“Don’t eat if you’re not hungry.”
Ever heard that one? (I’m pretty sure it’s a subtitle in basically every diet plan.)
I won’t lie, it’s generally better to eat every few hours, as soon as we start to notice the early signs of hunger. Eating when we aren’t hungry or don’t have an appetite isn’t necessarily the best way to practice intuitive eating, as the premise of bodily attunement means responding to our body’s signals appropriately.
However, intuitive eating also involves using our brains to inform our food choices. Sometimes using our brains and nutrition knowledge means choosing to eat protein along with the sweet food we’re craving (hello, blood sugar balance) and sometimes it means eating now because we won’t have the time to eat later.
The clinic where I work has separate shifts for morning and evening, and three days a week, I work 12pm-8pm. I often end up leaving around 11:00 am to get to work on time and organize myself for the day. Because the day fills up quickly with appointments, I usually am only able to find enough time to eat one full meal rather than both lunch and dinner while at work. (I don’t like late dinners.) So, if I don’t eat a substantial snack before leaving, and another one before dinner, I’ll end up a) hungry and b) not able to do my job well.
[First breakfast vs second “breakfast” aka big snack before work]
Here’s the problem, though. If I eat breakfast at 9 am, I’m not hungry for a snack at 10:30. But I eat it anyway, because it’s more important for me to proactively stay on top of my blood sugar and nourish my body rather than avoiding eating when I’m not hungry so that I can…eat less? Because that’s really what it would come down to. The reason I would end up not eating a snack before work is because I would want to be avoiding eating as much as possible, which is exactly the way I used to live my life. In the days of my disordered eating, I would have been horrified at the notion of eating when I wasn’t craving anything, much less hungry.
I’m so grateful that I don’t make life decisions off of the number of calories I do or don’t eat. Today, instead of avoiding food at all costs and consequently getting way to hungry, I make the choice to eat anyway, even though I’m not hungry, so that I can feel good later. And in addition to feeling good later, nourishing my body as a form of self-care ensures that I’m able to be a good doctor, a good friend, and a generally pleasant person to be around. Because I know from experience that I’m not fun when I’m not well-fed.