Many people that I talk to miss or skip meals for various reasons. Common reasons that I hear about usually have to do with being too busy, not leaving yourself enough time, or not being hungry at a particular time of day. Other people miss meals as an attempt to lose weight.
So what’s the problem with this?
When we miss meals or go a really long time in between eating, it can lead to binge eating or eating large quantities of food later in the day. People who don’t eat much breakfast or lunch will often say they eat from the moment they get in from work or school until they go to bed. Also when we train our body to ignore natural hunger feelings, we can slow down our metabolism. This is also true for people who undereat all day long and don’t end up eating a lot later in the day. If you don’t take in enough total energy throughout the day, your metabolism can slow down to protect your body from starving.
If you have PCOS, you also have to take into account insulin resistance, which most people with PCOS have to some degree. This means that the insulin our body produces to help shuttle sugar into all of our cells isn’t working properly. Our body makes plenty of insulin when we eat, but if the insulin isn’t sticking to our cells and letting that blood sugar into the cells, then our blood sugar levels can rise. If we eat a large meal, especially one that is high in carbohydrates, our body will make a lot of insulin. High insulin levels make PCOS symptoms worse. High insulin can cause the ovaries to produce more male hormones which will make skin and hair issues worse. High insulin can also make you feel hungry and crave carbs. It can make you gain weight since insulin tells your body to “store” energy instead of “burn” it.
We humans (and all other living beings) have natural body cycles called circadian rhythms, which help determine when we eat and sleep. These circadian rhythms impact how our body grows and repairs itself, regulates metabolism, and produces hormones.
Our body functions best when we eat (and sleep) around the same time each day. Ideally we are sleeping when it’s dark out and eat during the daylight, but this is not possible for everyone’s schedule. By functioning “best”, I mean that we feel most rested, have energy, feel hungry before meals, feel satisfied after meals, and our immune system is doing a pretty good job of keeping us well.
If you are someone who eats one or two times a day or who doesn’t eat much during the day but eats a lot at night or who never feels hungry, my suggestion is to start by committing to eating three times a day around the same time each day. Most parents are pretty good at putting their kids on a sleeping and eating schedule. We can see that our kids function best with consistent bedtimes and regular meals and snacks. As adults we are better at hiding when we feel lousy, but we might have that cranky kid inside us craving the structure we provide for others or used to have for ourselves.
Where to start?
- Eat something within an hour of waking up in the morning.
- Try to eat lunch and dinner around the same time each day.
- It’s ok to eat just a small amount if you are not hungry. But don’t skip a meal time!
- Don’t worry so much about what you are eating at this point, but instead focus on eating consistently.
- Notice how you feel after eating.
- If you are hungry soon after a meal, the meal was not large enough or might have lacked a macronutrient (carbs, protein, or fat).
- If you are not hungry for the next meal, the earlier meal may have been too large.
- If you are hungry 3 hours after you ate, then add a snack and this is okay!
- Give your body several weeks to adjust to this new eating pattern. Things to notice:
- When are you feeling hungry? Is it different than before?
- How is your energy level?
- Any changes in what you are craving?
- How is your mood?
Working on how you eat can be just as important as what you eat. And changing how we do things is hard! I know that eating consistently often takes more planning and can be more time consuming, but the payoff can mean having more energy and feeling better. And isn’t that what this is all about?