weight loss

When to Eat: Creating Your Food Routine

When it comes to creating your own food routine... It’s important to remember, all of us work a little differently, and YOUR ideal meal timing is going to depend on a number of factors such when you wake up, your work schedule, when you workout, when you go to sleep, and of course, when you feel hungry. Here are 6 6 tips that I find work well for myself, and most of my clients.

*Before subscribing to any of the tips below, make sure to try my food journaling exercise. This will give you a window into when your body is feeling hungry and why.*

1. You tell your body when it’s hungry.

We might think it’s a coincidence that we want to eat at the same time everyday, but it’s not. We tell our body when to be hungry. So if we eat six small meals per day, we’re going to be hungry six times per day and so on. This is important to keep in mind when you begin creating (this changing) your food routine. It will take between 4-7 days (but as long as 14 days) for your body to adjust to your new pattern.

2. Space your meals about 4-6 hours apart.

Again, this might be contrary to what you normally hear, but here’s why: every time you eat you raise your blood sugar levels, and then the hormone insulin is released from the pancreas to bring your blood sugar back to normal. So, if you’re eating every 2-3 hours, you’re raising those blood sugar levels constantly throughout the day and insulin never has a chance to come back down. When insulin levels are high, it makes it impossible for your body to use fat as fuel, which in turn will keep you hungry throughout the day. When you space your meals out, you give your body a chance to digest, and bring blood sugar levels back to normal.

The number of meals will really depend on how early you start your day. If you see below - I usually have 4 meals on my longer days, and maybe 3 meals on less intense days.

3. Avoid eating at least 2 hours before bed.

When we go to sleep, our metabolic processes slow way down, and anything we eat at night pretty much just sits there and will likely interfere with our sleep patterns. Try to avoid eating 2-4 hours before sleeping.

4. Make lunch your largest meal of the day.

The middle of the day is usually when our metabolism is running at it’s peak, so eating the bulk of our food intake in the middle of the day, and eating a lighter dinner is helpful in keeping up with our bodies natural rhythm, and helps burn calories efficiently.

5. Leave at least 2 hours between your last meal and your workout.

When you workout on a full stomach, the blood circulating in your body has to make a choice between assisting the digestive process and sending blood to your muscles. Making both your metabolic processes and your workout, less effective. Try leaving at least 2 hours between your last meal and your workout, but no more than 4 hours. It’s also smart to re-fuel within an hour post-workout, so take that into consideration when planning your sweat session.

6. Schedule your meals at (roughly) the same time everyday.

When you create a food routine, your body figures out what’s up. So if you eat breakfast at 8AM everyday, your metabolism will fire up at 8AM everyday. In terms of timing, there are no ideal meal times, but following the tips above, and looking at your schedule, try to create some consistent times for your meals. I admit, this is hard for me, since my schedule usually bounces around all over the place, but this is what I try to stick to:

6 AM: Breakfast

8 AM: Workout

10 AM: Light Lunch

2 PM: Light Lunch

6PM Dinner

10PM: Bed

Now, take a little pause, look at your schedule, and write down the best times for you to eat.

Taking this first step is such an awesome place to start, because it doesn’t require you changing anything about what you’re eating, and simply shifts your focus to when you’re eating. Try our your new schedule this week and let me know how it goes!

Calories in vs. Calories out

I know I’m not the first dietitian to write a post on this subject, and I certainly won’t be the last, but I think this information needs to live here because its just so darn important. For decades people have been depriving themselves of much needed fuel in an effort to lose weight. We’ve relied on measures of pounds, inches, and indexes to tell us if we are in fact healthy or if we are just slowly digging our own grave.

Now, I admit one of the reasons I even went to school for nutrition in the first place was because I wanted answers. I wanted to know the magic numbers too.

How many pounds should I weigh?

How many calories should I eat?

How often should I exercise?

What types of exercises should I do?

Surely I could figure that all out in 5 years, right?

Eh… no. There’s new research coming out everyday about factors that can effect our weight and overall health. However, one little formula still tends to linger and it goes something like this: 

"It’s just calories in vs. calories out!"

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the amount of calories you eat has  absolutely no affect on your weight. However, I am going to show you that this is an extremely oversimplified equation that your body does not know how to calculate.

So here’s how this formula works (on paper). 

An average person burns about 1500 calories at rest (not performing any activities of daily living), and maybe somewhere about 2,000 calories throughout the day.

That means if you eat 2,000 calories of food, ANY FOOD, you will maintain your weight.

3,500 calories = 1 pound (lost or gained).

If you restrict 500 calories per day, you will lose 1 pound per week.

Looks like my math is correct... so, what's the problem?

The problem is that this would require that there was nothing else, ever, influencing how many calories you intake (the food you eat) and the calories you output (the energy you burn). 

Let’s take a look at some of our influencers below. 

Factors that influence how many calories we eat: our environment, how many hours of (quality) sleep we get, our emotional state, our body fat percentage, our hormone levels, and our blood sugar levels. 

Factors that influence how many calories we burn: exercise (duh), our lean body mass, our balance of gut bacteria, how many hours of sleep we get, our hormone levels, and our immune function. 

Here, if we take an even closer look, it's apparent that the factors that influence our input, can affect the factors that influence our output. For example, high blood sugar levels (or excessive sugar intake) can alter the balance of our gut bacteria. This can make it harder for us to lose weight, and easier for us to crave high fat, high sugar foods. Additionally, lack of sleep can affect our hormone levels, again making it more difficult for us to lose weight, and making it easier for us to crave those high fat, high sugar foods. 

I could go on and on, but the point is, even if we calculate every calorie that goes into and our of our bodies, there are still a variety of other metabolic processes that effect both how much we weigh and our general health status. This is why a lot of people who consistently go into cycles of restricting and ‘cheating’ always have trouble finding that harmonious place of weight maintenance.

This is why when I work with my lovely clients we FIRST tackle all of the influencing factors and THEN we talk about calories. (Secret: it rarely ever gets to that point)!

Also, let’s not forget, weight is not the only measure of good health. The truth is no number, metric, or formula is going to be able to give you the whole picture. The only place that really exists is within you.

So before stepping on the scale or thinking of all of the “shoulds” (I should be exercising, I should be eating less), ask yourself some internal feedback questions:

When I wake up in the morning, do I feel happy? Energized?

When I think about eating, how does it make me feel? Excited? Stressed? No Reaction?

What am I hungry for? Why?

Am I full? Am I satisfied?

What am I craving? Why?

All of these questions can be secret doors to figuring out what your body needs to work optimally and can be the beginning of a lifelong practice of feeding your body intuitively. No counting required.

I could go on and on and on about this subject, but I want to turn it over to you. Do you count calories? How has it worked for you? Have you tried any other measures or methods to help lose or maintain weight? Increase your energy levels? Let me know in the comments below.