Are You Overly Structuring Your Eating?
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks, and a dessert...
When you think about how we have structured the way we eat, what comes to mind?
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
- I "need" a snack to tide me over until my next meal otherwise I will get "hangry"
- Eat smaller meals more frequently in order to keep your metabolism stoked
- Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.
Not only have we been taught to think we need to eat a certain amount at specific times of the day, but a lot of people are actually scared of hunger. I used to be one of them! Hunger and I were not friends. I used to do everything in my power to not feel hungry, and often that meant eating even when I wasn't physically hungry. I chalked this up to the fact that I have always been a "planner," when in reality, food anxiety was controlling me.
First of all, hunger is neither good or bad, it is simply a signal from your body to your brain that it is time to eat. However, hormonal hunger feels a lot different than physical hunger. The former (which is experienced with blood sugar mismanagement) is described as "hanger," or that drop in blood sugar characterized by low energy, irritability, and lightheadedness. It's very uncomfortable and can actually instigate a mind-body connection to make you think that if you don't get fed, you might just die (I promise you won't).
I have said it before - your body is a very efficient machine. Did you know that it was designed to go hours, if not days, without eating? I am not encouraging you to test this out, but It's true; and if your body needed fuel, it has amazing built-in mechanisms to break down stored sugar (a.k.a glycogen) and stored fat in order to provide it for you. Bottom line is that pure science doesn't support the fact that you "need" your snack. Quite the contrary.
So what about eating "mini meals" more frequently versus larger meals less often? Every time you eat, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which is our storage hormone. Therefore, if weight loss, increased energy, or improved digestion is a part of your goals, you might be doing yourself a disservice. This increases the chances that insulin will continue circulating, signaling to your body to remain in storage mode (not breaking down stored fat for fuel); furthermore, given that digestion is a labor-intensive process, eating more often may be overly taxing your system leading you to experience less energy and digestive distress.
Bottom line is that every day is different, therefore, your fuel requirements each day will be different. When you overly structure your eating, it means you have lost the moment-to-moment, day-to-day awareness of tuning in and listening to what your body needs.