What’s the problem?
The majority of problem eaters have chaotic eating schedules. Some of them might skip breakfast and grab a quick cup of coffee for lunch. They may go six, seven, sometimes even eight hours without eating. Then, unsurprisingly, they find themselves bingeing at night.
The next day, they might try to avoid eating anything at all in an effort to compensate for the previous night’s binge.
Other problem eaters don’t restrict.
Instead, they graze on food all day long. There are no gaps in-between their meals. There’s no opportunity to experience hunger. It’s as though their days consist of eating one long, slow, protracted meal.
Both of these eating styles are problematic because there’s no clear, balanced structure or routine to them.
As a result, chaotic eating patterns give rise to a number of problems:
1. Skipping meals encourages overeating.
The main problem with chaotic eating is that your body and mind have no idea when to expect food again.
The end of every meal is the start of an undefined period of further deprivation.
When are you going to have your next meal? In 3 hours? In 6 hours? The next day?
Both psychologically and physically, the absence of a clear eating pattern creates a very powerful desire to binge. Your body tries to eat as much as it can now for fear that you won’t nourish it later.
You may think to yourself, “I’d better have that extra portion of cake, because I don’t know when I’ll let myself eat anything next.”
2. Ignoring hunger diminishes the body’s ability to feel subtle hunger signals.
A lot of problem eaters view their hunger as an enemy. However, the truth is that hunger is extremely useful and disregarding its signals can cause a lot of harm. As you continue to ignore them and distract yourself from these sensations, they begin to wither and fade away. You lose your natural ability to feel subtle sensations of hunger – instead, you only feel powerful, intense, ravishing binge urges.
Being out of touch with your natural hunger and satiety cues forces you to rely on ineffective external cues, i.e. diet plans, calorie counting, bingeing and purging. After a while, it can become difficult to know how much you should eat.
3. Chaotic eating encourages your body to store food as fat.
Continuous food restriction lowers your body’s metabolism. Once that happens, your body becomes more likely to store anything you do eat as fat.
If your chaotic eating stems from restriction and various attempts to lose weight, it might do you good to remember that irregular eating is completely counterproductive to weight loss and, most importantly, your overall health .
Okay, what’s the solution?
The solution is to bring some structure into your eating routine – that is, to provide your body with food every day and at regular intervals.
By doing this, you’ll create a consistent pattern of meals and snacks that remains more or less the same day in and day out.
There will be no scarcity if you eat regularly.
There will be no need to eat more now for fear of deprivation later on.
You’ll be telling your body:
“You don’t have to force me to binge on large amounts of food anymore. You can rest assured knowing that I’ll provide you with more food later.”
In time, your body will be biologically reconditioned to know that it will always have access to food. As a result, your binge urges will decrease, your natural bodily rhythm will be reset and your hunger will be rebalanced.
Eating regularly is crucial for binge grazers too. If you tend to graze on food all day long, a consistent eating schedule will allow you to break the habit of constant eating and to start feeling those subtle hunger sensations again.
Science & Studies
Studies show that people who skip meals during the day and then compensate for it in the evening tend to be overweight more often than those who eat regularly. You can find one of these studies here.
Researchers found that after fasting for 18 hours, people were more inclined to load up on the most fattening foods available, i.e. starchy options, like french fries.
It has also been proven that a regular eating pattern stabilises our blood sugar levels and improves glycaemic control. This automatically suppresses our appetites and curbs intense hunger pangs.
So if you’re worried that eating regularly will cause you to gain weight, keep in mind that a schedule of balanced eating is actually one of the best things that you can do to maintain a healthy weight. It can do wonders when it comes to boosting your metabolism!
Is it better to eat all of your food at once, or spread it equally throughout the day?
Pick a new habit
Here are a few habit ideas that can make your journey towards regular eating a whole lot easier. Choose one to help you get started.
Eat 3 meals and 3 snacks daily, with a break of no more than 3 hours in-between meals
Aim to consume 3 meals and 3 snacks each day, with a break of no more than 3 hours in-between separate meals. Think of it as your 3-3-3 plan.
To do this, grab your HealED Journal and jot down a few ideas:
- What are you going to eat? Think of some meals and snacks that you can eat without feeling too anxious. Stick to safe foods for now.
- When are you going to eat? Try and create an eating schedule that can fit seamlessly into your daily life. You should also remember that you don’t have to stick to it religiously. Your meal times can be adjusted, but whatever you do, you shouldn’t skip a meal altogether!
- Where are you going eat? Ideally, you should eat at a table, with no distractions or stressors around you. However, if you can’t do that, just try and make your eating environment as calm and relaxed as possible.
Eat breakfast daily
A lot of people are tempted to skip breakfast, but this is simply not an option for problem eaters. To do so would leave you all too vulnerable to binge episodes later on in the day.
A recent study has shown that skipping breakfast can cause you to eat less throughout the day. This is the very opposite of what you want if you’re trying to retrain your body to eat regularly.
Furthermore, breakfast has been proven to increase the body’s thermogenesis effect. This fancy term means that those who eat breakfast end up burning more calories throughout the day. They’re able to consume more food while staying lean and healthy!
If you find it hard to adapt to a regular eating pattern, breakfast is a great place to start. Ideally, breakfast should make up about 20-25% of your daily nutritional requirements. Try getting up a little earlier to give your stomach time to “wake up” if you’re one of those people who struggle to get hungry in the morning.
Aim to eat six smaller meals each day
Eating three full meals every day can be a challenging task if you don’t have a healthy appetite. Some problem eaters find the feeling of a full stomach triggering and this might cause them to binge in the beginning of their journey.
If this sounds familiar to you, try and divide your daily food intake into six smaller meals instead of three main meals and three snacks. You’ll be able to nourish your body properly and set a regular eating pattern for yourself, while avoiding an uncomfortable sense of fullness.
As you continue consuming regular meals day after day, you’ll get used to the feeling of having food in your stomach. You might even start to find this fullness enjoyable! Once that happens, transitioning to eating three main meals will be a whole lot easier.
Focus on sticking to your set meal times.
Lots of problem eaters struggle with continual snacking. They tend to skip regular meals and instead fill their days with continuous nibbling and sipping.
It’s best to avoid continuous snacking in-between meals. It won’t help you stick to your eating schedule and it’ll most likely lead to you consuming more food than you need. So, in order to normalise your eating patterns, focus on eating regularly, not constantly.
- If you know that certain foods can trigger a binge for you, avoid them for now (we’ll get to that later!).
- If you tend to purge your meals, decide what you’re going to do immediately after eating. Think of a relaxing, calming activity – like going out for a walk, reading a book or meditating.
- The goal at this stage is to get used to the feeling of fullness in your stomach, so you get to choose your own portion sizes for now. If you’re struggling with keeping food down, make your portions smaller. In time, as your body adjusts to regular nourishment, you can increase the amount of food.
- Some people like to eat exactly at their set meal times, while others enjoy flexibility. Feel free to experiment and discover what works best for you!
- Even if you don’t feel hungry, you should try and eat something once your next meal time rolls around. You simply can’t trust your hunger and satiety signals at this point in time – eating problems have made your internal regulatory system unreliable. Eating in a mechanical way will help you restore your natural hunger and satiety cues.
- If following your Heal Plan feels very intense or almost diet-like, remind yourself that you won’t have to stick to this schedule forever. It’s only a temporary step that is meant to pave the way for intuitive eating a little further down the line.
- Don’t rush things, give yourself enough time to achieve your goal and don’t forget to congratulate yourself on trying to get better!
Ready to move on?
Feel free to move on to our next module once you have:
- Established a regular eating pattern.
- Been consistent with your new eating schedule for at least a couple of weeks.
- Got comfortable with the feeling of having some food in your stomach.