Your stomach doesn’t know what time is it…

“Your stomach doesn’t know what time it is.”

This is one of my favourite phrases by dietitian Josephine Money.  And it makes sense. Your stomach knows when it’s hungry and when it’s full, but it doesn’t know if it’s 8am, 1:30pm, or 2am. Unfortunately many people rely on external rather than internal cues to tell them when they should and shouldn’t eat.

Listening to the Clock

Breakfast at 7am. Morning tea at 10am. Lunch at 1pm. Afternoon tea at 4pm. Dinner at 7pm. Ever been told to eat every 3 hours? Sounds good in theory, but what if you’re not hungry every three hours? Or what if you’re hungry after one or two hours? How frequently we get hungry will be influenced by things such as our activity levels, how much we ate at the previous meal, and what we’ve eaten earlier in the day. It’s good to eat regularly, but recognise and allow for some variation in your body’s needs.

*It’s 11:53am and I’m hungry. So I’m off to eat lunch, before I keep writing!*

I’m sure you’ve also heard about not eating after 8pm or no carbs after 3pm or some other silly rule. The way your stomach processes food does not change from morning to evening. So right now, give yourself permission to eat (including carbs!) at any time.

Someone asked me the other day about what they should do for dinner after their gym session; they didn’t get home until 8:30pm and then went to bed around 9:30pm, so they thought it was too late to eat. Need I repeat: “your stomach doesn’t know what time it is!” Although it can be uncomfortable going to bed on a full stomach, it’s still really important to have dinner, especially after an exercise session. I’d recommend having a play with different options until you’ve found something that refuels your body (include protein and carbohydrates) whilst not being too heavy in your stomach (see a dietitian if you feel you need more support in what and how much to eat).  While you’re asleep, your body is actually working hard to regenerate; it needs energy to be able to do that. 

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Environmental Eating

Ever found yourself eating when you’re not really hungry, purely because of where you are? For example: movie theatre; birthday party; amazing French patisserie. I call this ‘environmental eating’ (I just that made term up! Fiona at Body Positive Australia has a great article about these sort of cravings!).

Whilst occasional non-hungry eating is ok and can be quite pleasurable (especially at that French patisserie) it’s important that we also think about whether we really want to be eating food at that point in time, or if we’re simply doing it out of habit. Before you eat, take a moment to think about whether you are hungry or not. If you are hungry, how hungry are you and how much do you want to eat? What do you really feel like eating? If you’re not physically hungry, is there another reason why you want to eat? As Dr Rick Kausman says ‘you can have it if you want it but do you really want it now?’

If you choose to eat some popcorn at the movies because you always eat popcorn at the movies, then that is ok but make the effort to be aware of what you’re eating; notice the smell, the texture, the taste. Notice when you have had enough. Eat it slowly. Too often we can polish off a bucket of popcorn at the movies but not even have really tasted it. Too much non-hungry and mindless eating can lead to being above your healthiest and happiest weight. And if you’re really not hungry, know that you can choose not to eat. You can accept that at this point, you don’t really want that piece of chocolate birthday cake. Maybe you’ll want it in an hour, maybe not; give yourself permission to have it later if you want it then.

Problems arise if we ignore the signals our body sends us. If we delay eating, despite being physically hungry, we often end up overeating or eating foods which are high in energy but low in nutrients. On the flip side, if we don’t listen when our body is telling us we’ve had enough, we end up feeling uncomfortably full and may move beyond our healthiest weight.

Your body is pretty amazing. Trust it to tell you what you want/need and when you want/need it.

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