If you’re just starting out on the Meal Plan, we advise eating the suggested amount of food for a week, or at least a couple of days, and if you find that you’re not getting enough food or you think you’re getting too much, then adjust your intake according to this article. If you’re an athlete working out more than a few hours per week, read the Recommendations for Athletes section of this post.
Where Do You Stand?
The meal plan provides between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day—an average amount of calories, especially when you’re trying to lose weight. It’s also easier to add food rather than take it away when it comes to following the Meal Plan. So how do you know if you need more or less than 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day? First try to figure it out using the symptoms listed below, but you can also get a better sense of how much food you need by tracking calories with www.myfitnesspal.com or www.nutritiondata.com. They’ll take your stats and figure out how much food you need every day, given your height, weight, weight loss goals and activity level.
How to Know if You’re Not Getting Enough Food
You’ll know you’re not getting enough food if you’re:
- constantly hungry
- feeling like your blood sugar is low
- battling intense cravings
- seeing your athletic performance decline
- losing weight at a rapid pace
Important note: All of the aforementioned symptoms can also be symptoms of the “low-carb flu” or “detoxing,” which can happen when you first start eating Primal after years on a standard Western diet. So if that’s you, know that this period of discomfort will very likely pass within 1 to 21 days. Everyone’s different. But if you’re really quite sure that you’re just not getting enough food, follow the recommendations below.
Suggestions for Adding Food to the Meal Plan
- Cook with more oil or fat, or add some oil to your portion after your meal is cooked (so you’re not overloading your petite wife with calories). Each tablespoon of oil or fat is around 120 calories.
- Add more meat. That means you’ll have to buy more meat than the grocery list accounts for. To give you some reference, a quarter pound (4 ounces) of beef sirloin is about 240 calories. The same amount of boneless, skinless chicken breast is about 140 calories.
- Add more fruits and veggies of all kinds. BUT, if you’re not active and you’re trying to lose weight, stick to the fibrous veggies (not sweet potatoes or potatoes) and berries because those are the ones lowest in carbs. Add more fruits and veggies of all kinds. BUT, if you’re not active and you’re trying to lose weight, stick to the fibrous veggies (not sweet potatoes or potatoes) and berries because those are the ones lowest in carbs.
- Add nuts and seeds, but keep in mind that they’re really calorie dense, so don’t go overboard. For instance, 1 cup of cashews contains over 700 calories!
How to Know if You’re Getting Too Much Food
If you’re on the Meal Plan for a week or so, you may be eating too much food if:
- you’re not able to finish your meals
- you’re feeling overly stuffed after eating
- you’ve actually gained weight
Suggestions for Cutting Down Your Food
- It may work out perfectly if you’re doing the Meal Plan with your spouse and they don’t feel like they’re getting enough food. Just give him or her more, and you eat less of every meal.
- Skip the snack. But if you like having a snack between lunch and dinner, then keep the snack and cut your lunch portion. Or, skip the snack and eat half your lunch for lunch, and half as a snack later.
- Use less of the “optional” foods on the menu. If a recipe calls for optional cheese, avocado, sour cream, etc., you can opt to skip this suggestion or use less than you normally would.
- Use less oil—or no oil at all—when cooking. We’re not saying you should go low fat, but fat does, in fact, contain quite a few more calories than protein or carbohydrates do, and eating too much food, whether it’s Primal or not, can make you gain weight or feel full.
- Instead of two or three eggs and bacon (or whatever breakfast is that morning), eat one egg and less bacon (or less of whatever breakfast is). Or eat 3 ounces of steak instead of 6 ounces for dinner. You get the idea. No need to weigh and measure; just put a smaller amount of food on your plate than the Meal Plan recommends.
Recommendations for Athletes
If you’re an athlete in general, training more than a few times a week, read this post, “Dear Mark: Advice for Athletes“. If you’re a serious endurance athlete, training more than an hour most days, then you’re going to need to eat more carbohydrates than what’s provided by the Meal Plan. Please read this post, “Primal Compromises for Athletes,” to get a really good sense of exactly how many carbs you’ll need every day. But note that the post is called “Primal Compromises,” which indicates that the Primal philosophy isn’t so compatible with that amount of training. That blog post will give you an idea of why you might do yourself and your performance a favor by not training so hard.
In any case, if you’re a very active athlete who’s used to eating a large amount of carbohydrates (breads, sugar, cookies, chips, pasta, etc.) and you go Primal, you may find that even after that detox or low-carb flu period is over, your workouts are suffering and you’re tired. In that case, add some of the carbs below to the meal plan.
- Sweet potatoes and Yams
- Fruit of all kinds
- Rice (if you can tolerate it)
- Raw honey
And make sure you’re getting enough calories. A lot of athletes are tired and lagging in their performance because they’re just not getting enough food. It might be a good idea to record what you were eating before Primal in one of those free online diet-tracking tools like www.fitday.com or www.myfitnesspal.com just to see how much food you were eating before you made the switch. If you weren’t gaining weight on your previous diet, you may want to try to come close to matching those calories on your Primal Blueprint diet.