So we have been talking about the idea of aiming to make lunch the bigger, more balanced meal of the day, and to have a lighter and smaller dinner. To many this sounds difficult at first, or even crazy- why try to have my bigger meal at a time of day when I am so busy? In fact, it makes perfect sense, and is the far better choice for your health, your energy levels, your digestion, and even your waistline.
The reasoning behind this is that in the middle of the day, your body's metabolism is burning fuel at peak efficiency; we are designed that way because we have the most demands on our energy in the middle of the day. We're working, we're out and about, we're getting exercise, we're taking care of children, we're running through the daily tasks. You've heard the expression "many miles to go before you sleep", right? This is true of you in the middle of the day. So to eat the majority of your fuel in the morning and the afternoon when you actually need it in order to have energy to take on those miles only makes sense. The body reflects this truth in that it is wired to most effectively digest, assimilate, and burn our fuel in these active daytime hours when we need it most. Meanwhile, come evening, you don't have many miles to go before you sleep- most of us are only awake for a few hours after dinner, and those hours are spent slowing down, relaxing, maybe watching some TV or helping with homework, spending quiet time with family and getting ready to turn in for the night. So why would we fill our bodies full of fuel right when we're slowing down for the day and no longer need it? This results in the fuel being stored as fat until we need it, meanwhile the body's digestion and assimilation of nutrients are hindered by the slowing down of the body's metabolism and systems, and likewise sleep and the nightly repairing of the body through rest is hindered by the fact that we are trying to digest food when we should be resting. But we can't be blamed for loading up on food at night if we only had a nibble for lunch- by the time evening comes around, we're starving! At that point, we're deprived, of nutrients and fuel but also of the satisfaction that comes from enjoyment of food, and so we're eating to replace what we've already burned and what we've missed all day rather than eating to fuel for what's ahead. We need to reverse this cycle if we want to get in tune with the natural desires and needs of our bodies for optimum health and balance.
So why do we do this? How did we come to a place where we are habitually doing the exact opposite of what our bodies want and need? We got here because we got too busy, we got too fast in our daily lives, and we forgot to slow down and respect the rhythms of nature and how our bodies fit into that. We began to prioritize work over health. How often do you hear someone say "I barely have time for lunch, some days I skip it"? Probably all the time. Knowing what you now know after reading the above, think about the disadvantage this puts a person at when it comes to energy, digestion, weight management, and productivity at work (ironically, making this choice actually hinders your ability to work well), not to mention overall feelings of balance and well being. Now, how often do you hear someone say "I take an hour for lunch almost every day. I make it a commitment to myself"? Maybe not often...but that's what we all should aspire to, even if it means working a little later in the evening or coming in a few minutes early. Think about the advantage a person has in terms of balancing their energy and blood sugar (both of which prevent mood swings and energy crashes), optimally digesting and therefore best utilizing their food, and maintaining healthy weight if they are fueling up when their body needs it and can burn it rather than loading up at the end of the day when that fuel will be underutilized, poorly assimilated, and stored as fat.
Ready to consider making the switch but wondering how to make it happen? First, it is essential to make time during your day to eat a substantial lunch. This is non-negotiable; all of the above can only work if the mid-day meal is taken in a relaxed manner, where you can enjoy your food and your body has time to process it without being rushed. However, this is easier than you might think once you agree to prioritize it. For example, you wake up a few minutes early in order to prepare a lunch for the day, or you take a few minutes of your "slow down" time the night before to prepare something to bring the next day. Once at work, ideally you have an hour that you can use for lunch to either bring your food to a park or to someplace in the building that is away from the noise and distraction of work, such as a common area, where you can eat slowly and relax. BUT, even in the worst case scenario, if you can only take a 1/2 hour for lunch and it needs to be spent AT your desk or workspace, you can (and must) turn away from the computer or the work at hand, turn the phone off or to silent, and use that 1/2 an hour to eat slowly, chewing and breathing and enjoying your food. You don't have to bring your lunch from home to follow this model, you can run out and buy some food and do the same thing. The key is to have something substantial and balanced that you can eat and enjoy slowly to really fuel up for your day; then dinner becomes the supplemental meal that it is meant to be, hence "supper" (which actually comes from the word for "soup", a perfectly suited light dinner meal).
Remember: your body will devote it's attention and the energy expenditure to one primary thing at a time; if you are shoving down your lunch while typing an email or talking on the phone, that creates stress for your body which triggers a hormonal stress response and results in more storage of fat due to what the body perceives as an emergency- "Stop everything! We can only handle the emergency at hand!"- and in this stressed state, there is no way for you to process the intake of food effectively. You won't be satisfied either physically or emotionally, therefore you can definitely expect energy crashes, cravings, sleepiness, bloating, and moodiness later in the day, not to mention the long term effects: weight gain, chronic lethargy, hindered digestion symptoms such as constipation, sleeping problems (especially if consuming a lot of food at night before bed), and an overwhelmed and sludged up system.
So give it a try, and make the commitment to yourself- are you really going to prioritize that email or that phone call over your health? Even in the busiest and most demanding of jobs, 1/2 an hour to eat a substantial, balanced lunch slowly is not too much to demand. You need to be your own advocate on this, and be willing to do the preparation that will make it easier for you. Not to mention, eating a smaller and lighter dinner frees you up to spend more time in the evening doing what you really want to do- hanging out with your family and friends, enjoying down time and relaxing hobbies, winding down for quality sleep, and maybe spending a few minutes preparing your healthy substantial lunch for tomorrow! :)
Future posts will offer some ideas for just WHAT to eat for these bigger lunches and smaller dinners, so tune in!
Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org