I Eat Well All Day But Then...

CHA dietician offers healthy eating advice in celebration of National Nutrition Month

By Rebecca Toutant, MD, RD, LDN, CDE, cPT

Most people tell me, "I eat well all day but everything falls apart at night."

It's a common scenario for many when trying to change food patterns. The day hours seem to float by without a problem, but then the sun sets or they set foot in their house and food has a whole new power. Many mistakenly believe there's something wrong with them or they "don't have any self-control." Truth is, that's rarely the case. Here are the three most common situations I see.

Define "eating well." Often when people try to improve what they eat, they reduce the types and amount of food they are allowed - especially if they are trying to "make up" for last night. This results in an underfed body (starved) and an unsatisfied mind. An underfed body is a hungry body - hormones like ghrelin increase making you feel like a bottomless, insatiable pit.

Ignoring hunger cues and skipping meals. It's easy to ignore your hunger when you're busy doing projects or distracted with activities. However, that hunger catches up with you when your mind is finally winding down at the end of the day. As a result, food has greater power and gets more attention.

Relaxation. We all need a way to release the emotional pressure of life. For many, food is a convenient way to relax. If you pair the need to relax with an underfed body, the desire to eat becomes so great, it feels humanly impossible to resist eating beyond the point of physical need.

Here are a few tips you can use to try to find balance:

  • Recognize hunger cues and intensity and eat before you are starving. For most bodies, eating every three or four hours is a normal rhythm.
  • Eat balanced meals leaving you satisfied that include fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains (carbs are not the enemy). Don't forget fat! It is tremendous for satisfaction.
  • Our minds and bodies need rest whether that means a break from work or getting enough sleep. Without a balance of each, the desire for food and fuel increases.
  • Identify specific stress outlets. It's okay if food helps you relax. But consider additional outlets such as socializing, laughing, drawing, yoga, walking, meditation, petting a dog, reading and knitting...that way food isn't the only option.

Nutrition is a challenging topic. While food helps our physical body, eating is also emotional, social, and cultural. Food isn't often about will power or decision making. Rather it's about balancing our human needs.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.