Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Free Yourself from the Feast or Famine Cycle, Step 3: Get Your Motor Runnin' Before You Head Out on the Highway
We have all heard countless times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many who come to intuitive eating have an aversion to breakfast. They believe that they are simply not hungry in the morning. It is very common for former dieters to have skewed body signals. This comes from years of turning a deaf ear to hunger in the false hope that eating less will equate to more weight being shed. Skipping breakfast is a common tool used by dieters that usually backfires with less than desirable results. See if this pattern looks familiar to you...
You wake in the morning and you feel groggy. In fact, you believe you can still feel the feast of last night sitting in your stomach like a ton of bricks. Eating is the last thing on your mind, so instead, you grab a quick cup of coffee and head out the door. By the time your lunch break comes around at work you are famished and ready to eat the paint off the walls. At this point, you grab whatever is convenient... snacks from the vending machine, fast food, takeout, leftover donuts in the break room. It doesn't make you feel your best but at least it satisfies your hunger.
The rest of the day you find yourself snacking, often reaching for fatty or sweet foods. Your appetite seems insatiable. You also feel stressed and tense. You can't wait to get home and end the day. Dinner is your largest meal. By the looks of the plate before you the food should satisfy you, but it never does. For the rest of the night, you find yourself constantly returning to the refrigerator. You keep rifling through the cupboards looking for something that will give you that feeling of satisfaction, but nothing seems to do the trick. You continue to eat late into the night deriving little real pleasure from the experience. By the time you head off to bed you feel over-stuffed and uncomfortable. When you wake the next morning you will repeat the cycle all over again.
Once you are in this cycle, it can be a challenge to break. Many health professionals will stress the importance of breakfast, but they don't offer any realistic advice for how you can get off this merry-go-round. There also is not much information provided about how this effects your physical body beyond its impact on metabolism. I think this is why so many people equate eating breakfast with diets. In their minds it becomes all entangled in the pursuit of weight loss... a diet tool to stoke metabolism. When taking a broader view however, it is easy to see that taking time to nourish yourself in the morning is actually an act of self-care.
Why is breakfast so important?
When you rise in the morning your stomach is empty. All the food from the day before has been processed. If you ate late into the night before you went to sleep, you may feel sluggish and a little bloated. This more commonly has to do with the types of foods people nosh on when they are late-night eaters... highly processed fare, sweets, and snacks loaded with sodium will create fluid retention in the body, giving you that bogged-down feeling. Ask any late night eater and they will tell you that they are not diving into a bowl of salad, eating a ripe piece of fruit, or chowing down a wholesome meal. The cuisine of the late night eater resembles the contents of a vending machine... tasty... yes, but not nourishing to the body. It is yum-factor food that provides a quick burst of energy. There is a reason for this and as this picture gets painted you will be able to connect the dots and see how this cycle feeds upon itself.
You may feel a heaviness in your body when you rise, but it is not because you still have food sitting in your stomach waiting to be digested. It is more attributable to the quality of foods you ate late last night and the fact that you hit the sack with a full tummy. It takes no longer than 5 hours for your body to digest a meal. This means that when you wake in the morning, your body is in need of nourishment. This is despite the fact that you have difficulty registering that need because you are bloated and run-down. Sleep is designed for restoration. It is the time when your body must rest and repair. When you go to bed with a full stomach you rob your body of this time for regeneration because all the repair energy gets diverted to the task of digestion. The result is a highly-taxing scenario. This leaves you feeling depleted and lacking proper rest. If this is a habitual pattern, chronic fatigue becomes the norm. Burdening your body in this way keeps your stress switch turned on. For future reference, it will be helpful to remember this point. To the body, stress = danger. Quite inadvertently, you are throwing your body into survival mode. In natural response, the bodily systems shut down to conserve energy.
If you wake and skip breakfast, you fuel this stressed state. It's like throwing kerosene on an already raging fire. Your body lowers metabolism to compensate and shifts into fat storage mode. It is the adaptation response and you cannot outwit it. Mother Nature designed it to be fool-proof. Since your metabolism has been put on lock down you find that your hunger remains numbed out. You will have difficulty registering it. This occurs for two reasons.
First of all, the body is brilliant. It will adapt. If fuel is unavailable, even if it is by your own choosing, the body will sense a threat and decrease its energy demands by slowing everything down. This is why many breakfast skippers drag themselves through the day. They are energy deprived. It is common for those who miss the morning feeding to not register appetite until the afternoon. At this point they find themselves in the downward spiral of a blood sugar crisis. This is why the quick grab and go foods seem so appealing at this stage of the cycle. In a very real sense, your body demands instant energy when it has been deprived in this way. The foods that will be most appealing are the ones that provide a quick burst of energy. Sweets often rank high on the list, as do heavily processed foods that are commonly loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium. Fat is a biggie because the human species has depended on this rich fuel source for survival. If the adaptation response has kicked in, your body will gravitate toward foods with the highest energy density. It is a part of the natural biological process.
This becomes like a dog chasing its own tail because of the physiologic effect these foods have on our system. The more sugar and highly-processed foods we eat, the more our body craves. The rest of the day is spent playing catch up trying to soothe what seems an insatiable appetite. It is interesting to note that scientific research has demonstrated that people eat relatively the same amount of food in weight day in and day out. It is a quantity factor. As a result, those who skip meals will find themselves loading food at the end of the day to reach this consistent quantity their bodies are accustomed to. The eating often continues on late into the night. The next day they rise and start the cycle all over again. Taxing our systems with this undue stress keeps us perpetually trapped in a state of feast or famine.
How do we break the cycle?
We free ourselves from this cycle quite simply by breaking the fast. This creates an atmosphere of food security for our bodies, thereby disengaging the adaptation response. Breakfast is our time to fuel up and provide our bodies with the energy needed to meet the demands of the day. If we do not bring attention to tending to this bodily need we set ourselves up for struggle. It will be next to impossible to override the biological urges that will propel us to overeat and store that fuel for future use in the form of adipose tissue, just in case. It is time we befriend our bodies and stop working against them.
Our bodies have natural rhythms. You may have heard the term circadian rhythm. The definition of circadian rhythm is, "A daily rhythmic activity cycle, based on 24-hour intervals, that is exhibited by many organisms." When we disrupt this natural rhythm by letting our self-care slip and ignoring our bodily needs, imbalance is the inevitable result. There is a simple method that can help us reset our internal clock. This facilitates our cycles striking a balance. The end result is that we feel better supported. It isn't a complicated, convoluted approach, but rather a very gentle means to shifting our bodies back into the flow of their natural rhythm. In response, our body rewards us with renewed health and vitality. Quite effortlessly, we find that night-time eating gradually diminishes, binges decrease, and meal choices begin to favor more wholesome foods. Additionally, sleep improves. We rise and shine, feeling more well-rested. We also benefit from a significant reduction in stress levels.
The approach involves gently easing yourself into becoming a breakfast eater. Initially, the desire to eat in the morning may seem completely unappealing. As mentioned earlier, this is understandable considering the current cycle you are locked in. I'm not going to encourage you to gag down breakfast. The goal is not to make you suffer. What I am proposing is a nudging of the body toward a more supportive direction. You may not be immediately hungry when rising. Give yourself a grace period. Allow the space of half an hour after getting out of bed for your hunger to surface. During this period of time, refrain from taking in caffeine. The caffeine in coffee, soda, and tea will blunt your appetite and silence out your hunger cues. This is not ideal. We want to welcome hunger in, not slam a door on it, figuratively shutting it out. If after half an hour has passed you find that you still don't register hunger, drink your nutrition. Pour yourself a glass of 100% fruit or veggie juice. Make yourself a fruit smoothie. Have one of those drinkable yogurts. Whip up a protein or breakfast shake. You could even warm some broth to heat your belly on a cold morning.
This will provide your body with some energy and instant nutrition. Then enjoy your coffee after the bodily need for fuel has been met. You will find that this will encourage your signals to come forward loud and clear. Within a couple of hours, you are going to be hungry. Guarantee yourself access to some nurturing food. For those of you who go to work or school, this may mean being prepared by packing a snack. Make it a well-rounded one that will tide you over until you have the opportunity to break for lunch. Some ideas of well-balanced snacks are...
- A handful of nuts and an apple
- Whole grain crackers spread with natural peanut butter
- A small bag of trail mix
- String cheese with a piece of fruit
Over time, you will find that your body falls into a natural rhythm. You won't crave sweets or highly-processed foods so intensely. Your hunger patterns will become predictable. You will find that your appetite kicks in at relatively the same times every day. Since your hunger will be addressed and nutritional needs met, late-night eating and binging will start to drop off. You will feel a whole lot better. In a relatively brief amount of time, you will wake up in the morning to the sound of your tummy rumbling. You will be a breakfast eater and will surprise yourself when you actually want something substantial to eat to start your day.
I speak from personal experience. I used to be one of those people who believed I wasn't a breakfast eater. For years, I loaded all my food at the end of the day. My food choices were less than stellar in terms of the nurturing they provided my body with. This created many health imbalances for me and spurred on my binging behavior. I never could understand why I felt such a compulsion to eat such large quantities of sweets and fatty foods night after night. It made me completely miserable on every level. I struggled to release this behavior. Becoming a breakfast eater was an important part of my recovery. I used the same approach I have outlined for you.
I was amazed how quickly my morning hunger returned. After a mere week of drinking my nutrition at the start of the day, I found myself waking, ready for breakfast. I have been a breakfast eater ever since. I have shared this approach with a number of people with much the same result. Some have even reported that their morning hunger kicked in after as little as 3 days! This may not seem so monumental to those who are accustomed to eating breakfast, but for those who have always shunned the morning meal it's darn near revolutionary! The effect in every instance has been one of balance. Eating falls into a more naturally supportive rhythm and health... physically, mentally, and emotionally... improves.
This is a very important key that frees us from the feast or famine cycle. In the rare instances that my eating goes haywire, I often find falling back into the pattern of skipping breakfast the source of disruption. Once I get back to my morning meal, balance is restored. I will boldly state that it will be a constant battle to address binging behavior and overeating until this vital step is dialed in.
If you want a different result, you have to be willing to adopt a fresh, new approach. Change is uncomfortable for everyone. We are creatures of habit. Becoming a breakfast eater is a change that can have a powerful result. The approach that has been outlined here is rooted in sensitivity. It is a gentle way to make this shift without being triggered. Get your motor runnin' before you head out on the highway and feel the difference.