Monday, January 12, 2009

Habit-A-Week Challenge, Week 13: Develop an Eating Schedule

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:

Breakfast 8am
Snack 10am
Lunch 12pm
Snack 3pm
Dinner 6pm

(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.


MizFit said...

love the post as, upon reflection, that's what I do and hadnt realized it.

The cleaner I eat the more I tend to eat by the clock/watch 6 times a day.


Ron said...

Yea, eating on a schedule works for me too, 6 times a day for me, but when you know your going out to eat for one of those meals, it kinda throws a wrench in it....

Lady Downsize! said...

You're right Lyn. I'm one of those people that struggles with the scehedule. When I'm at work it's definitely easier with scheduled lunch and breaks. However, on the weekends its an entirely different story. Way, way off most weekends. Next weekend I will try to stick to the same schedule I have during the week.

new*me said...

i have been working on staying on a schedule with my eating and never letting more than 5 hrs go by without something. When I get to the starving point, I totally overeat. Great habit for the week ;)

elife said...

This was such a timely reminder for me. I rarely overeat at meals, it's always from extra crazy snacking!

Sonya said...

wow, you should be a dietician! I say this because mine is telling me the same thing. Eat every three hours. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. every three must have a protein and a carb. Protein = 3 hours of energy. Carb = 1 hour and gives you that boost. It's great advice, but darn hard for me to do lately!

She also tries to get me to focus on my eating. Be more mindfull, and this means staying away from the couch and watching TV when I'm eating. This is also hard.

Great blog entry! Great tips!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lyn,

I've never posted before, because I just found your blog, and have read it in entirety, from start to the present, in the last few days.

I've never been obese, so maybe you don't want my input, but I did go from "overweight" to "normal" and have kept the weight off for about 2 years now. One of the things that I did that really worked was somewhat similar to this schedule. Instead of setting exact times, though, I set exact calories based on the time of day. For example, I was eating 1300 cals/day (I'm much shorter than you), and I'd have 300 calories that I could eat for breakfast, then I'd have 500 I could eat while I was at work (including lunch), and then 500 I could eat after work (including dinner). This "budget" really helped me, because I could "save up" through the day, or "borrow" from the next meal, but in general it helped me because if I were approached by a donut or something at work, I'd realize that if I ate it, my lunch would have to be much smaller, and then I'd be hungry and uncomfortable. That knowledge helped me to turn down a lot of unhealthy snacks/extras. Just a thought!

One other thought that's stuck with me while reading your blog, and you did touch on it a bit today - the location of where you eat. You mention often how you'd like a more "normal" relationship with food, where you wouldn't want to eat everything all at once all the time. In fact, I feel like that a lot, and I don't think that feeling is all that unusual, nor is the behavior of bingeing. The one behavior that struck me as unusual is the eating in the car. I may have a meal in the car on occasion if I'm on the run or on a road trip, but I've never, for example, driven to the drive-through, ordered a meal, and then parked somewhere and ate it in my car. That sounds like a method of sneaking food so it "won't count." I think an interesting habit-a-week challenge could be "no eating in the car" or other trigger locations. A more advanced step could be not eating on the couch, standing in front of the pantry/fridge, etc. Until you're down to only eating while sitting at the table, with a plate, etc. I know smokers who have had great success quitting when they simply eliminate the places where they used to smoke - if they stop smoking in their cars, they may have one smoke on the walk from the parking lot, but not 3-4 on the way to the location. If they stop smoking in their house, they may still step outside a few times a day, but it's no longer a thoughtless process. Once you have to think about it before you do it, because that's the "rule," you end up doing it a lot less, because it's somewhat of a pain.

I know when I don't eat mindlessly on the couch, I lose weight. When I let myself be mindless about my eating, at all, I can polish off whole boxes of crackers w/o thinking about it, bags of chocolate chips, etc.

Anyway, just a couple of suggestions, take from it what you want, or ignore it if you'd like. Best of luck to you with all of your great lifestyle changes!!


Heather said...

My dad's trainer has him eating every 2 hours... don't go any longer. First thing in the morning, before anything else, eat something, then start your two hour schedule from there. Aim for 6 mini meals a day, and get protein into at least 4 of them. I've been doing this the entire month of January and so far it is working. I think you are a stay-at-home mom, but maybe my work trick can work for you at home. I have mini breakfast and mini dinner and usually one other mini meal at home, but end up having about 4 mini meals during the day at work. To keep myself on track, I plan the day before, and put everything in a box that stays on my desk. It might help you to do the same thing at home. It seems regimental, but it's working, and it gets easier every day. The philosophy is to stop feeding your hunger and start feeding your metabolism. Hunger can be physical and emotional. Not the case with metabolism. Good luck girl!

Lyn said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to give that input! Great advice. I am making an effort NOT to eat in the car anymore. Bad habit!! You're right, it does go back to the "sneaky eating" behavior I used to engage in. I hadn't thought of it that way.

We can always learn from each other. Congrats on losing the weight and keeping it off! Obviously you know what you're doing :)

Ria said...

I can really use this week's habit!When I'm journaling my food but having trouble sticking to my calorie limits, too much thoughtless snacking is often the culprit - the calories sure add up fast, even if the snacks themselves are healthy. For some reason it's never occurred to me to plan out snacks . . . I plan my meals, but usually leave snacking to "if I feel like it I'll eat something healthy". I'm going to plan snacks for a few weeks and see how it goes. Hope your knees are feeling better, and thanks for another great post!

Anonymous said...

No problem, Lyn! I've really enjoyed reading your blog, and I think you're doing a fantastic job of taking care of yourself, despite everything else in your life! I'll continue to read, and will let you know if I think of anything else! LOL, I didn't notice how ridiculously long my comment was until it was posted!!! Sorry!!!


clickmom said...

I think the schedule is going to my key. It's been so long since I have eaten for nutritional support as opposed to for some kind of emtional filler that putting myself on a schedule seems utterly brilliant.

Also, about the knee pain, I have food allergies and if I eat gluten I can barely walk when I wake up or have been sitting for even a short length of time. Any chance you have some kind of food intolerance? They can cause inflammation in your joints.

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

I love this post and challenge. I eat on a schedule first thing in the a.m. and last thing in the p.m., but the middle time is a crap shoot. Does this still qualify for having "completed" this challenge?

Vickie said...

One thing you didn't mention is that if a person eats constantly - they are producing insulin constantly. . .

vivien said...

hi lyn,
i found your blog a few days ago because i was googling for weight loss blogs for inspiration. i have started reading it from the very beginning and i haven't finished it all but i think i soon will. while i am not obese, i can relate to what you are saying about binging and eating out of boredom and need for comfort...i think we've all been there, even the really skinny people!! people just don't want to admit their dirty secrets. thanks for your honesty.

obviously you are educated and well-read, or else you wouldn't write the way you do. i read some of the comments from other readers encouraging you to write memoirs or books. i am an aspiring writer too and most people i know who write well also like to read, and they write well because they have read many books. maybe whenever you get a craving to eat something, you could read some compelling novel chapters instead. i find that sitting down and having an exciting, page-turner of a book in my hands helps me to forget about the urge to snack. of course some people snack while they read, so if it is a library book or a new book, i tend to be more careful about not getting bread crumbs or cheetos-stains on the pages ;)

i've also heard other tips like going to paint your nails when you get the snacking urge, or some other activity that engages your hands. of course, like all weight-loss tips, it is easier said than done. but i just want to say thanks for your blog and that it is helping me deal with my food issues too.