that offers 85 to 90 percent quality foods and 10 to 15 percent foods with fewer nutritional merits. Enjoy a foundation of healthful foods, but don't deprive yourself of enjoyable foods. This way, even soda and chips, if desired, can fit into a nourishing food plan. You just need to balance the "junk" with healthier choices throughout the rest of the day. That is, you can compensate for an occasional greasy sausage and biscuit breakfast by selecting a low-fat turkey sandwich lunch and a grilled fish dinner.
Take Mealtimes Seriously
If you can find the time to train hard, you can also find the time to fuel right. In fact, competitive athletes who don't show up for meals might as well not show up for training. You'll lose your edge with hit or miss fueling, but you'll always win with good nutrition.
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Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, new Food Guide for Marathoners, and Cyclist's Food Guide are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Also see www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com for information about her online workshop.