Normal eating isn’t perfect, and perfect eating isn’t normal! That said, you can feel a lot better mentally and physically by structuring your meals and snacks and eating them mindfully.
- Plan what and when you are going to eat each day
- Eat something every few hours to avoid getting too hungry
- Plan ahead when eating out
- Come up with several healthy meal and snack options that you can choose to avoid anxiety and impulsive decision making
- Eat a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat at every meal
- Be flexible and realistic about your plan
- Plan ahead and grocery shop regularly and weekly
- Eat mindfully-- pay attention to and enjoy your food!
- Go too long between meals/snacks
- Skip meals or snacks
- Purchase foods on impulse, go grocery shop when you’re hungry, or eat food just because it is “free”
- Be too rigid about your plan or expect perfection
- Eat while you are distracted (watching TV, using the computer, or doing work)
The Basics of Structured Eating
Structured eating keeps your energy levels stable throughout the day and prevents excessive hunger, so you can make healthier choices when you do eat. Planning the approximate timing of your meals and snacks is key.
Starting with breakfast, ideally within an hour of awaking, aim to eat every three to four hours. Breakfast can be simple, but it is important to have something, because breakfast “breaks” an overnight “fast” of many hours. By starting the day off with a balanced meal, you get your metabolism revved up and ensure you are not ravenous by lunchtime.
Watch portion sizes and don’t indulge every day.
In addition to the timing of your meals and snacks, it is also important to plan their content! A combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is ideal. This combination of nutrients is absorbed more slowly, preventing the spikes and rapid falls in blood sugar that follow a high-carbohydrate meal or snack (think candy, soda or other sugary treats that we often turn to when our energy is waning) and will provide satiety and lasting energy.
From Knowing To Applying!
At breakfast, try:
1. An omelet (made with two eggs or several egg whites if you’re watching cholesterol) with vegetables (spinach, tomato, onion, mushrooms, and peppers are all great options) plus some feta or mozzarella cheese. Enjoy with a slice of whole-wheat toast or a whole-wheat English muffin.
2. A cup of fiber rich, whole grain cereal or oatmeal prepared with soy or low-fat milk, and some fresh fruit.
3. Smoothie: Low-fat yogurt and/or milk, fresh or frozen fruit, and some nuts or nut butter. You can even toss in leafy greens to boost the vitamin and mineral content.
1. Sandwich: Turkey with a few slices of avocado on two slices of whole wheat bread or in a whole-wheat wrap, and pile it high with vegetables OR PB & J on whole grain OR a whole wheat pita with hummus and veggies.
2. Entrée salad: Start with your choice of greens and add whatever vegetables you like. Then add a protein, such as grilled chicken or tuna (beans, chickpeas, and edamame are great vegetarian options). Get creative and add some healthy fat with toppings such as chopped nuts, avocado, feta cheese and/or a drizzle of olive oil—just make sure not to overdo it on the toppings and dressings.
A piece of fruit with a spoonful of nut butter, an ounce of cheese or a handful of nuts, or a cup of raw vegetable with hummus, provide a combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to keep you feeling satisfied and energized until your next meal.
A good rule of thumb to ensure a balanced meal is to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables and/or leafy greens, one quarter of your plate with protein (such as skinless chicken, baked fish, or a lean cut of red meat) and one quarter with a whole grain (such as brown rice, quinoa, or barley) or a starchy vegetable (such as potato or corn).
For those who like to dine out a lot - entrées may be more than what your body needs in one sitting. Pay close attention to your body’s cues and consider ordering appropriately.
Go for a piece of fresh fruit or cup of berries with a glass of low-fat or soy milk. And you don’t have to avoid sweets completely! After all, food is a source of pleasure as well as fuel for our bodies. Just watch portion sizes and don’t indulge every day. If you are dining out, try splitting a dessert with a few others and enjoy it with an herbal tea or skim cappuccino.
Remember to eat in moderation and very importantly, to always listen to your body's signals. Your body is smarter than you may realize!