Resetting Your Stomach’s Internal Clock
It’s noon. Are you hungry? Many of us have become conditioned to eat “by the clock,” taking our meals at the same time every day, with little regard to our body’s natural hunger signals. While eating on a set schedule is generally more convenient and socially acceptable, relying too heavily on your watch instead of your stomach can lead to mindless eating and overeating.
The Evolution of Mealtimes
Thousands of years ago, before the Agricultural Revolution, humans roamed the Earth, hunting animals for meat and gathering edible fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Food was scarce and obesity was unheard of. Our ancestors ate whenever possible as if their lives’ depended upon it. Many times it did – starving to death was a very real threat.
Advances in agriculture, food production, storage, and preservation have drastically changed the way we live as well as the way we eat. Most of us no longer have to constantly worry about foraging together enough scraps to survive. Nowadays, food is usually never more than a few steps away in the nearest fridge, vending machine, or drive-thru. And instead of facing constant shortages, modern food production results in a huge over-supply; the USDA estimates that 3,800 calories per day per person are produced in the United States.
In short, eating has transitioned from an important activity necessary for our continued existence into a routine everyday task we give little thought to. Set meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – are a convenient way for us to meet our daily nutrition requirements in a method that fits well with our work schedules and time commitments (see The Main Meal of the Day).
Recalibrating Your Hunger Signals
With such easy access to food served in several meals throughout the day, it’s likely many of us don’t know what hunger – true hunger – is. That said, billions of people in the world still face severe hunger and malnutrition, even with our overabundance of readily-available food here in the US.
Eating three solid meals a day has quite likely skewed our definition of “hungry.” The human body is capable of going many days without eating anything at all. In fact, many other carnivores and omnivores in the animal kingdom eat only a couple of times per week, or less. Eating a few hours later than usual may make you “hungry,” but chances are you are not actually “starving to death.”
Why Do You Eat?
Learning to trust your body and listening to natural hunger and fullness signals are some of the basic principles of the Intuitive Eating movement. It can, of course, be difficult to trust your own body after so many years of conditioning by external influences, including eating at set times of the day. It may help to ask yourself the question, “Why am I eating?” Ideally, you are eating to satisfy your hunger and not eating just because you want to eat. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Are you hungry? Are you bored? Are you stressed? Is it “time” for lunch?
Do you eat by the clock?