This is yet another area of nutrition where we get conflicting advice from the experts. Some say that in order to keep your metabolism fired and burn fat and calories more effectively, it’s best to eat 6 small meals throughout the day. Some say 2-3 meals a day and nothing in between. In my inbox, the newest thing is intermittent fasting, where you go 18-24 hours eating nothing, and that keeps your metabolism stoked.
I always go back to bioindividuality, which is the idea that every body is different, and that we each need to find and follow what works best for us – and that even that changes at different times in our lives.
I’ll use my own story as an example. In 2004, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, which is basically extreme burnout. When that happens, people get super-fatigued (I had to cut back to working part time hours for 6 months), blood sugar and blood pressure drop to low levels, hormones and metabolism get all out of balance and gut health suffers. Stress has serious consequences. And I had been under a ton of it (bad work environment, rough marriage, recently divorced) for quite a while, which was the major cause. Additionally, I had lost about 20 pounds in 3 months, and the doctor told me that the rapid weight loss had pushed my adrenals from tired to exhausted. She also said that the pancreas manages your blood sugar for the first two hours after you eat, and then after that, the adrenals step in to do the job, so if blood sugar gets too low, it strains them even more. At that time, frequent eating was really important for my healing – I’d have done even more damage if I’d limited to 3 meals with nothing in between. And, of course, like with any other health condition, if I wanted to get well, I had to avoid sugar and processed junk, and eat whole, nutrient-filled foods.
I went on a plan where breakfast contained a lot of protein and just a little bit of carbs, and lunch and dinner had protein and lots of veggies, with an additional carb serving at one of those meals. I had some sort of protein in between meals, and again before bed. Over time, my body began to heal, I lost weight, although very, very slowly, and I stopped needing most of the between meal snacks. Since the adrenal fatigue happened just a few years before menopause, my body didn’t have time to catch its metabolic and hormonal breath before everything got all wonky again. This means that I’m still tweaking my lifestyle and diet in order to balance metabolism and hormones.
The original healing diet is not what I need now, though. Lots and lots of veggies is still key; I’ve noticed that if I slip away from that habit, I wind up subbing with less nutritious foods, and I get hungry and tired between meals again. Over the past few years, my bedtime snack has changed to some form of carbohydrate, rather than protein for optimal blood sugar balance. And adding in short, high intensity workouts is allowing me to, again very slowly, lose the weight I gained a few years ago.
This has all been a real process of experimentation for me. I didn’t have anyone to guide me, so it’s been slower than I’d like, but wow have I learned a lot! And I’m glad that I’m able now to use my experience to help other people – that makes it all worthwhile.
So, that’s a bit of my process in finding my best approach to eating. What has yours looked like? Tell me in the comments below. And to meet other people on the healthy lifestyle train, join my closed Facebook group, Living Happy, Living Healthy. There’s lots of tips, tricks and support there!