It's lucky week 13 in the Habit-A-Week Challenge. This week's challenge will be hard for some folks, and a snap for others, but like the other habits there is always something to be improved. The habit this week: eat on a schedule.
Now, I know some of you are going, "oh, no. That won't work. I have to eat when I can. I have to eat when I get hungry." Well, that's fine. I'm not talking about a strict, by-the-clock schedule; rather, a general schedule of how many meals and snacks you PLAN to have, and approximately when. It might be 3 meals and 2 snacks for some, or 5 smaller meals for others. Whatever your style, this habit can work for you.
Why? What's the benefit of eating on a schedule? Well, if you're a grazer like I am, it helps break the *bad* habit of casually snacking out of boredom or just because you feel like it. When I weighed 278 pounds, I used to spend ALL DAY snacking and grazing. Crackers here, sandwich there, candy bar here, handful of chips there. Not a good plan. When you don't space your snacks/meals out, you never get the chance to be empty. In fact, I remember DAYS going by and never feeling like my stomach was emptied at any point... even in the morning, because I'd eat 3 slices of pizza at 11pm and it would just sit like a rock in my stomach until morning. Give your digestive system a break! Lay off the constant eating.
Some people might think that scheduled eating is the polar opposite of intuitive eating; not so. The schedule isn't rigid; if you are truly not hungry at snack time, YOU can make the judgement call to skip the snack or have it an hour later. If you are famished between scheduled meals, you can listen to your body and have a snack, even if it isn't on the schedule. But if you get in the habit of spacing meals and snacks, your body will get used to it. It will know what to expect, and not have to stay on hyper-alert 24/7 for any incoming barrages of food. And really, it's okay to be a little bit hungry.
You can start by deciding how many meals and snacks you think you should have. YOU know when you get hungry, when you usually eat dinner, etc. Plan around that. It might look like this:
(Yeah, that's my schedule). If you get delayed and eat a little late, or need to eat earlier, that's fine. Don't stress. The point here is to be sure you get enough calories but not too many. Get in the habit of waiting for the next eating time unless you are TRULY HUNGRY at an earlier time. So, let's say you ate lunch at noon, and have a snack scheduled around 3. After lunch, you see that your child has left some food on their plate. But you think twice. You don't eat it, because it is NOT TIME to eat. Later, you see a commercial for cheese and crackers, and you want some. But you know that in an hour it will be your snack time, so you wait. Do you see how this can work for you?
It's a great thing to have your mind freed from food obsession for a good part of the day. I'm sure a lot of people get what I mean. Before I began this journey, FOOD was on my mind ALL DAY LONG. After breakfast, I was wondering what yummy thing I could eat next. Any little thing could trigger another eating episode: a magazine ad, a fast food jingle on the radio, the smell of donuts in the grocery store, a commercial, or just seeing a jar of peanut butter in the cabinet. It was one big snackfest. And look where it got me.
Enter the food schedule, and voila! You are FREE! You eat your meal and then you KNOW you will not be eating again until x time (or until you get hungry), so you can actually FORGET about food for awhile and concentrate on other things. Yeah, I know not everyone is so wrapped up in every delectable morsel within 20 miles of them, but you know what, it's not as uncommon as you think. Get the food out of your head, and it gets your head out of the food. Or something like that.
Even if you're not completely obsessed, implementing some discipline into your eating habits may be helpful. Learning to say no to your cravings can be a good thing when you're trying to lose weight. Having a schedule makes you think before you eat. "Am I really hungry? Why do I want to eat that? Can I wait until my next snack/meal?"
If you already eat on a relatively stable schedule, you can take this week to work on WHERE you eat those scheduled meals: in the car? in front of the TV? You'll get more enjoyment and satisfaction by focusing on your food. Try sitting at the kitchen/dining room table for all of your eating (when you're home. If you are at work, perhaps there is a similar "eating spot" where you can always eat, away from your desk and workload). By cutting back on distracted eating you'll pay more attention to your food and actually remember eating that serving of ice cream instead of looking down at an empty bowl on your lap during a commercial and wondering, "hey! Where'd it go?" Try planning enough time to sit down and eat rather than eating in the car or while you're doing other things. Put the focus on your food, where it belongs.
If you're just joining us and would like to read about the Challenges we have tackled so far, you can see them here:
Week 12: Write it Down
Week 11, which includes links to the previous 10 habits: Find Alternatives to Eating
You can go back and start at Week 1 later, if you'd like, when the 16 weeks are all complete. Since everyone can use some improvement, it's a good idea to keep working on these habits, or at least reviewing them and evaluating your progress over time. One habit per week. Your life will change. Never give up.