Cheryl like so many of us didn’t know why she felt so impulsive around food in the evening. She thought once she started meal prepping dinner in advance for her busy weeknights, this would solve the problem. Instead of diving into a box of crackers and thereby spoiling her appetite to make dinner, she prepped dinners in advance so she could eat a hot meal shortly after coming home. She found it very helpful and satisfying when she made this change yet it still didn’t seem to work the way she'd hoped. After dinner, out came the crackers, then the chips... Then the ice cream.
One of the first steps in Intuitive Eating is understanding the right timing for your eating. It’s actually quite individual but there is a way to find your natural rhythms that work best with your unique and wonderful body.
Cheryl hustles to get out the door in the morning and pushes to meet tight work deadlines all day. As she runs out the door, coffee in hand, she usually grabs a banana to eat on the way to the office and munches on a meagre salad and chopped chicken for lunch. She knows she needs to eat something during the day even though she doesn’t feel all that hungry. She eats because it helps her keep working but is actually quite uninterested because she’s focused at work.
Before Cheryl came to see me, she never suspected she could in fact be undereating. She was looking for support around her overeating, right? Just like you may be right now, Cheryl made a funny face when I suggested we may want to explore this further. I asked her to bear with me so we could dig a little deeper. She could tell me clearly that her struggle with eating was not during the day, she felt she ate sensibly and had no trouble doing so because she didn’t feel hungry. But when we explored her hunger intensity and impulsivity around food in the evening, it sky-rocketed compared to day time. Because she’s intelligent just like you and was willing to trust that perhaps she was missing a piece of the puzzle, she was willing to trust me on this one.
Just eating when she felt she needed it was not going to solve the problem because she was already doing this. We needed to approach it from a different angle. Together we came up with a plan for her to experiment eating more during the day. She would pack extra food and give herself real breaks from work for at least 15-20 minutes, eating in the lunch room instead of her desk. She didn’t need to finish what she brought but she needed try eating what was the most appealing from her stash at each of her breaks. She also thought it would be helpful to take a few deep breaths before she started eating, I agreed. It would serve as a little ritual to remind her she was on a break from work so she could be more present while she was eating.
Cheryl’s impulse to keep snacking throughout the evening didn’t disappear completely with this experiment but she felt she had more choice in the matter and her hunger level helped her savour her meal, rather than urge her to wolf it down. Her mind felt a little more sharp and she could better decide between physical need for food and backlash eating. Backlash eating is actually our body’s way of taking care of itself when it can’t consistently rely on us to meet its needs. It sounds like our bodies are being vindictive and it can definitely feel that way when we are trying to resist the urge. In actuality, our bodies are simply protecting us. For Cheryl, it happened because she would inadvertently get over hungry, eat until she was uncomfortably full then enforce the pattern even more by unintentionally restricting her food the following day.
Are you Like Cheryl?
Do you consistently recognize your hunger at a whisper or do you find it showing up as urgent, demanding and difficult to tame? Or maybe you don't seem to recognize hunger at all? Want to eat with more confidence and clarity? Intuitive Eating can actually start with more structure on the way to help you find your natural eating rhythms.
When hunger seems non-existent or unruly, the first steps are to create structure in the timing of your eating. Experiment with eating 4-6 times a day. Reflect on your experiment as you go. What do you notice? What seemed to work well and what would you try different next time? If you are certain you are eating enough but still feel a little twitchy around food in the evening, don’t fret, we’ll do some more troubleshooting, stay tuned!
Intuitive Eating is not just one step, it takes time just like strengthening a muscle. Keep experimenting with curiosity and compassion. Do you have an idea for your next experiment? Or maybe you have a question I can blog about? I’m all ears.