How to eat like a big beautiful horse
I've been on the "eating more" grind for years now; here is every tip I've fought to learn along the way.
Hi, I just cried a little and spiraled while I read your piece in The Cut. Would you happen to have any advice for eating more? Also, just, thank you for being such a great voice.
tw: food numbers, contextual mentions of disordered eating behaviors
I'm hearing from many of you who are doing LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell that you are loving it, and even feeling that particular burning, primordial hunger after your lifting sessions. But despite that, you're at a bit of a loss as to how to meet your new total daily energy expenditure calories and higher protein intake.
This post is going to be more about calories than protein, but taking care of the former will probably go a ways to helping solve the latter (plus, we already have some posts about how to get more protein). Therefore, here is every tip I can think of that helps me to eat more, ranging from the strictly practical to the mental/spiritual. As always, this is for educational purposes only, I'm not a or your doctor, please consult a medical professional for practically applicable health advice that is specific to you.1
The topline here is always going to be, eating more can take a bit of deliberate effort, but ultimately, it should be fun, relatively low-stakes, and overall enriching to your daily life. While lifting weights is a fun hobby for us all, if you're reading this newsletter, it's almost certainly not your entire livelihood. Don’t ruin your life over it. If your one true happiness is, for instance, eating very slowly, don't give that up.
You are also not required to do all of these things to the max in order to get results. They are suggestions of things to try in whatever quantity or combination works for you. These are all levers you can pull, if they work for you.
Hold off on fluids while you eat.
If you hail from a semi-problematic dieting background like me, you're probably used to hearing about using water as a way of tamping down your appetite: drinking it before meals, during meals. This suggestion is essentially the opposite of that. I can put down so much more food if I don't intersperse it with gulps of water, like I normally might. I will drink some water once I've gotten all the food in because, you know, water is good. But if you've ever heard that metaphor about filling a big jar with various sizes of rocks as an analogy for setting priorities, "food" is the big rocks here, and water is the little rocks, at least at mealtimes. Don't waste precious stomach space on liquids when you have a big pile of food to plow through.
Eat calorically dense foods.
I don't mean to hate on my earth mothers, my hippie fiber enthusiasts, my children of the whole grains. Fiber, vitamins, micronutrients: These things matter, and you should eat them. When I'm trying to eat slowly, few things work better than "high volume" foods. But when I'm trying to put down a few thousand calories a day, I can't do it all in the form of like, quinoa and kale.
Once, a friend who we'll call Eva told me about how she wanted to bulk, but she was struggling to gain weight. Her trainer asked her what she ate, and it was almost entirely health foods (she was raised in the flower-child tradition of eating, like, a big bowl of ancient grains for every meal). He told her she needed to branch out to foods with more calories. At one point, she showed him my Instagram, where he located a video of me pouring Martha Stewart's Perfect Mac and Cheese sauce over pasta shells. He showed it to her and pointed at it and said, "THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO BE DOING."
You need macaroni and cheese. You need pizza. You need cookies. You need Pop Tarts. You need potato chips. McDonald's burgers. Peanut butter. Candy. Juice. Soda. Soda? Yes, even the dreaded full-calorie soda (though obviously not before or instead of real food).
We get a lot (a looooot) of messaging about how these foods are "bad" and "unhealthy" for us, so everyone is forgiven for thinking that means we should never ever touch them. And while a diet composed entirely of these things for eternity may, yes, cause some health issues, they can fully be part of a balanced diet. More to the point, they are useful tools as part of a short term effort to eat more, if you struggle with eating a lot.
You CAN reach your high caloric goal with only wheat berries and cod and slugs of olive oil, but like... I find that to be a lot of chewing. So much chewing. A prohibitive amount of chewing. 400 calories of apples is like, five apples. 400 calories of Snickers bars is like, one king size Snickers bar. Do you see what I am saying? I don’t have time to eat that healthy; I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. I have shit to do.
Treat yourself a few foods that slide easily down the gullet. Which brings me to...