One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident

INSIGHTS

Do You Eat on a Schedule or Intuitively?

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This week’s question is inspired by Erika from Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss — who I was lucky enough to do a magazine spread with about weight maintenance last year…

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That’s me and her (and Michelle) cracking up at one of her jokes at the photo shoot.

Anyway, Erika wrote a post a few months ago called What Happens When You Don’t Eat Often Enough. In the post Erika says:

…I gave myself an eating schedule! I packed away an apple, a pear, an orange, grapefruit slices – something – so that I could have something to bite into whenever my alarm went off.

Yes. I set an alarm. Whenever it went off, it said “Dig in, baby!” and that’s exactly what I did. After that… that “hungry” feeling was completely foreign to me. My energy levels increased. My weight loss couldn’t stall. I had a regular energy supply coming in, so my body could feel more comfortable with burning off energy. From here, calorie counting could actually produce better results. (If I’m not burning energy, any calories I take in will be stored as fat, remember?)

There’s also the issue of nourishing my body throughout the day. I wouldn’t go 6 or 7 hours without feeding an infant, right? Why? Because they need nourishment for their bodies to grow and function properly.

How is the adult body any different? We need not only the constant energy source, but we need the nourishment! Our bodies cannot function as well as it should if its only working on limited resources. We absolutely must eat… and nothing’s wrong with eating a little more often!

I totally agree! We MUST eat!

However, I do think there are a major differences between adult and infant bodies.

Requirements for macronutrients and micronutrients are higher on a per–kilogram basis during infancy and childhood than at any other developmental stage. These needs are influenced by the rapid cell division occurring during growth, which requires protein, energy, and nutrients involved in DNA synthesis and metabolism of protein, calories, and fat.

Excerpt from Nutritional Requirements Throughout the Life Cycle: Infancy and Early Childhood

So using the infant example doesn’t hold water for me as a reason to eat on a regular schedule, completely ignoring your body’s signals and hunger levels.

Much like Erika I (especially when I was losing and had a job away from home) would pack lots of fruits and snacks to have on hand. The big difference between Erika and me, however, is I would NOT eat just because it was time or an alarm would go off. I would eat one of my snacks when I actually felt hunger. And I think was an important part of my success!

I needed to feel the hunger. I wanted to feel it.

I’m not talking about starving myself for hours or days like an anorexic might. It wasn’t a control issue. Or some form of self-torture. It was a learning process.

For years I was scared of my hunger. I didn’t understand it. I rarely felt it and if I did it was basically a green light to eat anything and everything in sight. Why? BECAUSE I WAS HUNGRY!

Instead, I learned to use my hunger as a tool and react to it properly.

Say I ate breakfast at 7 — a bowl of cereal, some milk and frozen blueberries. If I was hungry at 9, I would dip into my bag 0’snacks — maybe a yogurt cup or an apple. If I felt hunger pangs again at 10:30 in I went for a handful of almonds and so on.

If the next day I ate a couple of eggs and a slice of toast, I may notice the hunger didn’t kick in until after 10 so that’s when I’d dip into snacks and grab an orange (or whatever).

This whole time I was learning how to eat, how to manage my hunger and what foods satisfied me. If I never let myself feel my hunger I would have never learned how to effectively nourish my body and manage my food intake in an intuitive way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m right and Erika is wrong. There isn’t just one way to do “this” and that’s why I’m making it a question of the week. I’m curious (especially if you are a maintainer):

Do you eat intuitively and allow yourself to feel hunger OR are you a scheduled eater who consistently and steadily consumes based on predetermined time frames? 



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Discussion

There are 37 comments so far.

    sJea Smith

    February 21, 2015

    I have been following Erica for a WHILE. Sometimes, I agree with her messages. Sometimes, not. Either way, she is usually a wealth of information that I can take what I need and leave what I don’t.

    I prepare a “Bag’O Food” for the day and most often, I eat when I feel a hunger nudge.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      That’s how I did it too. Eat what I need… leave what I don’t. It helped me big time figure out that I could satisfy hunger with small snacks instead of gorging myself.

    Rhiannon

    February 21, 2015

    I do tend to eat on a schedule, but more because I don’t bring a lot of snacks – I just acknowledge that I’m hungry and wait until my next meal, which I know will satisfy me. It’s usually less than an hour away by that point. However, my problem is with the reverse, because I can end up with a pounding headache from getting distracted and forgetting to eat. That’s why I prefer scheduling. On the weekends I often eat on a more relaxed schedule and simply aim not to end up eating dinner too late. It works for me because I’m not a snacker, I don’t like having to plan and bring lots of snacks, even though sometimes I might want them.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I envy non-snackers! That’s how my husband is too. During the day he just waits until meal time. It’s really fascinating to me!

    Sagan

    February 21, 2015

    The key is definitely to figure out what works best for each of us as individuals!

    Personally I prefer to eat when I get hungry… but it has taken me a LONG time to identify hunger for what it is, and learn my hunger cues.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      Me too. Definitely a learning process for sure!

    Shelly

    February 21, 2015

    I’m a teacher, everything is on a schedule.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      Ahh YES! SO many factors can contribute to this. You really have to eat WHEN you an eat and that’s a whole other variable thrown in the works.

    Lisa Posner

    February 21, 2015

    It’s kind of a mix. I try to shy away from eating meals or snacks just because it’s “time.” If I’m not truly hungry yet, I hold off. I think it’s a good idea to listen to my body’s hunger cues. I always bring snacks with me to work and have almonds or a bar in my purse. If I let myself get “too” hungry, I start making bad decisions about food and I get irritable and don’t feel good. However, It’s not always possible to only eat at the times I feel hungry because of work/life schedules and sharing meals with others. Sometimes I’m not really that hungry yet, but I know I will be busy for the next 2 hours and won’t have the opportunity, so I’ll have a small snack/meal anyway. If I’m only 30-40 minutes from meal plans with another person but I’m getting hungry, I can usually hold off. Overall, I do think it’s best to only eat when I’m actually feeling hungry–but sometimes I honestly don’t quite know where that line is. I know when I am FAMISHED, but I don’t always know when I’m actually an appropriate level of hungry that I should eat vs. I just WANT to eat (but don’t need it) or am bored.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      You touched on something I haven’t mastered yet and it’s the pre-emptive eat so you don’t get too hungry because meal time is X hours away. That’s usually when I do get into trouble.

    Shauna

    February 21, 2015

    I eat on a schedule not because I made one up but because I’m always hungry at the same times. Oatmeal around 7-7:30. A snack – yogurt or an apple – at 10. Lunch around 12:30. Another snack at 3:30. Then dinner. I get hungry and I eat a little something. I’ve been eating a low GI diet in hopes of overcoming some hormonal inbalances that made me gain a lot of weight very quickly and are making it incredibly difficult to lose the weight. I wont starve myself but I try to eat around 400 calories for a “meal” and a couple 200 calorie snacks per day.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      That’s what I shoot for and I noticed it happens pretty organically for me not. 400-600 cals for meals and 200 and under for snacks.

    Martha

    February 22, 2015

    Guess I’m somewhere in between. I track my food on MFP so that isn’t what an intuitive eater would do. I will pack a snack if I’m going to be out and I brought my lunch to work and would eat when the guys wanted to eat even though it was early for me. Snacking however occurs when I’m hungry for the most part and dinner is the same. I pay attention to my hunger level in deciding when to eat and when to stop. My food choices have changed so I will eat what I want; however what I want is more often than not something on the healthier side of the spectrum.
    We have to do what works for us.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I think you can track and still be intuitive. I’ve been entering in what I ate after I ate it just too get a sense of protein and such and I’d still consider myself intuitively eating.

    Erika Nicole Kendall

    February 22, 2015

    Aw, Roni, I’m honored to be considered as worthy of contributing to your discussion!

    I love your points – I especially appreciate the info about the difference between the minor and adult nutritional needs, but I do have a few thoughts I want to contribute:

    1) The context of the post I wrote, though it might not be entirely clear, is primarily emotional eating. I’m a recovering binge eater, and hunger is a feeling that often ultimately resulted in overeating for me in the early stages of my weight loss. So, eating when the alarm went off – something I don’t do anymore, I must admit – helped me understand what it felt like to eat OUT of the context of “OMG STARVING,” and helped me avoid hunger while I dealt with the idea that my emotions controlled my compulsion to eat.

    2) Your quote here really stood out to me: “So using the infant example doesn’t hold water for me as a reason to eat on a regular schedule, completely ignoring your body’s signals and hunger levels.”

    I can value that NOW, because I’m further in my recovery to know that lots of people are simply in different places when they reach the point where they decide to lose. For me, however, my body’s signals were compromised by my emotional eating habit. It ruled what I ate, when I ate, how much I ate, and WHY I ate it; by extension, it also ruled how hungry I got. It was really bad for me, I must admit – I often didn’t eat UNLESS my emotions were involved, therefore when I DID eat, I OVERate to compensate for that hunger. Never mind the fact that this was all compounded by eating lots of processed food, which I think we both can admit isn’t very filling at all.

    3) With the infant example, to my point, it was less about the literal needs of an infant, and more about the idea that you wouldn’t slip on caring for someone who *needs* you to be in top form when it comes to caring for them, but since YOU need to care for you…why slip on that when it comes to something you need? So many women care for everyone BUT themselves – a common thread among many of the readers of my blog, and certainly for myself – and, as my daughter WAS a baby when I started writing, I must admit I was thinking of her as I wrote it, as I often do when I think about things like care (and self-care!), body image, and the like. (One of the early things I used to say in interviews all the time, is that when I was first writing my posts, I was always writing to myself. LOL)

    As an aside, it’s crazy to think she’s now almost approaching double digits. Ugh, I’m getting younger, right? Right?!

    I understand the literal interpretation, and it definitely makes sense, but I’d also respond with curiosity about how an *active* body compares in that particular regard. Many people who are losing weight are active, and – dare I say it – the overwhelming majority of maintainers are active enough where their metabolism is off the charts, their muscles are constantly burning and rebuilding and adding on, and so on. I know how obscenely high mine gets, so I’d be curious about how different activity levels affect that ultimate figure.

    I love your thoughts here – they help me remember that many people come from many different places in this journey, and learning to understand and appreciate that helps us all. I’ll definitely add a link of your post to mine, because I think it’s important for people who don’t see where *I* may be coming from to ask themselves if they relate more to this, here.

    Love you Roni, and can’t wait to see you again this year! (I BETTER be seeing you again this year!)

    PS: Hey, sJea!

      roni

      February 22, 2015

      This should probably be a new post but… whatever. :) Oh and formatting should be back on you comment. I’m working on it. It’s all saved in the DB.

      1) I’m also a recovering binge eater so I totally get it. I just dealt with it a different way. That’s why I thought it would be fun to open up this conversation.

      2-3) “So many women care for everyone BUT themselves – a common thread among many of the readers of my blog” me and mine too… and I ALWAYS write to “myself in a way too.

      I don’t think the “active body” or not matters in the context of what we’re talking about. When I was losing I was inactive now my activity is off the charts, regardless… I eat when I’m hungry, not on a schedule which is the point of the conversation.

      And I love your thoughts on this too. The funny thing is I think many of us get to the same place but we all took different paths to get here so I think it’s great for readers to see those paths because one of them may be that spark they need.

      Love you too and YES! We need to get together SOMEHOW this year.. ummm… .FITBLOGGIN?!? :)

      Tammy

      February 23, 2015

      I’m so glad Erika wrote the reply. It’s funny how written words can be taken in so many ways, and I’m so glad that we can all discuss different approaches without posting rude comments. It’s refreshing! I eat when I get hungry, but it’s about the same time each day. If I hold out on lunch a little longer, I may only want 1 afternoon snack rather than 2.

    Erika Nicole Kendall

    February 22, 2015

    I am *so* sad that I had that broken up into paragraphs, and it turned into one big unreadable blob. LOL!

    Bridget

    February 22, 2015

    I would say do what works for you. I do like experimenting with food and seeing what satiates me longer (soy protein smoothie,eggs), or what triggers my rush to the pantry (anger). My issue this week is un relenting hunger. This happens, usually just when I think I have things figured out.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I have “hungry” days too and that’s when hit up those snacks the most. I do find I can tell the difference between real hunger and “Fake hunger by whether a piece of fruit sounds good. If it doesn’t seem appealing than I know I’m not REALLY hungry. I’m just looking to eat.

      Bridget

      February 25, 2015

      Roni, true…or a glass of water, or tea/coffee.

    Sarah

    February 22, 2015

    I have a trick for the days I am most likely to be inattentive & overeat (aka days off work). First, I count my calories before I eat them, using LoseIt (which I LOVE). Then I look at the hundreds place of my meal’s calories (say, the 4 in 460) and wait that many hours to eat. Anything before that time is plain water. If it’s about _80 or above, I might add a half hour, but I’m not too nit-picky and usually just truncate the number.

    I lost ~50 pounds & was ~10 away from goal, then got a boyfriend and I lost some willpower when he was “eat everything and never gain”. I refocused, but my, oh my, is it easier to gain than to lose at the same rate!

    My “trick” is something I came up with to be strict yet relaxed, and I hope to need it less frequently in the future. My two other huge components are eating whatever you want within your calorie budget & no eating after 5 pm (I sleep 4-5 hours later).

    Sorry for being a bit scattered, but I think my thoughts still come through :)

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      YES!! That is what I used to do too! Count BEFORE. Now for your other trick.. that’s a fascinating approach! Make total sense!

    Susan

    February 22, 2015

    Intuitive Eating is one of the books that helped me tremendously when I was in therapy for my ED/overexercising issues. I always do better when I follow IE principles, though skipping lunch (due to a particularly satisfying breakfast) does cause me anxiety.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      It’s fun how we need to fight social norms sometimes. I’m the same way with dinner if the family eats a late lunch it stresses me out that we aren’t sitting down for a traditional dinner but we just ate a couple of hours ago so why should it? KWIM?

    Alison Bowling

    February 23, 2015

    What’s always been interesting to me is the concept of eating because it’s the right ‘time’ to. Breakfast = “break-fast” and was the first and most important (and sometimes only) meal of the day especially for people who worked all day on farms back in the Elizabethan and Victorian eras. It was also during that time that the idea for lunch came about. A ladies “luncheon”, it was served as small cakes and biscuits with tea and was a highly social occasion rather than a sit down meal. It wasn’t until much later that we introduced a more formal lunch ‘time’ and even supper, which only the most wealthy could afford to put on the table. As time has gone further, it has been suggested that we’re supposed to not just eat 3x a day, but 6x a day with snacks – healthy of course – in between. The thing that I never understood is how people aren’t able to just listen to when their bodies are hungry, and eat appropriately, foods that are healthy will make you crave things like vegetables, and less things like sugars or carbs just as a natural side-effect… and to eat in moderation takes discipline, not a schedule. This is just my opinion, but I think everything that is wrong with how and when we eat has been caused by an ever growing society in every possible meaning of the word.

      Sarah

      February 23, 2015

      You are very lucky to not understand why people cant just listen to their bodies… I wish I didn’t understand it either. Unfortunately, I do. Eating disorders and food addiction are a serious problem – even if you think a lack of will power is the issue and not a real problem – it may be someone else’s greatest battle.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I’m not saying I don’t understand them and I wouldn’t say I was lucky, if I was I would have spent years figuring out what worked for me. All I’m saying is there are different ways to approach a change in the way we eat. Especially when we are trying to lose or maintain a weight loss.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I totally agree. it’s fascinating how we got to this point and now it’s like we OVER analyze it too. Making it even more complicated.

    Susan

    February 23, 2015

    I have eaten intuitively for about 3 years. I tend to get HANGRY if I don’t eat every 2.5-3.5 hours, so getting busy and skipping meals is less of an issue for me.

    I do notice that on the rare occasion when I let myself get way too hungry, I am pretty likely to get a migraine that night. So I am working on keeping high protein, tasty snacks at work so that I can grab something quickly on the rare occasions when I’m too busy or too far into concentrating on my work to get up and eat every few hours.

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      I’m at about the same interval.. usually on the 3 hour mark my stomach is growling.

    Sarah

    February 23, 2015

    I don’t set an alarm, but I eat on more of a schedule in the way that I allow myself to have something to eat every few hours – hungry or not. Sure, I could probably stretch it out sometimes and not have a snack between meals, but if its been 2 hours since my last meal, I “allow” myself to have it. I would love to eat only when I am hungry, but I haven’t quite learned that skill yet. I am afraid of my hunger – as you said – like if I want too long, I am going to be ravenous and down a Big Mac before I know what happened. It’s all part of the journey and learning what works for you, I guess!

      roni

      February 23, 2015

      But when you have a meal planned it’s makes the fear go away a little, no? That’s what helped me start to skip the non-hungry snacks. I knew i had a plate of leftovers for lunch so there’s was no “bad” decision to be made.

    Paula

    February 23, 2015

    I tend to eat on a schedule during the work week. Perhaps it is because the rest of my life has to be on schedule. Like my sleep & work out schedule. But the weekends I have a tendency to be more intuitive.

    Sherri D

    February 25, 2015

    What came to my mind when reading this posting was that I never had my babies on a schedule. As infants they woke up, were hungry, and were nursed. Sometimes they ate more often, sometimes less often. They dictated their own feeding schedule.

    Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that as we start putting our children on a schedule of three meals a day, that that is when eating disorders start? We never gave our children the chance to be hungry. It was noon, so lunch was eaten. Period.

    Do you suppose that that is why, as adults, we struggle with true hunger triggers? I wonder if there isn’t something to this? hmmmmm

      roni

      March 2, 2015

      I do!! And I try never to force my kids to eat for that reason alone.

    Shelly Heckman

    July 28, 2015

    I don’t have a website, nor am I, by any means an expert on weight loss. However, I have been on a Yo-Yo-Snap-Bang- Diet for almost 33 years. I cannot lie, I want to be thin, but I really want to feel better while achieving weight loss. I have tried starvation, low-calorie, Atkins, liquid, and HCG. I achieved weight loss, but have now entered menopause and am the heaviest that I have ever been. I was considering HCG again, but dreading the extreme hunger. I also recently tried the Whole 30 and did a clean eating challenge. I was left with no weight loss after Whole 30 and a weight gain after the clean eating challenge (I think that it was due to the having to eat only clean foods, and not going beyond 3 hours without a meal and not really calculating what a portion really was). I am in agreement with you about eating when the body signals you to. Even a baby has signals that is why they cry. I also believe and it is scientifically proven that no two human beings are exactly alike, not even identical twins. That being said, no two persons correct eating style is the same. I understand that there are generalities, but they have not proven true in my personal situation nor do I believe that I am the only person who has this situation.