I wanted to title this post “Hunger Games,” but didn’t want folks to confuse it with the book (which is awesome by the way and I can’t wait for the movie…but I digress.)
Food is fuel. It is also a source of contentment, nourishment and emotional well-being. When you don’t eat enough, you lose energy. While most of us have never faced true starvation – being too hungry can be distracting and can affect your mood and your performance. Skipping meals and going too long without fuel is the type of starvation we usually impose on ourselves. A lot of us are also familiar with eating too much and the effects that can have on productivity, energy and, of course, body weight. You eat too much and you get groggy, sloggy and – some of us – downright mean.
Do you ignore your hunger signals? Do you work through meals or ignore a growl until it is too late and you can’t help but wolf down the closest thing? Despite feeling full, you have just one more helping or add dessert because it tastes good?
Think of hunger on a scale of 1-10. At 10, you feel sick and the thought of food makes you sick. At 9, you are too full to move. An 8 is where you feel sluggish and may put on the stretchy pants. A 7 might require the removal of your belt and time on the couch. A 6 equals feelings of fullness, you feel the food in your tummy. At 5, you are neither hungry nor full – just satisfied. At a 4, you are not hungry – but might start thinking about eating in an hour. At a 3, your stomach growls. At a 2, you may become light-headed and grouchy. At a 1, dizziness, meanness and headaches may occur – this is the stage where I steal the food off my kids’ plates. At a 0 – you are so hungry, you are numb.
Aim for a 5 on that scale – and then eat every two to three hours. Notice how overeating or under eating can drain your energy, while staying at a well-sated level at all times maximizes energy. Too much too often and too little too infrequently are both ineffective ways to provide nourishment. When you spend too much time at a 2-3 or too much at a 7-8, you may compensate by overindulging or skipping. It creates a cycle of misinterpreted hunger cues and lack of satisfaction. Squelching hunger cues by drinking diet soda, coffee or energy drinks is not a long-term strategy for energy either.
The type of food you choose to satisfy you every 2-3 hours influences your energy levels and your satiation levels. Sugar, refined carbs or high-fat foods are not optimal. You know what I’m going to recommend – healthy, whole food options such as nuts with dried fruit, whole grain bread or tortillas with hummus, fresh veggies with a bit of baked tofu. You can, of course, choose non-vegan foods – plain yogurt with fruit, roasted chicken with fresh veggies, nut butter on honey wheat bread with sliced banana. The point is, include some protein and some carbohydrates – preferably not the white variety. These foods take time to digest and offer nutrition for energy. Remember, whole foods – ones your grandma would recognize as food (not cereal bars, colored yogurt or ghost-white fluffy bread) are your best choices.