Tired of dogma around food? Just for today, let’s side-step the landmine of a question “what should I be eating?” in favor of three often-overlooked factors: the how, when, and why. Here we go:
How, When, and Why
Just Eat Three Meals a Day
Give yourself nourishing food three times a day, period. If you’re eating every few hours, your body will burn the meal or snack you just ate for fuel. With a steady supply of calories always available, your body has no reason at all to burn its fat.
But if you space out your meals to three per day (or fewer), you train your body to burn its fat instead of its sugar. Within a few weeks, sugar cravings will subside, you’ll think better, and you might have a better shot at sleeping through the night (good sleep also helps balance the “hunger hormones,” leptin and ghrelin). Plus, you’ll have fewer opportunities to overeat. Want dessert? Go for it. At mealtimes.
When: Eat your biggest meal of the day at lunch. This is when digestive fire is strongest, and therefore the best time to eat your largest, most complicated meal. Giving yourself a big, satisfying meal at lunch will give you calories to burn all afternoon, supplying your brain with much-needed fuel. A big dinner is less useful when you’re winding down towards sleep.
Make your evening meal smaller and earlier: before 7 PM. According to the Chinese body clock, we have the least amount of qi in the digestive system (Spleen and Stomach), between 7pm and 11pm. From 11pm to 3am, your Liver and Gallbladder kick into gear to clean the blood and detoxify your system. They can’t do their job very well if they’re still busy helping you digest your evening meal.
Get enough sleep. When we’re sleep deprived, our hunger hormones increase while our satiety signals take longer to kick in, so you’re more likely to want to eat more.
Relax. The nervous system has 2 modes: fight-flight-freeze or rest-and-digest. If you’re eating while stressed, chances are you won’t digest well, because the nervous system is focused on other things. So eating at your desk or while dodging traffic is out. To help shift into rest and digest mode, practice this breathing exercise.
Let eating be the one thing you’re doing. Step away from your desk, put down your phone, turn off the TV. Distraction-free eating allows you to tune into how much food your body actually wants and tends to result in consuming fewer calories. Plus, in Chinese Medicine, it’s the Spleen that digests both food and information. Eating while studying is doubly hard on the Spleen, as the poor thing has to digest two things at once.
Take it slowly. It takes a good 20 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it’s full. When you eat quickly, you outrun this feedback mechanism, making it easy to eat more than you need. Taking a moment of gratitude before your meal, chewing each bite thoroughly, putting your fork down between bites, and eating with your non-dominant hand can all help slow you down.
Check in with why you’re eating. Might you actually be needing something else instead? Like, rest? Comfort? In my world, most emotional eating doesn’t happen at mealtimes, so the 3-meals-a-day strategy helps me sidestep the question entirely.
Think you’ll be hungry all the time with no snacks? Here’s a hint: fats, proteins, and fiber keep you feeling full longer than simple sugars and carbs. Another hint: if you’re hungry between meals, drink some water or herbal tea. And make sure you’re getting your vitamin D. And how delicious is food when you’re really and truly hungry?
This all boils down to taking the time to eat three relaxed meals a day. Not rocket science, right? But totally grounded in both Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. Tried it? Want to? I’d love to hear how this strategy works for you.