Most people view nutrition and body weight management primarily from the point of quantity. How much am I eating? How does the caloric input balance with the caloric output? Having our focus solely on the ‘how much’ of eating grossly limits one’s capacity to effectively nourish the body without generating a positive caloric balance and weight gain. Many people unnecessarily over-restrict the amount of food they eat instead of taking advantage of the ‘when and how’ strategies of nutritional plans.
Understanding the timing of when we eat along with how we eat can greatly improve our ability to management body weight and to sustain optimal energy levels throughout the day. With these strategies, we often find that we can consume more food without enduring sudden or gradual weight gain.
Looking first at the ‘when’ strategy of eating, we want to acknowledge the function of food. Food has a basic purpose of providing nutrients and acting as energy sources for cellular maintenance and function. We want to consume food just prior to or during periods when cells are requiring more fuel. When the cells shift into a lower state of energy consumption, our nutritional intake should be reduced.
Our society has grown accustomed to eating the largest meal (dinner) at the end of day which is also when most people begin to decrease physical activity. By flooding the body with a large meal (and a series of late night snacks), our cellular systems become overly saturated with nutrients and calories. This overflow of calories remains in the blood stream as broken down blood sugars and results in a cascade of hormonal releases. To bring the blood sugar levels back into a more balance state, the pancreas releases insulin that shunts these sugars into fat cells. An enzyme-lead chemical reaction occurs that converts these unused sugars into stored fat.
From the ‘when’ perspective, we want to consume our more calorie-dense meals at the beginning and middle of the day to take advantage of daily physical activities that will consume these blood sugars and reduce the conversion of excess calories into stored fat.
Many people do a major disservice to themselves by skipping or not eating enough breakfast. One’s day starts off with improper fueling of the systems and limits one’s energetic capacity to perform, interact and enjoy life. Make a point of nourishing your body first thing in the day and continue to fuel the body throughout the midday.
As the late afternoon and evening approaches, consumption should taper off with the last meal (and any snacks) ending well before bedtime. This can prove to being challenging at first as cravings and habits tend to tempt one. You can curb these cravings with herbal teas and by changing lifestyle patterns. One common factor in generating late night cravings is television. Television ads bombard us with nonstop food commercials. It becomes very easy to shift into unnecessary eating patterns when relaxing in front of the television. If your body weight management needs extra addition, consider reducing or replacing television watching with other more productive activities like reading, crafts, walking, or meditation.
Take note that certain individuals (ie athletes) need to maximize caloric consumption for tissue recover and they may employ nutrition strategies that purposefully manipulate late night food consumption. These types of strategies should be done so with the guidance of a trained professional in order to tap into the desired training routine and athletic performance benefits.
As you modify the timing of eating schedules, also consider the ‘how’ factor of your diet. By modifying your food combinations, you can also dramatically reduce the occurance of blood sugars being turned into fat. So now, you are eating a dense breakfast every morning consisting of oatmeal, fresh fruit, and whole grain toast. This meal appears to offer an abundance of nutrients and fiber, but is it acting as the most effective strategy of energy management? The answer is ‘no’!
Even though this new pattern of eating breakfast provides a great source of energy, nutrients, and fiber, it is imbalanced by offering a very high proportion of carbohydrates and little protein or fat. Yes, these carbohydrates are considered ‘complex’ and are received better by the body (compared to simple sugars), but they are still readily absorbed into the blood stream. A meal that is predominantly carbohydrates (complex or simple) passes relatively quick through the disgetive system and does not keep one feeling ‘full’ for long.
Therefore, consider adding a ‘slowing agent’ to your meals. This ‘slowing agent’ should be in the form of clean proteins like raw nuts, seeds (ie sunflower), beans, legumes, and quinoa. Proteins are initially digested in the stomach. When we add a modest amount of clean proteins to our meals, the food is held a little longer in the stomach for processing. This increased processing slows down the passage of food into the small intestines and therefore the absorption into the blood stream. The overall effect is that our complex carbohydrates are received by the body more slowly resulting in less climbs in blood sugar levels and insulin releases. By holding food longer in the stomach, our appetite is more effectively satiated and we can enjoy more time between meals.
Some additional nutrition strategies:
*Break tradition and eat more meals. Instead of the classic 3 large meals a day, plan to eat 4 to 5 smaller nutrient-balanced meals and a few light snacks. Keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day. Having large periods of time between meals causes blood sugar and hormone levels to roller coaster.
*Always bring food with you. Avoid getting trapped without food by carrying a healthy snack like raw nuts, fresh fruit, or a salad. Just as we know that thirst is a sign of dehydration, hunger is a sign that we are passing into low blood sugar levels. Preventing hunger from setting in will insure that you are maintaining energy levels.
*Prepare meals in advance. When you prepare a meal, make enough to freeze extra for those busy days in the future. Plan ahead to avoid eating fast food or commercially processed meals .
*Appreciate your food. Make eating an event. Turn off the TV and computer, and eat mindfully. Taste all the sensations. Be aware of satiety. Respect your food and what goes into your body. With this awareness, we develop greater discipline in making proper eating choices and patterns.
*Dieting does not work. Starving your body of food, starves your body of nutrients. The body reacts by holding in calories and shuts down metabolic processes. This collapse of metabolism results in future body weight management problems.