Between all the books I read about healthy eating and the work I do with my clients, it’s no wonder that we, as a culture, are really confused about what to eat and when.
The biggest shifts and insights began for me when I slowly realized that even all the research in the world couldn’t really tell me what to eat. In fact, so much new research indicates that because our physiology an genetic make up is so unique, it would be darn hard to say what the exact perfect diet is.
For me, lately, I’ve been doing great by eating 3 full meals a day, with no snacks in between. My trick is making certain those meals really count and are very nutritious. I must have at least 1 full serving of protein per meal, and do best when I eat 2-3 grains/day MAX and 2-3 fruits/day as well.
This approach is different than the advice I might give a client or a friend, because to eat 3 meals or 5 meals/day is a truly individualized decision based on what your needs and energy levels are.
My motivations for 3 meals? Basically I learned about myself that snacking is where I get into trouble with portions and unhealthy choices. My taste buds might begin with a craving for fruit and a few almonds or a hard boiled egg, but then I start grazing and pretty soon I’ve basically had a meal. So for me, the idea of 3 meals and 2 snacks was really translating as having 5 meals!! Hmm…. not so good for the waistline or for the mental wellbeing, especiallly when I didn’t really need all those calories.
Do I make exceptions? You bet! If I’m hiking, didn’t get a solid meal for whatever reason (travel, with others, out and about and didn’t have time…), I will have a snack, but my snacks are pretty consistently the same: veggies/hummus, a protein shake, a piece of fruit, a small portioned bag of trail mix or an energy bar, and I really watch how I’m feeling before I make my choice.
This is where the coaching concepts can come in handy to determine your personal balance. Ask yourself the questions:
1. Why am I eating in the pattern that I’m currently in?
2. Do I like the results I’m getting from this patten? IF no, what don’t I like? If yes, do I need to tweak further?
3. How does my current meal plan support the need for fruits/veggies/whole grains/lean proteins?
4. What am I willing to change today and give a try?
#4 was a big eye opener for me personally. I used to be very afraid of eating only 3 meals, as if I would starve in between! Well the reason I felt this way was because I hadn’t been planning nutritionally for those 3 meals, so I was eating too little to sustain me until the next meal. If I’m eating 3 meals a day, my meals must be about 500-600 Kcal/meal at least to get me to my baseline (according to my latest dip into the BodPod at UC Davis to measure my caloric needs and body composition). That amount seemed too high, but yet it is what I need to be satisfied until the next meal time.
So many women I know under eat when it counts (like at mealtimes) and over eat to compensate for hunger, emotions, etc. They are afraid of 100 Kcal of high quality Salad dressing, but will binge of junk or eat 100 Kcal snack bags, which are only going to make them hungrier. There is just WAY too much evidence that refined foods mess with our metabolism and our blood sugar (and hence our cravings and weight) to go that route and expect a health outcome.
So gang, if you want a different result from your nutrition program, I recommend asking yourself those 4 questions and really being honest about what you need for a balance in your life. It’s about progress and not perfection. What can you sanely sustain for the LONG HAUL….which sometimes means making one tiny but surmountable change at a time.
PS: I still have my guilty pleasures and I do drink a rice/almond based drink MOST days, between meals. Sometimes I splurge and drink a coffee drink w/decaf coffee. For me this is part of my mental balance and keeps me away from the other sweets that I simply CAN’T control 🙂