It’s very easy in our current nutrition culture to be tempted by extremes. It’s also easy to overshoot the mark or put the cart before the horse. While I am sure that you have many health concerns (digestion concerns, sleep concerns, blood sugar concerns, heart related concerns, etc), I have found that being consistent with the basics often leads to those concerns taking care of themselves. By allowing yourself time to engage in regular self-care, you will get where you want to go. It may not be by tomorrow or next month as many diets will promise, but you will get there. When you do, it will be a long-lasting approach that has fostered self-trust, self-acceptance, confidence and an increase in wisdom and patience.
I consider eating regular, balanced meals a very big part of self-care. There are so many reasons I recommend eating regularly. Below I name a few:
1. If eating patterns have been haphazard or inconsistent, it is very likely you aren’t feeling regular hunger and fullness levels. This could make intuitive eating and the idea of self-trust feel completely out of reach. After ignoring your body’s signals for too long, it may need reassurance you are willing to listen. Please know a body that feels well taken care of can become very resilient. Basically, you are teaching your body that it can trust you. As you trust it, it will trust you – it goes both ways. By feeding it regularly, hunger and fullness levels will remerge fostering self-trust.
2. It stabilizes blood sugar levels, which helps to reduce cravings. It also influences mood regulation as well as overall hormonal balance. You will feel well fed and satisfied during the day, preventing feelings of deprivation, which can lead to overeating and bingeing. You can start to notice what portion sizes are adequate to fuel you without leaving you uncomfortably full and lethargic or still hungry and preoccupied with food. With consistency, it can act as a windshield wiper. We can see what remains and what may need a closer look. But without it, all appears convoluted.
3. It serves as a great reminder to take a break from your day to engage in regular self-care. Meals are a time to relax, take a break and derive healthy nourishment and satisfaction from food. You can then get back to the game of life feeling fueled and ready with increased productivity.
4. It allows you to make peace with all food groups. It’s quite possible that other weight loss attempts have left you confused about what to eat, given that many diets have lists of “good” and “bad” foods. I consider a balanced meal one that includes at least a carbohydrate choice, a protein choice, a fat choice and a fruit and/or vegetable. This allows you to make room for all food groups, in a way you feel would be most satisfying and energizing for you. Also, if meal timing will be longer than 3-4 hours, I would recommend planning a snack for between meals.
5. Instead of restriction or chaos, I consider regular, balanced meals to be a flexible structure. You may feel very wary of having no boundaries or guidelines and are wishing to stay as far away from chaos as possible (enter why diets feel like such a great solution! – but remember: restriction is not a solution for chaos, it causes it.) I get that! This structure is flexible; you are able to decide what carbohydrate, protein, fat and/or fruit or vegetable you would like to include. In essence, as you work to normalize eating behaviors, meal timing and structure may not be negotiable (therefore challenging the disordered eating thoughts that could influence your behavior for the worse), but what you eat at that time is negotiable. You can practice Intuitive Eating within guidelines that feel safer for you.
6. It allows you to go against any rules or guidelines. As you are learning to connect with your body and give it what it needs, it may need more or less than the basic outline of food groups above. Those are only meant to be a tool if helpful and I would encourage you not to make them a weapon. Our bodies are not machines and your needs may change from meal to meal and from day to day. Curiosity and openness will be your best asset! As you are learning to reconnect with your body, get curious about how to build your own self-care plan.
As we move away from a weight-obsessed discussion about food choices, you are free to figure out what fuels you the best. I hope this flexible structure can allow a safe environment that fosters curiosity and connection.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD