Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn. Maybe it’s because my rebellious teen phase never really ended. But I’ve always hated being told that I’m “supposed” to or “need” to do something a particular way.
For a while, I tried to fit into a box when it came to my diet. Five meals a day. No processed foods. Don’t mix carbs and fat. Ugh…it didn’t last long.
Eventually I snapped out of it, but from time to time I still hear people emphasizing the NEED to follow a specific diet protocol as the one true and righteous way to eat.
For instance, conventional diet wisdom tells us that we should eat breakfast and not eat before bed. On the surface it makes sense. Eat breakfast to fuel your day and don’t eat before being immobile all night. And that advice does work for many people, but does that make it right for everyone?
There’s little evidence that breakfast influences your weight . It can actually make you gain weight if you add it in as an extra meal on top of what you’re already eating. And eating late does not necessarily make you gain weight, provided that you aren’t in a caloric surplus. So yes, if you eat a heavy dinner that puts you over your daily calorie requirement then you will gain weight. But it’s not eating at night that makes you gain weight, it’s the excess calories. At the end of the day, your caloric intake is what determines your weight. Yep, it’s still the calories in versus calories out model.
There are some other things to consider when it comes to breakfast and late dinners, like what you eat and how it effects your body beyond weight gain/loss. For example, eating a high carb, sugary breakfast spikes your insulin and can result in overeating for the rest of the day. Some people find they sleep better if they have some carbs at night, while others don’t sleep as well. I could go on, but let’s not get too deep into that for the sake of this post
Breakfast/late dinner are just two examples of dietary dogma, but there are many others. Paleo, eating clean, all organic, eating every three hours, low carb, keto, and so on. It’s not that these protocols are bad or wrong, they may just not work for everyone. We tend to get fixated on the right and wrong way of doing something, as if there’s only one way. In reality, different things work for different people. Someone might feel great eating five small meals a day while someone else feels bloated and overwhelmed.
This matters because sometimes people force themselves to eat in a way that doesn’t work for them. All because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. But fighting your body is not sustainable. You know what is? Eating in a way that’s comfortable.
Granted, eating a pint of ice cream for dessert or a whole pizza could feel comfortable for some people. But realistically we (usually) know those are the kind of habits we should ditch. Eating in a way that’s comfortable means finding the balance of treats and nutritious food that helps you reach your goal without feeling deprived. It involves working with your natural eating style and slowly changing habits.
I don’t want to dismiss the fact that when we make a change there will most likely be a transition phase that feels difficult. So, how do you tell the difference between necessary growing pains–like detoxing from sugar–and something really not working for you? Give it two weeks, and after that, if it doesn’t get easier and you aren’t feeling the benefits then it may be time to reconsider. For example, if you’re forcing yourself to eat breakfast and weeks have gone by and you don’t feel different and still find it difficult, then maybe drop it. Conversely, you can tell the way you’re eating works for you when…
- You feel energized
- You don’t feel bloated or have indigestion
- You have a regular pooping schedule
- It feels sustainable. Meaning that you aren’t white-knuckling your way through the process feeling deprived and anxious. It should not be a negative experience.
- You aren’t hungry all the time
- You have minimal cravings
Following this checklist will always trump trying to adhere to a schedule or a strict regimen. Part of figuring out our personal equation takes trial and error. But don’t feel that you have to do something because it’s en vogue or your friend got great results from it. I mean, by all means try it. But if it ain’t working, find something that DOES.