It’s usually my stomach that wakes me up and a Saturday morning in physical distancing was no different. I really didn’t feel like making eggs. I wanted carbs and sugar but not toast. When I spotted a bag with a fudgy cookie leftover from the previous night, I felt giddy. That’s exactly what I was craving.
I ate my cookie and drank coffee without guilt. In fact, I was proud of myself for listening to my body and feeding it what it wanted. Later in the morning, I felt like protein and grains, so I made a second breakfast of a breakfast burrito.
As a nutritionist, I’m often asked about the best diet and timing of food. My answer makes no one happy. It depends.
Some people swear by eating only at meal time. Others (like me) eat small amounts more frequently. Since we’ve been home all day, I’ve analyzed my quaranteammate’s and my eating habits. I usually eat toast or oatmeal with almond butter and fruit right away. Usually have a snack of nuts or fruit around 10. Then I’ll have lunch and an afternoon snack—usually something sweet. If I find myself hungry later in the afternoon, I might have more nuts or a granola depending on how I’m feeling.
He eats breakfast. Then lunch. Then dinner. My meals are closer to 400 calories. He’ll usually have a larger portion of the meal I make then maybe have some bread with cheese on it or crackers and hummus. And a banana.
Neither of us is right or wrong. Neither of us will gain or lose more weight than the other. We’re both feeding our bodies the way that works for us.
In one of my final nutrition classes, I did a review of scientific studies on timing of eating. The results were inconclusive. Some studies showed that participants who followed intermittent fasting lost more weight. Some found that people who had frequent snacks and meals had a healthier body weight. Some showed that the secret to success was eating a bigger breakfast and smaller dinner.
My conclusion (and my classmates all came to the same conclusion) was that when you eat is subjective. It’s more important what you eat and how much.
In the same class, we were all assigned a weight-loss diet to present to the class. I observed that we could have all had the same first 2 slides in our presentations. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and get at least 20 minutes a day of moderately vigorous physical activity.
From there, you could add a whole lot of calcium, subtract any foods not available in the Paleolithic era, or eat only plants. It was basically a wash as long as you had that foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and physical activity.
So one plan I like is mindful eating. That’s what I was practicing the morning I ate a fudgy cookie for breakfast. Mindful eating is about thoughtfully choosing foods to nourish your body and consuming them without distraction. You can start with fudgy cookies if that’s what you want. Usually after eating sugar, though, I feel like I need protein, so I had that. In the afternoons, if I need a little pick-me-up, I know that a handful of almonds is going to give me what I need. A cookie is going to make me want a nap on the couch. Coffee is going to leave me frustrated when I battle insomnia a few hours later.
So there’s not one right answer for anyone. Listen to your body—and be sure to give it fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some physical activity.