Instinctive Eating: Staying Lean Through Auto Regulation

Instinctive Eating

A question I frequently get asked is “Do you eat clean all the time?” I’m sure all other trainers can relate; you’re sat round a table at a meal and when you even glance at the desserts menu it’s met with a gasp and “I didn’t think you ate that type of food”. The fact of the matter is, the general public are intrigued by what fitness professionals eat, as if we have some sort of secret. This article will shine some light on how I eat and why.

Instinctive Eating

First things first, I’ll go through the questions I get asked a lot and answer them straight to the point, then I’ll follow up with my reasoning in more detail later.

  1. Do I eat “unclean” foods? Yes
  2. Do I count calories? No
  3. Do I weigh food? No
  4. Do I eat similar things everyday? No
  5. Am I obsessive about what I eat? Absolutely not

My diet is based around something I would call “Auto-regulation”. I’ll eat dependant on certain factors that I’ve found to be most significant from experience. These being;

  1. Body weight
  2. Mental clarity
  3. Sleep
  4. Strength
Chris Knott

How I look on a consistent basis. Poor lighting and not tensed intentional

Although it may seem hypocritical, whenever I get a client who’s primary goal is fat loss, the most important things I want them to do is count calories, avoid pro-inflammatory products and weigh their food, initially. My end goal with every client is to get them eating instinctively through knowing their own body and how they uniquely respond. This however, takes time, patience and of course, trial and error.

Auto-regulation is fantastic way to eat but it must be earned. You cannot think “yeah I’ll have that cookie” if you’ve lost 3 pounds in a week but still have 20 more to go. It doesn’t work like that. It’s a way of eating for people who are content with their current body composition goals and are instead now looking to focus their attention in other areas, such as strength.

Before I digress in to the factors that effect my choices of food for the day, I will first highlight that this method isn’t for everyone and does boil down to personality typing and characteristics.

So for example, clientele with multiple businesses, staff, children an out-goings are highly unlikely to want to count calories. These people are very much results driven, so will do what you say in order to progress, but do not wish to have additional stressors or time consuming tasks in their life such as counting calories.

This is in contrast to other people who are very good to sticking to a plan. They like regularity, normality and find change scary. For these types, counting calories is good as it provides a variable which they have complete control over and can manipulate. There are plenty ways to skin a cat and multiple protocols in our tool box to use. Each tool is neither more effective than the other but instead more applicable dependant on the current state and characteristics of the individual.

(You can learn more about personality typing by listening to my Podcast with T-Nation writer Christian Thibaudeau – click link here)

Right then, so why do I base my diet on the 4 aspects above.

In my opinion, and I have zero problems saying this, calliper readings, and even my own are very suspect. By this I don’t mean inaccurate, but in my experience I do not think the readings or software represent true physiological changes in the exact science it claims to be. I think skin folds are extremely useful when a person is already lean but when somebody is looking to lose dramatic levels of body fat, scale weight is king from my perspective.

fat loss

The scales never lie

I won’t try and validate this claim with some irrelevant jargon, but if someone weighs less than they did a week before, has eaten predominantly protein, veg, drank lots of water and weight trained 3 times per week, they’ve lost body fat. Calliper readings do no have to tell me this. More importantly, they’ll look different. Nobody gives a shit how much “body fat” you’ve lost if you don’t look any different to when you first started.

My primary objective is strength, I’m not bothered about my body composition. I am currently 2 kilos under my weight category allowance and so can afford to be liberal with my food choices. Mass moves mass, so as I’m around 7 months away from competing, I could actually afford to be 3-4 kilos above my weight category. As this is the case, calorie dense, easy to consume foods, such as cookies and chocolate are regularly enjoyed in my diet.

This being said, any form of gluttony is always naive in the world of physical and psychological enhancement. I have found that excessive gluten consumption can impair my neural drive when training. This basically means that too many carbs from bread and pasta decrease my mentally clarity and training “aggression” when facing heavy weights. This is a case where I will auto-regulate my consumption and so not avoid the foods altogether, but rather only include them at the appropriate time. An example of this would be using rice and potatoes to load up for a heavy deadlift session and then using pizza to re-fuel after. It’s strategic placement.


A cupboard at my mums house, otherwise known as “Diabetes Corner”

Another trend I have noticed is high sugar foods and poor sleeping patterns. When we first embark on our training journey’s, we’re usually told that carbs after 6 make you fat. This isn’t true. Then as we gain knowledge we usually then start to throw around words like carb backloading and eating carbs to boost serotonin before bed. This can work, but polishing off an entire slab of chocolate in the evening is more than likely to cause blood sugar issues, so may not be the best idea. 

Regardless of whether it is protein, fat or carbohydrate, any nutritional protocol that sacrifices sleep quality isn’t worth pursuing. I will take a food out of my diet if anecdotally I don’t sleep as well after eating it.

The final component is strength. If a food makes me noticeably stronger for a session, I will order 7 dozen crates of it, blend it down to liquid form and inject it intravenously whilst simultaneously warming up for a session.

OK, maybe not to that extreme but it’s always encouraging to see trends. The fact of the matter is, and I’ve included this point last for a reason, if you want to put on strength and muscle you cannot eat clean all the time. One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was buying in to a dietary “system”. I was once a carbophobe who believed that anything other than a sweet potato will make me fat. What you need to understand here is that your physiology dramatically changes dependant on your training age, muscle mass and training volume. The way a 100kg, 6% body fat bodybuilder training 6 times a week handles 100g of fast acting carbs is dramatically different to that of an 80kg, 25% body fat office worker who plays 5-a-side once a week.

Take home point; calories build size. Gut health, cognition and inflammation are extremely important for performance, but if you can consume in excess of 4,000 calories a day from completely clean foods you are a greater man than me.

This article in a nutshell really

So to answer the initial question again. I do actually eat exactly the way I tell my clients to. Lots of protein, lots of vegetables and lots of water. My diet will be very similar to that of one of my body comp client’s apart from I won’t count calories and I will be liberal with carbs based on training volume/the need to recover on a certain day.

When someone comes to me, my end goal is always for them to end up eating instinctively. It is 99% likely that calorie control will play a part at some point, but through education, observation and intuition, I want people to be able to continually progress whilst improving their relationship with food, not being a slave to it.

For meal and dessert ideas feel free to download one of my recipe eBooks by clicking on the following link.