While overeating is a common problem there are also many times when we don't eat enough and that can be a problem too.
Food is our fuel and when the tank is on empty, it affects our metabolism and hinders our physical and mental performance.
I find that there are generally two main reasons why some people don't eat enough. The first reason is because of "weight loss" intentions and the other reason is because of "being too busy to eat". The "weight loss" reason stems from an intentional effort of restricting calories with the idea that this will help lose weight quickly. The "too busy" reason happens when life is going faster than the speed of light and food falls to the wayside.
Let's dive into how both of those reasons play out and some tips on how to overcome both so that you can fuel your body the right way.
Reason 1: Because of "weight loss" intentions. If you are restricting yourself to a low-calorie diet (or NO calorie diet on some days), you are messing up your metabolism. When it comes to weight loss, eating minimal amounts of food might seem like the right thing to do but this is absolutely not a good strategy. The less you eat, the more your body starts to conserve its energy stores, specifically its fat stores. Yes you WILL lose weight (including lean muscle), but your metabolism slows down and the very minute you start eating normally again, you will gain that weight back instantly. Your body gets used to whatever situation it is in, so if it gets used to a low calorie diet, it will make future weight loss even harder. Besides, no one can sustain the low-calorie thing long-term. This way of eating leads to bingeing, which leads to weight gain, which leads to you feeling worse about yourself, and then you feel tempted to be restrictive again with calories. Very vicious cycle.
TIP: By eating small meals and snacks every few hours you will keep your metabolism running smoothly. Stop worrying so much about eating LESS calories and focus your attention on eating MORE clean whole foods. This means instead of reaching for some cookies or empty-calorie pretzels, munch on some fresh fruit or veggies with a healthy dip. By minimizing processed junk food, and adding in more whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and poultry, and choosing water instead of soda or other sweetened beverages, you will be less likely to consume excess calories. Eating whole foods that are full of nutrients and fiber keep you satisfied, whereas the processed foods encourage overeating because they are full of refined sugars and salt.
Reason 2: Because of "being too busy to eat". Does this happen to you often? You skip breakfast because you are rushing to work, and then skip lunch because the day is so jam packed with meetings, phone calls, countless distractions, and deadlines. By the time you get home after a high-stress, never-ending day, you are too tired to cook or eat dinner. You might grab something that is quick (but unhealthy) and then crash into bed, ready to repeat this entire situation the next day. After several days of doing this, you feel run down, tired, stressed, and you might feel like you are getting sick. Chronic stress, combined with not eating enough suppresses the immune system, prevents you from thinking clearly and concentrating, which ultimately affects your work performance. And affects your health.
TIP: Plan for a successful week by prepping simple meals and snacks on the weekend. Pick one or two things that you can make big batches of, separate into single serving containers, and these can serve as lunches on the go, or a quick dinner to heat up in the evening. Have packets of raw nuts, pre-sliced veggies, and containers of yogurt stocked in the fridge, for quick snacks that you can bring to work. One of my favorite quick, grab-and-go snacks are hard-boiled eggs. Boil a dozen eggs on Sunday, and you will have them for the week. These actually make a great lunch, if you add a handful of sliced veggies (celery, carrots, bell peppers) and dip into guacamole or hummus. Planning ahead does not have to be complicated. Pick simple things to prepare and you will be more likely to do it.
Meal Prep Idea: Last week I set aside a little time to make stuffed peppers which served as a quick lunch for the week. They came out REALLY GOOD! Besides being filled with a variety of nutrient-dense whole food ingredients, they were a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat, making them a satisfying meal idea. The stuffed pepper recipe is posted in my exclusive Facebook group, Food & Fuel For Fitness. To get the recipe and inspiration for eating the right way for your fitness goals, come join us over in the group!
Bottom Line: Your body needs fuel. You wouldn't starve your car of fuel and expect it to run efficiently, would you? Fuel comes from the healthful foods you feed yourself with and gives you the physical and mental energy to do all the powerful things you want to do. SO EAT!
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Megan Ántoni Placa, MS, CNS