Knowing what to eat these days can be as confusing as knowing just about anything for certain when you have access to so many conflicting truths. And fair enough. My mission is to simplify those mixed messages as best as I can and share what has worked for me along my journey.
One thing we can change in regards to what we eat is to first address how we eat. I’m aware that even this topic can be just as polarizing as anything else, but at some point you have to learn to decipher the truth yourself through discernment, and most importantly, personal experience.
I will lay out some bullet points below on how to eat (and when) that will change your relationship with food. As with any other positive habitual changes I or anyone else would recommend, be in it for the long haul. There are no quick fixes in life, and the more you chase them, the more you will be trapped in the vicious yo-yo cycle the majority of us are all too familiar with.
If you were to change nothing else about your diet but your eating habits, you will still come out massively ahead in the way you feel on a day to day basis. For many of you, it’s likely going to be a challenge to switch up your eating habits, because well.. these are well established habits we’re trying to change after all. Sometimes that does mean feeling worse before you feel better; but if you’re motivated enough to live a better life, then let’s start exploring how that’s possible.
- Eat 2-3 times per day: What this means is, stop snacking so much! Every time you eat, you are stimulating an insulin response in a body that likely already has issues with blood sugar and insulin resistance. Not to mention that digesting a meal takes a lot of time (3-4 hours depending on what you eat), and a tremendous amount of energy from your body. It’s not a good habit to constantly overwhelm your system with the burden of digestion.
- Eat in a 12-16 hour window: This is a practice that allows the body sufficient time to rest, detoxify and repair on a regular basis. When we’re constantly eating and digesting food, our immune system does not have access to the limited energy reserves needed to attend to the body. This rest period is absolutely crucial to restoring ourselves in a way no doctor, food, or medication can do. This is why extended fasting can be so beneficial if you’re struggling with a chronic disease or condition. What we’re doing here however is known as intermittent fasting, and if you want to learn more about it there are many good resources available online.
- Don’t eat at night: Simply put, stop eating after 7pm. When you eat so close to bedtime, you are compromising both your digestion and your sleep. Our bodies’ metabolism has a natural cycle that is tied to our circadian rhythm. When we try to force ourselves to live outside of that rhythm, we pay the price in the long run. It also helps if we go to bed at a reasonable time because obviously the longer you stay up, the hungrier you will get.
- Stop when 80% full: We simply eat too much, especially as Americans. When we go out to eat, the portions are too big and our unconscious desires take over. Same goes for when we prepare food for ourselves. Get in the habit of choosing smaller portions and stopping when you feel about 80-90% full. This is because there is a delay between when you are actually full, and when your brain receives the signal that it’s time to stop eating. If we wait for that delayed signal, then we’re in pain and have to let out a big sigh as if we just conquered something quite challenging. And then we crash. It shouldn’t be like this. It’s abnormal. It adds up. Stop it. And if you feel bad about wasting food, then get in the habit of saving the food for later instead of throwing it out. But your health should always come first.
- No liquid with food: It’s not good to have too much of any liquid (even water) while you’re eating (15min before, 30min after). This dilutes your stomach acid and makes it harder to properly digest and extract nutrition from your food. We already have an epidemic of people not making sufficient stomach acid (which ironically causes acid reflux), we don’t want to make this worse by further diluting. In fact, the opposite practice can be extremely beneficial to your digestion and overall health: add acid to your stomach via a 1-2tbsp shot of raw Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) before every meal.
- Slow down. Chew well: I use to be the fastest eater among my friends, and I was proud of it. What I wasn’t proud of was my digestive issues or related chemical imbalances in my brain! What I’ve learned to do now is to slow down and take my time when I eat. Why? Your digestion starts in your mouth, not when the food hits your stomach. Your saliva needs to properly mix with the food to aid digestion, signal the pancreas to prepare specific enzymes, and maximize nutrient absorption. Not to mention you’re further breaking down your food into smaller pieces which makes digestion easier. You will also naturally eat less as it will give the brain a chance to receive the signal that you’ve had enough (as mentioned above).
- Emotional eating: Understand that some of the worst choices we make in terms of what we eat and when we eat come as a result of our emotional state of mind (you’re depressed, you’re anxious, you’re afraid, etc). Once you learn how to develop your self-awareness through mindfulness and meditation, your automatic emotions will no longer have the power to control your decision making.
- Gratitude: It’s also good to appreciate your food rather than shoveling it down your throat and taking it for granted. We are extremely lucky to have nearly unlimited access to (relatively) high quality food. Most of the world does not have that same luxury. Which is not meant to make us feel guilty or bad, it’s just meant to retain our perspective on just how good we have it.
These are just a few of the basic principles that I’ve implemented to help me re-balance my body after decades of bad eating habits. What was amazing to me was just how much this impacted my energy levels, mood, and even my ability to fight off disease/sickness. For example in the past 5 years now, I’ve maybe gotten sick like 2 times (and no I do not get the flu shot). Whereas the majority of my life, I got sick just like everybody else maybe a couple times a year without fail. In any case, take what is true for you in this article, leave the rest, and give these new habits an honest try for a few months. Happy eating to all.