Learning to listen (and to trust)

Some days I can live quite easily by the six small meals a day rule – you know the one, eat every two or three hours, something small, between 200-300 calories. In fact, that’s usually my preferred manner of eating.

But other days, it just doesn’t work for me.

Yesterday, in case you’re wondering, was one of the days that it just didn’t work out.

Let’s start at the beginning; why should we learn to listen to our bodies when it comes to food?

To put it simply, the body knows what it wants when it wants it. If you listen to your body (and not your emotions, the clock, your social calendar, or your friends) very rarely will you be led astray in terms of food. The trick is, distinguishing what your body wants from what your mind, your emotions, and the culture say you want.

When your body sends you a clear message – even if it doesn’t jive with the “expert” advice – listen to it. If not, you’ll be more likely to feel deprived, throw in the towel, and decide that the so-called experts don’t know much of anything. In fact, some of the experts know quite a bit, but they don’t necessarily know you. Not like you do. So if your body is telling you that it wants a certain amount of something or a particular something and you’ve done everything else right – drank some water, took a fifteen minute walk, took three deep breaths, ate some carrots or some other super low calorie food – then you should go ahead and have it. Because once it becomes a must in your mind, it’s too late. Have it, get it out of your system, let it go, and then move on.

As I said above: yesterday was one of those days.

Looking at my food diary for the last two (almost three years) it’s clear to see that my preferred intake of calories is between 1,500 and 1,800. When I’m trying to release weight – or if I’m just calibrating before or after a big dinner or a week with my parents – I tend to purposefully drop my calorie intake down to around 1,200. Some days it’s lower than that (closer to a 1,000) though sometimes it’s higher (closer to 1,400).

It’s rare that I have a day over 2,200; but it’s happened.

Yesterday I was starving. I’m not sure why. My calories the day before had been low, but not that low. Maybe it was the fact that I have moved back to my school schedule and have been getting up at 5:00 instead of 6:30 or 7:00. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time out in the world lately, whereas I have spent most of the summer at home.

Regardless, I was ravenous. And even trying to do everything “right,” I still had polished off 1,100 calories before noon! (For those of you who aren’t good at math, let me help: that’s 73% of my preferred daily calorie intake – all before lunch.)

As it turned out, I actually had a pretty good food day despite the rough start. And when I went to bed at 10:30, I had actually only consumed 1.442 calories. You might be thinking, 342 calories isn’t all that much for twelve hours! And you might also be thinking about how the body goes into starvation mode when it hasn’t had anything to eat in over three or four hours. And you’d be right.

But in the spirit of listening to my body, I wasn’t hungry again until 4:30, when I had a medium braeburn apple and some carrots. Then, a few hours later, I had a bowl of lentil soup (massive protein and fiber hit) and a glass of petite syrah.

Then, after a couple of more hours during which I consumed a couple of cups of herbal tea, I went to bed and started over today.

Today, I have been back to what the experts recommend. It’s almost 4:00 and I’ve had four small meals.

I had my normal breakfast (255 calories), one of my normal snacks (240 calories), an apple (80 calories), one of my typical lunches (280 calories). And, notably, these have been spaced out every couple of hours or so.

The moral of this story: if you have a “bad” day, go ahead and have it. It’s just a day. Trust your body to know what it wants when it wants it. But also trust yourself to know that tomorrow is a new day and you – more than anyone else – know what you need to do get back on track.

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