Nutrition Triggers & Tips

Nutrition Triggers & Tips Image

A while back I asked what information people wanted and needed most to help them achieve their goals, and the answer was overwhelmingly “nutrition”.

That is what I’m going to discuss today through a mish-mash of random nutrition thoughts, including information on eating “triggers” and additional helpful tips. My truest hope is that it helps you in some way.

The majority of the people I work with (at least 80 percent) have a history of disordered eating habits or experienced a poor relationship with food, and I receive numerous emails on a weekly basis from people who share similar stories. Since I battled disordered eating in the past too, I keep this in mind when I discuss nutrition.

It’s my experience that individuals who have had poor relationships with food in the past, or present, need very simple, flexible, nutrition guidelines as opposed to rigid rules. Please bear those facts in mind as you read this article; my primary audience is individuals who have had, or are currently battling, disordered eating habits or have a poor relationship with food.

Eating Triggers

My sister and I were talking about nutrition the other day, and we have similar “triggers” and eating habits. For example, we are both very hungry at night and that is when our “temptations” or cravings are more likely to kick in full force, and this appears to be common with many of my clients, too.

Personally, it doesn’t matter how much I eat during the day; it could be one or two large meals, and I’ll still be very hungry at night. Now, this could be due to hormonal changes that naturally occur throughout the day, but regardless of the reason, I am always hungry at night.

For my sister and me, the evening can be an “eating trigger” because that is when we are more susceptible to give into cravings.

Identify Your Eating Triggers

No, it may not be fun to do, but if you have any struggles with food, or just want to improve your food-relationship, I highly suggest you take the time to identify your personal eating triggers.

  • What emotions trigger you to eat, even if you’re not physically hungry?
  • Is there a time of day that makes you more prone to poor food choices or overeating?
  • Do you have any domino foods? A domino food can be described as a food that you start eating and can’t stop. Think of it as the potato chip expression, “bet you can’t eat just one.” Please keep in mind domino foods aren’t just items like potato chips, cookies, or junk food; they can also be natural foods. As an example, I used to have problems with things like almonds – I wouldn’t eat a small handful; I would almost eat an entire bag.

If you need other helpful sources for determining your eating triggers, I urge you to Take This Eating Challenge and Challenge Number Two. Don’t worry; they’re quick and easy to complete and can be quite eye opening.

How to Address Your Triggers

Once you determine your personal eating triggers using the tips and links above, it’s time to take action and get things under control.

In the case of domino foods, I suggest you either exchange them for a different food (an apple instead of chips, for example, if your domino foods are in the “junk food” category), or take steps to control portion sizes. For example, if almonds are one of your domino foods, I suggest you take a handful and put them in a bowl and do not eat them straight from the bag. Get out how much you want, and then put the bag away.

This is something I must do with things like trail mix and ice cream (two of my favorite “treats), almonds, or anything else that comes in a container. If I eat straight from the bag/container, I’ll want to eat the entire thing, even if I’m no longer hungry.

Many people have the mentality that they must “clean their plate” just as I do, even if they’re eating from a bag or container. The easiest thing to do in this situation is to stop eating directly from the bag/container. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you know you may lose control.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

People will argue the effectiveness of my following recommendation, but it’s proven to work for my clients and myself.

What do you do if a big dinner is coming up that you know won’t consist entirely of meat and vegetables? Or what if you just feel like cooking some comfort food? (I’m from the south so that means something like fried chicken and okra).

If I know I’m going to enjoy a large meal for dinner that doesn’t consist primarily of natural foods, I’ll just limit what I eat during the day. For example, I may just eat some smoked salmon and a cup of cottage cheese (protein helps greatly with satiety) and drink a lot of water throughout the day. Or, perhaps I’ll employ a fast a la Eat Stop Eat (and still drink a lot of water).

Perhaps something came up unexpectedly and I indulged in some homemade baked goods or sweets. This actually happened yesterday; I enjoyed some (quite a lot, actually) chocolate covered strawberries and chocolates. As a result of my over-indulgence, I am fasting today via the Eat Stop Eat method and drinking a lot of water.

It’s really not that hard. People overcomplicate things, and I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself in the past. If I ate some cookies or went out to dinner and ate something that wasn’t the healthiest choice I would be riddled with guilt. Now, I simply eat less the day of or after, usually with fasting.

I know this sounds insane to some people, but it works. And the best part – it’s incredibly easy and stress free.

Please note that fasting is not some form of punishment!If you use fasting as I suggest, you absolutely should not view it as punishment, because that just adds fuel to the bad food-relationship fire.

Eat Your Protein

As mentioned earlier, protein is very effective at increasing satiety. I have my clients track their protein intake to get an idea of how much they consume. It’s common for women to average about 40 grams or so a day, if even that. Once they increase their protein intake to at least 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight (I prefer closer to one gram per pound of bodyweight) they experience greater satiety.

This is also useful for people, such as myself, that experience greater hunger in the evening. As long as I eat a good amount of protein during the day, then I’m not ravenous at night.

An easy way to make sure you eat enough protein is to center your meals on good protein sources such as free range eggs and poultry, grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, and other sources.

If you’re unsure of your average protein intake, track it for a week and see where you stand. If you’re not getting one gram per pound of bodyweight, start doing so and see what happens.

Here’s a quick and easy, high protein, yummy recipe that is packed with about 45 grams of protein – High Protein Cheesecake Bowl.

Fruit Gate 2012

I made a comment on Facebook the other day, and I knew that it would cause some commotion. Basically, I said I eat 2-3 pieces of fruit a day and asked when people would stop condemning fruit. This statement caused some back-and-forth bantering and some people ended up “un-friending” me as a result.

I’m aware that fructose has a very bad reputation at the moment, and I won’t argue that people should stop consuming high fructose corn syrup that is found via products such as fruit juice, sodas, and processed food items.

But when it comes to the average person who consumes a lot of processed foods, fast food, and practically no vegetables or fruit, no one is going to convince me that encouraging someone to eat a piece of fruit instead of a Pop Tart is going to cause them to gain body fat.

Most people just need to start eliminating items such as fast food, sodas, heavily processed foods and trans-fat from their diets. Telling someone who eats Pop Tarts for breakfast, fast food for lunch, snacks on candy bars and drinks sodas all day is going to get incredibly confused if you tell them to “not eat fruit”.

My clients, and the majority of people I work with want to shed body fat, build muscle, improve their health and energy levels, and just want to feel better. I’m not referring to individuals who want to achieve super low levels of body fat and who have already perfected the basics of nutrition (which I’ll address below).

I agree that people who want to reach incredible leanness may want to experiment with limiting fruit intake. However, it’s not necessary for everyone to do so because I know a lot of individuals who can achieve, and maintain, single digit body fat (men) or low to mid teens (women) who eat fruit on a regular basis.

Bottom line concerning fruit – if you want to look better in a swim suit, improve your health and performance, than feel free to eat a couple pieces of fresh fruit each day. As long as you’re following the basics of nutrition (below) you will not gain body fat from including fruit in your daily diet.

Nutrition Basics

If people focused on eating real, high quality natural foods (think grass-fed meats, free range poultry and eggs, wild caught fish, fresh fruits and veggies) and listening to their bodies (eating when hungry, stopping when satisfied) and consumed plenty of water each day, they would build the strong, healthy, lean body they desired. (Also refer to Beautiful Badass Nutrition Principles).

Apply those basics of nutrition for a minimum of one year. Follow them at least 90% of the time, and be honest with yourself. If after mastering the basics for a year you still want more “advanced information,” than send me an email and I’ll gladly help you out.

If you think you’re ready for more complex nutrition methods, than answer this question – have you mastered the basics? Honestly, have you? Why do you want additional information? Just like a beginner strength trainee will not get better results from an advanced program, you won’t get great results from complicated nutrition methods if you haven’t mastered the basics. And why would you want something that is complicated if you can get the same results with simple methods?

My challenge to you is this: eat natural, whole, unprocessed foods that are in their natural state and meat that comes from animals raised in their natural environments. This means grass-fed meats, grass-fed dairy (if you can tolerate it or even want to include it), free range poultry and eggs, wild caught fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat those foods at least 90% of the time, and then report back to me in one year.

Is that advice “sexy” or even complicated? Nope, and that’s a main reason people shrug it off as “useless” or too basic. But I guarantee it works. They are the same guidelines I provide to my clients and not once has someone needed anything more complicated than that to achieve their fat loss and performance goals.

Additional Random Tips

-Know what makes you feel best and what works for you. Perhaps you would enjoy a form of intermittent fasting, or maybe you prefer to eat four to five smaller meals each day. Experiment a little and see what works for you.

-Don’t exclude foods entirely from your diet (the exception is if you have an allergy to a food or food group or eating a certain food causes you to feel lousy). If you love ice cream and proclaim, “I’m never going to eat ice cream again,” what will you always want to eat and constantly think about?

-I truly don’t care if you’re vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, gluten-free, an intermittent-faster, or any other possible term used to describe your eating preference. Are you improving your health and building the body you want with that method? I truly hope so, because that is what I care about. I want you to get from point A to point B in a healthy way that is sustainable and works for you.

Final note – I am not a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist nor do I play one on the internet. I’m providing you with information that has worked for me and my clients. This is not medical advice.

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • Amy

    Thanks, Nia. This is the first time I have ever thought about domino foods…and I have many! It's funny that you talk about almonds because one of my special treats is those flavored “bold” almonds they make (like wasabi soy, honey dijon, etc). They are a great treat but I can't stop at one serving. I've even tried taking a serving out of the can and putting the can away. But then I just go get the can again because I know more are in there. This leads to me to my next discovery- snacking is not for me. Like you, I can't eat unless I know I'll feel full. Snacking just leads me to more snacking and then I end up eating as much as (or more than) a meal's worth of food. Furthermore, there are certain foods that make me want to eat other foods – I eat something sweet, then I want salty, then sweet, then crunchy, then creamy, etc, etc, etc.

    Thanks for this article and for all the others you've written about how snacking and “5 meals a day” are not for everyone, and there is no shame in feeling the way that I do. It's just how I operate.

    Lately, I see bodies as houseplants. You can't change what makes them happy and healthy. You learn how they grow and what they need and how often they need it, and you give it to them. You can't deny their needs, and if you do, they wilt, and they die.

  • Becky Smith


    This was a really great article. I have been following you a little through Girls Gone Strong and like what you have to add to the group.

    I've been very interested in what's been discussed about intermittent fasting lately. I have been really struggling lately trying to shed some weight and thinking about food, meal planning, and stressing about what to eat feels like it is consuming my life. Not a good thing. Like you, I am not a good snacker so I've been experimenting a little with IF. It seems to suit my body/mind just right. I hadn't ever heard of the Eat Stop Eat program you referenced so I checked out the link in this post. I have to admit that the site was a little difficult to sort through for me. The idea sounds really intriguing and something I think I would be interested in researching more in depth. Since the Eat Stop Eat package seemed a little pricey I was hoping you could tell me if you think purchasing the book is worth it or if just gathering info from blogs like yours and experimenting with my own body is the way to go for someone just starting out on this “Beautiful Badass” journey.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!


  • Nia Shanks

    Yep, I know exactly what you mean about not being a good “snacker”. I simply don't know how to have a snack because it quickly turns into a big meal! I'm grateful to hear you have found what works for you!!!

    “I see bodies as houseplants. You can't change what makes them happy and healthy. You learn how they grow and what they need and how often they need it, and you give it to them. You can't deny their needs, and if you do, they wilt, and they die.” – I absolutely LOVE that point of view!!! Thank you for sharing.

  • Nia Shanks

    Thank you for the kind words.

    Regarding Eat Stop Eat, you can most certainly employ the method without purchasing the book. However, if you want to know the “whys” and “hows” along with other beneficial information that could help you, I would recommend the book.

    Is it absolutely necessary? No. But if you want/need more information and want to know the science behind the effectiveness of fasting than it can be a valuable resource. I actually used the method myself for several months a couple of years ago before reading the book.

    I just like to make sure I give proper credit to authors. For example, if I don't do “Eat Stop Eat” exactly as outlined by Brad (the author) than I'm not really doing “Eat Stop Eat” but rather a form of intermittent fasting. I say this because I don't like when people take bits and pieces from a program/method (whether it's Eat Stop Eat, Beautiful Badass, or any other program) and then say it didn't work, when in reality they weren't truly following the information.

    Sorry to ramble on, but hopefully I answered your question. :)

  • Gordon Wayne Watts

    Question: Why *would* you want to limit caloric intake if you're trying to get stronger?

    (Do you think, for example, that your relative strength, e.g., “deadlift per bodyweight” ratio, will go down if you increase bodyweight and strength doesn't increase in a commensurate manner?)

    - – -

    Comment regarding your quote: “no one is going to convince me that encouraging someone to eat a piece of fruit instead of a Pop Tart is going to cause them to gain body fat.”

    CORRECT: It's total caloric intake that counts. (Why all the hate & discontent from your so-called 'friends' on Facebook eludes me! LOL)

    Comment regarding your quote: “Most people just need to start eliminating items such as fast food, sodas, heavily processed foods and trans-fat from their diets.”


    * Sodas often have high amounts of phosphoric acid and/or “empty calories,” and/or artificial sweeteners, (not to mention a lot of high-fructose corn syrup) ALL bad actors.

    * Heavily processing of food/drinks (pasteurization, homogenization, hormones they give animals that we eat, deep frying of food stuffs, etc.) does massive damage to the value of it.

    * Trans-fats are MUCH harder to metabolise than cis-fats because the cis-fats are bunched together (more “potential” or stored energy) and, therefore “snap open” more easily when the body attempts to break them down. This was something I learned in Biochemistry. (Science is cool! – Google cis and trans fats to see what I'm talkin' 'bout.)

  • Cass


    I really like what you said about taking it easy the day of or the day after a big treat, planned or unplanned. And I like how you look at fasting as a tool, not as a punishment. I have been toying with this as well, on days where I know I might be going out at night. The only challenge or difficulty I have found with this approach is that on days when I do this, I tend not to get as much protein as I would like.

    Can you share with us how often you do fasting and how else you tend to incorporate it into your fitness life?



  • Nia Shanks

    Thanks, Cass, for the question. For a more detailed look into my nutrition, refer to this article:

    I generally do the prolonged fasts (at least 19 hours) once or twice a week. I know what you mean about not getting enough protein on those days, but I wouldn't worry about it.

    I prefer to fast on non-weight lifting days because when I do train I like to make sure I get enough protein.

    On the days I do fast, I make sure my meal that night centers on a huge serving a protein – I can easily make this 70 grams without even trying.

    Not getting the preferred amount of protein on fasting days isn't a big deal in my experience. I've even seen some research suggesting it can help your body assimilate the protein you do eat on the fasting days.

    Hope that helps!

  • Kay

    Was curious to see your nutrition in detail, but link never showed anything…

  • Demetrius

    Nice article. Fasting is such a simple solution for our problems. Considering the cheap and easily availability of calories compared to the environment we evolved in, the answer is simple. Just don't eat constantly.

    It's also amazing that people think fruit is a problem. Fruit comes with beneficial fiber and nutrients. Soda and pop tarts – not so much.

    I don't even think it's necessary to follow the grass-fed, organic mantra either. There's really a point of diminishing returns by going “organic”. You're going to see a huge difference replacing a side of french fries or potato chips with a baked potato and butter. Not so significant going from a regular potato to an organic potato. (Funny, when I first dropped about 30 lbs years ago came about when I dropped french fries and regular soda from my lunches. I used to eat at Wendy's a lot at the time and just switched to diet soda and baked potato. Huge difference.)

    Finally, free-range/grass-fed and organic can get very pricey depending on the market you live in. In my area grass-fed and organic are sparse, expensive and come in packaging too small to be convenient for a family of four. It's not clear that the alleged benefits are worth the significant price differential.

  • Viviane

    Great article, as usual, Nia.

    I have a fructose and fructan intolerance but dammit, I still eat my 2 serves of fruit per day and I'm pretty lean. If people are going to rant on about fructose they should understand the difference between highly processed fructose sources and fresh wholefood sources.

    if it's a worry, choose your fruit wisely and avoid those high in fructose. I'd do anything to be able to enjoy an apple again but I can't. No-one will convince that apples are bad for you because they are high in fructose. The fibre in them helps regulate the processing of fructose in your system anyway :)

    I'm having the opposite problem at the moment whereby my appetite is never huge and I struggle to meet my energy requirements. Not that it stops me aiming high but I'm the kind of gal that finds it hard to clean her plate. Wish I could bottle my satiety receptors and donate them to anyone needing help in that area!

  • Nia Shanks

    The meat I buy is Organic – I buy it locally. Surprisingly it just costs a little more than meat sold at the local grocery store. I definitely recommend people use to find local farms near them where they can purchase meat, eggs, etc.

    I would people purchase grass-fed beef over Organic veggies any day.

  • Seth


    This article spoke directly to me. Awesome. As far as getting 1g of protein per pound of body weight: if I feel satisfied and am no longer hungry after getting, say, 60-80 g of protein in a day, should I keep eating to get in the protein if I am going for fat loss?

  • Yvette

    Great read Nia. 

  • Verointeriors

    Everything in moderation – that’s the key!  Drink water when you feel hungry. Often, thirst disguises itself as hunger. Works most of the time. If you are still hungry, eat. The right food. In small portions. When your body gets used to it – and here, only you are in control, it will not want sugar, bad fat or huge portions. Don’t crash diet. Don’t overeat. Food is not going out of fashion.

  • Amy

    Nice Article,
    I have been doing everything you say for about a year now :) Only I do count calories most of the time but I get that’s not for everyone. I can go by without counting them because I have mastered the basics! So i realize what I am eating/what it will do at almost all times. Sometimes I have to shut it off though, and through trial and error I have learned to allow myself to enjoy meals/snacks etc without feeling guilty.

    Eat Stop Eat is a very good recommendation, people should be reading about intermittent fasting so they can understand it. I was ‘amazed’ when I first read it and am a huge fan!

  • Brooke

    Your part on fruit is very interesting. When my sister wanted to start losing weight I told her to concentrate on eating real foods including fruit. You see she was eating fast food, chips, dips, crackers and drinking high sugar energy drinks everyday. When she started eating real foods people started to judge what she was eating telling her the fruit she was eating in the morning was bad for her and if she wanted to lose weight she had to stop eating fruit. She has since lost 8kgs of fat, looks and feels fantastic. I find it very funny, that once someone starts trying to be healthier everyone around them, whether they are healthy or not starts to judge.
    Do whatever works for you. I love fruit and if it stops me from eating a block of chocolate, I will carry on thank you