As kids are starting back to school, I've noticed a few more news stories on how the blue light from our devices throws off our bodies sleep cycle. In case you haven't heard about this, the wavelengths of radiation released from the blue light of computers, TVs, cell phones, and tablets suppresses our body's release of melatonin (a hormone that helps us fall asleep, among other things). But this is a nutrition blog, why am I talking about sleep?
Well getting a good night's sleep affects more than just how tired we feel, and being chronically sleep deprived can actually increase your risk of weight gain. But this sleep stuff works into a larger problem I've been noticing. Sometimes we're so "plugged in" and over scheduled and "productive" that we become deaf to the signals our body is pre-programmed to send us.
How many times have you had lunch because it was lunch time and not because you were hungry? We've all done it, sometimes work schedules and breaks force us to eat at certain times no matter what. Focusing excessively on counting certain nutrients or calories can cause the same problem, we eat because our calculations tell us to and not our body.
My fiance is currently following a power lifting program and focused on gaining muscle mass. When he starts to feel like he's not seeing gains he'll ask me "Do you think I'm eating enough?' and my answer is always the same - "Are you hungry?"
Do you even know how you body lets you know it's hungry? Have you ever found yourself cold (poor temperature control), tired, and annoyed around 2pm at work? Those are hunger cues. Next time try having an apple with peanut butter instead of a cup of coffee, which can suppress your hunger signals.
Becoming more attune to what our body is telling us also means learning to understand satiety signals (ie when we're done eating, I don't like to say "full" because feeling "full" actually means we've over eaten). The best way to do this is to focus on your meal, meaning not in front of the TV or computer, or while you're browsing on your phone. Sometimes our tech driven world can make us feel like we don't have time to sit down and just enjoy a meal. But I think you'll find life in general is more enjoyable if you can take a few minutes out of your day to just breathe and enjoy your food. When you do that, you'll start to notice a moment in eating when you feel satisfied, not full or stuffed, just content. That's your body saying you've met it's needs and it's okay to be done eating (yes, even if there's still food on that plate. I know that can be difficult if you grew up in the clean plate club. But that food will keep, and leftovers are great!)
I'm going to be honest with you now. I know I've written this whole post in an "it's so easy!" tone, but if you've gone a long time not listening to your body, or maybe not even knowing what to listen for, it may be really difficult and incredibly frustrating to do this. It may feel impossible. It's not impossible, but it is a lifestyle change. Lifestyle changes, no matter what the change, are hard. There will be failure, but that's ok. It's ok to "fail" or "fall off the wagon" as long as you keep going. The only real failure is giving up, because you can do this.
Start small, maybe keep a journal for a week and write down how you feel before and after you eat. Start to notice when it might be real hunger and when maybe it's just "time" to eat. Try ending you meal before you normally would and see how you feel. At the end of the week look back on what you've learned and go from there. And if you need guidance or support, that's what I'm here for.
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.