Lesson two – Meals as love.

If you have any sort of history of food restriction, whether from dieting, or medical stuff, or an eating disorder, or food scarcity of any kind; from financial reasons, or barriers to getting food, or the inability to prepare the food you’ve got – your body is, frankly, not going to trust you.

Even after you start giving yourself permission.

I imagine that, inside all of us, is a small, vulnerable animal (one of my wonderful students calls it the “fuzzy self”) who just needs to know it will be taken care of, and that it will be fed.

And who’s responsible for the care and feeding of fuzzy self? Yep, it’s you.

If you no longer feel clear hunger or fullness signals (aside from desperation hunger or uncomfortable overfullness), there’s probably been a breach of trust, and it’s probably been going on for a while.

If you want to get back to a state of normalcy with hunger and satiety, and to regain comfort with the idea of eating, then it’s time to repair that relationship.

But rebuilding trust requires more than just saying the words of permission; it requires action.

One of my favourite quotes from Epictetus is –

“True happiness is a verb. It is the ongoing, dynamic performance of worthy deeds.”

Part of growing up emotionally is accepting that actions speak louder than words. It is accepting that happiness is not a passively euphoric state of mind randomly visited upon you by the fates – that true happiness is, indeed, something you build from the raw material of your behaviours, and the nitty-gritty of your daily choices. None of which may be all that fun in the immediate-term, but produce tranquility, contentment, and satisfaction over time.

Happiness is an investment of effort.

Love, including self-love, works the same way. As an adolescent, love is the crushing force of intense, uncontrollable sentiment. As a grown-up, you take up love as a practice, something you repair and build over time with kind words, kind actions, responsibility and consideration.

“Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.”

-Erich Fromm

And that’s where we come to the damaged relationship between your mind and body. In order to heal this relationship, you need to express self-love in the form of action.

Even on days when there are no attendant warm fuzzies, you need to stand by a commitment to care for yourself – even if, at first, you must start from the humble position of promising just not to harm yourself any longer. Guess what?

Not eating, whether you do it intentionally or through neglect, is an act of self-harm.

When it comes to food, here is how you fix your relationship to your body: commit to feeding yourself on a regular basis.

It sounds ridiculously obvious, perhaps even simple, but you wouldn’t believe what a struggle it can be, both for practical reasons and for emotional ones.

In a practical sense, the way you implement regular meals and snacks is going to depend a lot on your schedule and where you spend most of your time. Working from home is a lot different than being in an office, or on the road, or at school.

It’s probably the hardest step to take, and it is also probably the most critical. It is the way you live out your intention to stop dieting, to stop restriction, to break the scarcity mindset around food, and to actually communicate to that small, vulnerable animal inside: “I want you to live. You are worth taking care of.”

If you are not eating at regular times already – if you are either grazing constantly throughout the day, or forgetting to eat for long periods of time; simply not eating enough altogether, or alternating eating too little with eating way too much for comfort – the way to begin doing this is to take one step at a time.

Pick one time of the day when you will eat. Pick a time that you know will be the easiest to implement – when you already have a scheduled break during day, or before the day gets busy, or after all your other commitments are finished.

Treat it the way you would treat a standing appointment. It should be something that you know you can make happen, at roughly the same time (give yourself an hour of leeway, because life does happen) every single day.

I literally need to mark my eating times in my daily appointment book because my schedule varies so wildly, and because I eat meals and snacks with students as part of my work.

Write in your day planner, set an alarm on your phone, an appointment reminder on your computer. A piece of paper taped to the fridge, a reminder on your desk. A string tied around your finger. Whatever works.

When I worked a typical nine-to-five job, I made a commitment to take my legally-entitled morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks. When I had an even less structured schedule than I have now, I used a rough interval system of eating every 3 to 4 hours, based on what time I woke up and had breakfast. I checked the clock, and at the end of each meal, I made a mental note that I would need to eat again at X o’clock. Then I simply moved on until next time.

And when I say “meal,” all I mean is the food you would normally eat, gathered together at one time, in one place. You do not have to cook anything, or use real silverware, or sit down at the table. Eat whatever you want to, wherever you want to. If you were going to graze on chips and cookies throughout the day anyway, put the chips and cookies together in front of you and eat them at the appointed time. Then put them away and move on.

The food itself is not important at this stage of the game – we are still working on the bottom level of the hierarchy of food needs.

Through the rest of the day, let yourself eat however you would normally eat – graze, forget to eat, whatever – but when it comes to that one time you have marked aside for an established meal, put food in front of yourself, give yourself permission, and take a least one bite. That’s enough to establish and maintain the habit. Take that bite while you’re working, while you’re standing up, while you’re sitting in your car in the parking lot – I do not care.

Mindfulness is not what we’re working on right now – just make eating happen at one, specified time of the day.

Do this for a full week. Then add one more time during the day that you can make eating happen, and do the exact same thing for another full week. Eat whatever you are already eating, or whatever sounds good to you.

Don’t worry about nutritional balance for now – that will come later. Taking some time for now to set up the framework, even if your diet looks wildly unbalanced for a while, is not going to hurt you. Your body has the ability to balance out nutrition over the long-term – months or years – so that having a perfectly balanced diet at every meal, on every plate, is unnecessary. In fact, right now, trying to do that could trip you up.

Add in meal after meal, snack after snack, week by week. Give yourself permission to eat whatever and as much as you want, and then put food in your mouth at predictable times every single day. That’s it.

Take your legally-mandated 15-minute breaks at work and have a fucking snack so you’re not completely useless at work. I know it looks better to somehow be inefficiently shuffling paper and making rash decisions in the office, but trust me, you’ll be more effective at your job if you just have some damn cookies or half a tuna sandwich and move on, already.

Eat while you’re working, if you have to. Sneak food, if you have to – but just eat.

As you build on meals and snacks by the week, pay attention to times during the day when you get consistently tired, cranky, spacy, or preoccupied with food (for me, this is the afternoon.) This is a sign that you need to work a meal or a snack into that time – so do it.

Most people end up eating between four and six times a day – this is completely normal.

If you need an afternoon snack before you head home, so that you can be sane enough to get dinner, do it. Turn off your computer for the day, or turn your chair away from it, and eat a little something before you leave work. Eat on the bus or the subway, or while you’re walking. Sit in your car for five minutes in the parking lot and have a granola bar. You’ll be safer on the road, and making dinner won’t seem like such a gargantuan chore.

This is eating like a grown-up – being matter-of-fact about your needs, and taking the time to meet them. It is loving yourself in the most important sense of the word.

You do this for your pets, your children, sometimes even the other adults around you – you can certainly do it for yourself, and for the small, scared animal inside who needs to know you are trustworthy.

How do you make regular eating happen? Let me know in comments.







137 responses to “Lesson two – Meals as love.”

  1. Alice Avatar

    I love this.

  2. Kimberly Avatar

    Wow. This has honestly never occurred to me.

  3. dogwatcher Avatar

    thank you for this. i have so many troubles with eating. i will try this. i will keep reading if you keep posting. thank you.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      You’ve got yourself a deal :)

  4. Mary Sue Avatar
    Mary Sue

    One thing I believe needs to be repeated point-blank from Lesson One is:

    There is one golden rule to normal eating, and it is this: no one decides what or how much goes in your mouth but you.

    I know when I started eating more meals at work, people in my office all but put the little flashing light on their heads and a t-shirt that said “Food Police” and were concern trolling like woah.

    Shoot, now that I think about it, it happened again this morning. I’ve gotten very good at letting it roll off my back or confronting people and being done with it, but that is after a lot of practice.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      What the hell is up with workplace Food Police? I totally don’t get it.

      I used to work surrounded by dietitians, nurses, and endocrinologists and they never policed my eating habits. So I have no idea how anyone else can justify doing this to a coworker.

      1. Emerald Avatar

        I also find that weird. I’ve been a civil servant all my life, and I’ve worked for the (actual, law-enforcing) police and for defence, some of that in a military hospital, where I still work. I’ve had MDs cheerfully tell me ‘my wife made a cake, it’s in the break room, help yourself if you want some’…and medically unqualified admin people lecture me about the calories in a banana. Your guess is as good as mine.

        BTW, I am loving these articles. Occasional residual ‘should I be eating this?’ guilt aside, I’m someone who can, if particularly engrossed in something, entirely forget to eat, so this is stuff I need to remember from several different angles. Thank you.

        1. karelys Avatar

          omg! my prior boss used to be like that! SERIOUSLY! calories in a banana!! i’d pull one out and sing its praises because seriously, a good banana is so delicious. And she’d be like “i wouldn’t wanna eat that! it has like 140 calories and so much sugar. 140 calories for a banana!? there is so much for just a fruit!!”

          and I’d think to myself “but I like all 140 of a banana….and 140 calories is nothing in a 1500 calories diet…and man I’m so hungry! and I can’t eat in peace…and all I think about is how ashamed i feel about eating and ENJOYING food…and how skinny I should be….”

          I thank God everyday I don’t work for her anymore!

          1. ako Avatar

            Every time I think it’s possible to make my diet “good enough” for all of the food police out there, someone mentions something like this. Nearly all fruit is mostly sugar! Most of the calories in cucumbers are from sugar! The only fruit I can think of that isn’t mostly
            sugar is avocados, and those are mostly fat.

            Bananas have lots of useful nutrients (including the sugar, which is one of the basic macronutrients). If it makes you feel good, it’s a good thing to eat. (They were always one of my “If I was better, I’d like this” guilt health foods.)

          2. Mary Sue Avatar
            Mary Sue

            Oh, man. I hate bananas. Hate, hate, hate.

            Texture issue. Gushy ushy ugh. Also why I don’t eat pudding.

            If I remember correctly, my coworker was going on and on about how she could never eat what I was having for breakfast (toasted cinnamon swirl bread) since it had carbs or sugar or flavor or something.

            My absent-minded reply was, “Good, since this is mine and I’m not sharing.”

          3. Mercy Avatar

            LOL! Mind if I stick this in my mental arsenal of comebacks?

          4. Kaz Avatar

            I am also a no-banana person. The strange thing is that I actually like the flavour and think I don’t mind the texture, except that while eating one I start gagging at random intervals. I have this sneaking suspicion I had a traumatic banana-related incident in my childhood which my mind has forgotten but my body hasn’t.

            Also, too much sugar and calories in a banana, whaaat? If fruit is one of the Bad Foods, then what on earth is on her good list?

          5. ksol Avatar

            For me it’s banana taste. It’s not offensive, but not something I crave by a long shot. The only thing worse for me is fake banana flavoring in stuff.

            And you will never, ever, EVER satisfy the food police. Even if you’re living on kale… what, you didn’t buy organic? Don’t you care about your HEALTH?? Don’t you know know that you’re going to get some horrible disease and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT???

          6. ako Avatar

            There are several different types of food police, who tend to hold opposing views. So if you went on a diet entirely of locally-grown organic kale, fruitarians would tell you how wrong you were to eat things that were not fruit, low-carb people would tell you how wrong you were to eat a food that was mostly carbs, and people who adhere to certain Paleo diets would fault you for not eating meat. And for a fat person, there is the whole “Do they prove that diet fails, or are they cheating?” argument.

          7. Michelle Avatar

            So right. There are always going to be people out there to tell you that “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG” no matter how you eat.

            Perfect example – I once made the mistake of writing about what method I used to lose weight (which eventually drove me bananas and made me sick.) On the same post, I had commenters tell me that I didn’t diet ENOUGH, and others tell me that I took it TOO FAR, and that if I had just Dieted Correctly, I never would have gotten sick, developed horrible body image, and eventually gained back tons and tons of weight. The ironic part being, I was using the traditional, dietitian-approved, Good Nutrition and Moderate Calorie Restriction method to lose weight. But nothing will ever satisfy the food police.

            You really cannot win if you’re relying on other people to approve of your diet. So you need to go by your own internal signals. If your diet is making you sick (physically OR mentally), or is helping you to feel good and well-nourished, that is the most important feedback you can get.

          8. Empress Avatar

            The midwife I had with my youngest daughter was an ex-nutritionist (nothing against nutritionists!) and one day when I mentioned I was having a banana every day (as part of my breakfast, in the third trimester) she exclaimed “a banana has 100 calories!”
            Apparently I was not allowed 100 calories… a day… in the third trimester. :/

          9. ako Avatar

            One hundred calories is not an exceptionally large breakfast for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman in the third trimester. If you were eating meals that size three times a day (or five or eight or ten times a day), as your regular diet (and not as an occasional “I’ll eat less today and more in a day or two when my stomach
            feels better” thing) that would be adangerously small amount of food for the vast majority of people.

      2. KellyK Avatar

        I’m thinking that real health and nutrition professionals are less likely to be judgey because they *know* that this stuff is complicated. Random busybodies think that they know everything because they read a diet book or an article on MSN.

        1. ako Avatar

          That makes sense. Good nutritional information includes knowing that very few people are one dessert away from death, all food contains nutrients, people need some calories and fat and carbs and salt to live, and nutritional needs are complex and variable and not something one can accurately assess by looking at a person’s size. So a professional isn’t going to assume that everyone in the world needs to avoid stuff that has sugar, salt, carbs, or calories, fat people are all one bite from diabetes and heart attacks, or that food can be neatly divided into “good” and “garbage”.

        2. unscrambled Avatar

          Spot on–I think this is also why the docs with the least nutrition and feeding training are the ones that tend to give patients unsolicited advice of the random nonsense category, and docs that have actually studied nutrition (meaning docs that actually went and did additional training) like to keep it complicated and individual, which is to say, whoop whoop familyfeedingdynamics.com aka Dr. Katja Rowell!

  5. […] Read the rest of the article, heck, read the whole site. She says what I wish I could, only more eloquently and with fewer references to gin and soccer players. // […]

  6. Jesse Avatar

    This feels…revolutionary. Especially given that I feel like I know my body’s needs. But do I meet them, consistently? The idea of focusing on consistency, even if it’s not the “right” snack and it’s just about learning to make it happen every day? Wow. That is a big revolutionary step.

    So. I just at my snack and set the “snack o’clock” cell phone alarm for the next week. I’m looking forward to learning about how my body responds to this. I’m especially interested in finding out what happens when/if I can re-set that trust relationship that’s been broken. The whole “not enough and then way too much” cycle doesn’t feel good and I’d like to find my way back to a more balanced approach for sure.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      omg, “snack o’clock” – I love this.

      1. calliope Avatar

        thank you for a fabulous article.

        like everyone else, i have a….complex….relationship with food.
        i have the most incredibly food police family you can imagine.
        every mouthful is analyzed.
        my mother is all about deacdes of body-hate….it colors every minute of her existence.
        my father is a misogynist, stuck in a hollywood 1950’s ideal of feminine beauty, who spent my childhood bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t affored to send me to ballet classes, so i’d be “thin and learn to carry myself properly”.
        he is constantly on a diet, constantly lies about what he eats, audibly judges whet everyone else eats….i mean he simply cannot prevent himself from commenting, no matter what. (a friend brought gourmet handmade cookies around and we sat down with cups of tea to enjoy them…..dad drops in, eyes off the cookies and we get a lecture, a lot of sucking in of breath, a lot of looking us up and down. it was mortifying, i couldn’t apologise enough to her).
        i have never had a conversation with my brother where food hasn’t come up.
        he was indulging in freak diets from the age of 13 (living on apples only for days on end) and is currently months and months into raw veganism, which feels like an eating disorder to me, but hey, no judgement.
        i asked him to please stop evangelising about it to me, and he hasn’t spoken to me since.
        it is a relief, not to be lectured and lectured and lectured.

        i am fat, my husband is big.
        we grow a lot of our own food.
        we cook from scratch. we make yoghurt and bread. we use organic milk. we love to entertain. we don’t smoke. we drink very moderately. we don’t get sick very often. our work is very physical. we get plenty of rest and we take plenty of holidays.
        but, because we aren’t thin, people just love trying to FIX us!
        and in spite of a lot of work, and a lot of positive things already in place, i am still very prone to just skipping meals and then feeling panicky a few hours later. (missing a meal was always presented as a virtue in my family).
        it is a terrible pattern for me.
        your article has made me really think about this tendency of mine….the idea of creating consistency is so simple and i am determined to do it, starting this morning.i have a very loose schedule, so the four-hourly approach will work best for me.
        i’ve had some breakfast and i know that at midday i have to eat something else.
        and really nice to have some permission!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          You sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job taking care of yourself, despite all the pressure you got (get!) from your family. I hope you give yourself credit for that – it is so, so hard in that situation!

  7. ConsciouslyFrugal Avatar

    Setting a time! Why didn’t I think of that? I have been trying to “wait until I get hungry” while at work, but the problem is–I don’t seem to realize I’m hungry until I’m batshit crazy and ready to cut some mofo. Or work gets so hectic, I can’t be assed. Then I don’t want the lovely meal I made, I want something like a BigMac that’s all heavy and comforting and then later makes me feel like I want to hurl.

    So, set a time. God. Why does the sane and simple elude me so when it comes to taking care of the self?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Don’t worry – I tweeted this revelation a few months ago: now that my schedule is weird, it helps to write down in my dayplanner what times might be good times to eat. It changed my life, and I felt incredibly stupid at the same time.


      I have been trying to “wait until I get hungry” while at work, but the problem is–I don’t seem to realize I’m hungry until I’m batshit crazy

      This describes the vast majority of adults I know. The idea of “eating when hunger strikes” is a nice one, but it usually doesn’t work out in reality for most adults. Because not only do you get absorbed in work, etc. and lose track of time, but it’s nice to actually know a bit ahead of time that you’re going to need to eat soon so that you can PREPARE something, rather than just grabbing random food when you’re already starving.

      1. Adelene Avatar

        > … but it’s nice to actually know a bit ahead of time that you’re going to need to eat soon so that you can PREPARE something, rather than just grabbing random food when you’re already starving.

        This is a bit of a tangent, but it ties into something I’ve been wanting to bring up/ask about: I’ve been fiddling with the idea that hunger isn’t so much a sign of how much I need to eat (as in, cheeseburger vs. double cheeseburger), but a sign of how urgently I need to eat. So far, that actually seems to be working really well, though as you point out it doesn’t work so well for people who aren’t in a position to react to being a little bit hungry by starting to prepare something that’s more in line with what they want to eat but takes a while to be ready. (Like, for me, making a baked potato falls into this category. Potatoes are awesome, but they take like an hour in my toaster oven.) Anyway, this way of thinking about hunger isn’t something I’ve seen anywhere else, and most people do seem to think in terms of ‘feel more hungry = make more food to eat, and then eat it’, and I’m wondering if my way of thinking about it makes sense to anyone else?

        1. Ellie Avatar

          I’ve been fiddling with the idea that hunger isn’t so much a sign of how much I need to eat (as in, cheeseburger vs. double cheeseburger), but a sign of how urgently I need to eat.

          Oh, wow, this makes so much sense to me. I’ve been really struggling with under/overshooting the amount of food I need, either left feeling like I might as well have dropped it down a well for all it affected my stomach, or desperately uncomfortable and overfull. And I realized I was thinking of hunger exactly that way — more hunger = more food needed — but in practice that doesn’t tend to be a good indicator, based on how I feel afterwards. I’m going to start looking at it your way and see what it does. Thanks!

        2. Michelle Avatar

          I think this is a really good point, and not something I’ve thought about in these terms before. But it is totally true that oftentimes the urgency to eat leads to overeating – because you kind of misgauge how much you need, I suppose because you’re mixing up urgency with amounts.

          In this situation, it can be scary but really useful to slow down and give yourself a chance to register how much food you’ve gotten and how you’re feeling. Do you have permission to eat more, even to the point of discomfort? Of course you do. But pausing gives you the choice – maybe it’s worth it to help get over the scary over-hungry feeling, but maybe it’s not. It’s up to you.

          Makes total sense – it’s a great observation and explanation. Thank you :)

        3. naath Avatar

          I totally get that too. I’m working on giving myself permission to eat a freaking SNACK before I start on buying/preparing dinner on the days when I’m in charge of dinner; because that way I can think straight about how much dinner we are actually going to eat. Cooking (or buying pre-prepared) food whilst super-hungry always ends up (for me) with much more food than I actually wanted and the choice between a)guilt from throwing away perfectly good food (which cost money) and b)eating more than I actually wanted to eat.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            I do the same thing. If I’m uber-hungry when shopping, I think “MUST BUY ALL THE FOOD.” I actually think the best way to shop might be to be slightly hungry. Enough that food looks good and you might be willing to try a new food or two, but not enough that you want to just eat the whole store.

        4. Daphne B Avatar
          Daphne B

          So much this. My husband is continually surprised when I do this. I get home and I’m like “I’m utterly starving!” and I eat maybe two slices of pizza and I’m done. He keeps urging me to eat more. No, dude, I’m full now. It’s exactly, exactly about urgency and not amount. Thank you for putting it out there so I can tell you how smart you are. :)

        5. Dominique Avatar

          This post is made of WIN, and I wanted to give Adelene the wonderful microwaved potato trick I got from a friend: take an average sized potato, wash it toroughly, poke it with a knife several times everywhere. Put the potato in the microwave on high setting. Bake for 3 minutes; after 3 minutes, every 30 seconds rotate it and check if it’s cooked (all soft and warm.) Usually, takes around 7 minutes and TA-DAHH a baked potato in less than 1 hour. :D

          1. Adelene Avatar

            I actually know that one, but I like the texture better when the potato is baked for real. Thanks, though. ^.^

          2. Dominique Avatar

            LOL – true. I use that as a quick fix for a baked potato craving. Isn’t that delicious, with sour cream and chives??? :D

          3. Adelene Avatar

            Mmmmmm, yes. ^.^

        6. HAEScoach Avatar

          There is always something to learn and I love that sharing and discussing means we can learn from each other. This post has highlighted a few things for me. The whole hunger thing particularly and family influence.
          I’ve been a student and worked intermittantly so in that case food quality and quantity were always in varying amounts and I think eating became more of whatever I could get when I could get it.
          Then family influence is the whole eat everything on your plate and don’t waste. Again over-riding my own hunger and fullness cues.
          Combine this with an inability to cook for anything less than an army and voila disordered eating. Lol thankfully found HAES and a great network of amazing people like this

      2. Kathy Avatar

        Also when you are out and about and it’s been 3 hours since you had anything in your stomach and know that you won’t be home until another hour or so (happened to me recently, I was starving.) Must remember to plan to take snacks with me when out!

    2. Luna Avatar

      LOL! I hear ya. I don’t recognise my mid-morning hunger until I get nauseated and damn near pass out. Even then I don’t feel hungry, I just know I must eat to stop it. Setting a time is pure genius. Snack o’clock is at 10:30!

  8. WendyRG Avatar

    Generally, I do eat when I’m hungry. The one time in the day that I find difficult is around 4 p.m. Lunch is just a memory and supper’s at 6:30, when everyone gets home from school/work. Thing is, I really want my real, sit-down supper at 4 p.m. I usually at least have some protein (cheese, yoghurt), because that’s what I crave, as well as a few crackers. But to be scrupulously honest, at 4 p.m. I want the whole enchilada (or whatever I’ve planned for supper that night!).

    1. Michelle Avatar

      A lot of people claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’m beginning to believe it’s the afternoon snack that is most important. And country folk (at least in Ontario) generally do eat their main meal of the day pretty early (4 or 5pm at the latest) and it’s actually kind of a nice routine to be in!

  9. TheSasquatch Avatar

    Michelle, you have helped me so much, you don’t even know. I’m really good at the intuitive thing when it comes to what and how much to eat, but I’m one of the people who forget to eat – while also being mad hypoglycemic. Bad combo. I live in constant fear of what I think of as “The Weakness” – that fainting, horrible feeling that my body is literally dying on me as my blood sugar crashes. Especially when I’m out somewhere with no access to quick carbs.

    I thought intuitive eating meant waiting until you felt hungry to eat, but my problem is that I always crash way before I feel hungry, so a lot of times eating becomes more about being in a race against The Weakness, and less about enjoyment and nourishment. It wasn’t until I read what you say about structuring your eating and working actively to keep yourself fed that it clicked for me.

    I now try to work with intervals, not specific times. Two hours tops between small meals/big snacks seems to work best for me. It’s still so hard, and I still crash several times a week because I forget to eat until it’s too late, but at least I know what my optimal strategy is. And I’ll get there!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Man, I used to be there. In my case, it was constant fear of randomly throwing up when I got too hungry (awesome combo of hypoglycemia and birth control pill.) So I used to never allow myself to get hungry, even comfortably hungry. Having regular mealtimes, instead of grazing out of an attempt to pre-empt scary, scary hunger, really fixed that.

      Glad to hear you’ve found a system that helps. It does require some discipline, but applied in a totally different way than we’re normally taught, when it comes to food!

      1. G Avatar

        Wow, I never knew that was a thing for everyone! I used to get super nauseous when I’d get very hungry and low-blood-sugar-y, so much that I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or sick. Luckily I take better care with my eating and that doesn’t happen much anymore!

      2. Wench Avatar

        Holy shit! That’s why I used to get so nauseous when I was hungry! It was the damn pill! I noticed that I don’t get the nausea anymore, but did not connect it to the fact that I also don’t take the pill anymore.

        Something that hasn’t gone away though – when my blood sugar drops (often before I feel hungry, or at least, the feeling of stomach emptiness I associate with hunger), it is like flicking a switch. I become the angriest, hair-triggeriest person. I have literally contemplated doing violence to people because I could hear them moving their mouse on their desk. That hasn’t gone away, but now that I know that happens, t’partner and I are working on being able to say “wow, you’re super-cranky for no reason. Eat something.” It does help.

        But scheduling food. I… that’s a little scary for me! I definitely forget to eat, and skip meals (especially at work), but the idea of putting int dowon in my calendar… whoooo.

        Which probably tells all y’all a whoooole bunch about my really not pretty history with food :)

    2. Kathy Avatar

      Because I have fibromyalgia, I believe I have some form of that. Man it can get bad. Husband shakes if he goes too long without food. I think we may start carrying a cooler in the car with snacks in them.

  10. karelys Avatar

    wow, I’m blown away by this! I’ve been practicing loving myself. I recently went through a miscarriage and noticed that I’m more able to plow through life and all these awful obstacles when I eat enough to not be preocupied by food or it. Also, I feel like fat takes on a negative context when I’m hungry. When I’m not hungry I think of fat as what FAT is and nothing moral or political against myself.

    This morning I ran out of time. So I grabbed a brown bag and filled it with three apples and one banana.

    Since I wasn’t hungry I didn’t make breakfast a priority but knew that eating was necessary to nurture my brain.

    I didn’t force feed myself but I ate before I’d get crazy weak. And have had a grand dam day to be honest! :)

    I feel so loved by these posts you write. Because they are written with answers to people with problems like mine. So real. I didn’t even know it was a problem until I tried these points and felt different, better!

    thank you Fat Nutritionist! you have seriously changed my life. I know it sounds cheesey but it’s so true.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It is kind of an amazing paradox – the more regularly you eat, the less preoccupied you become with food. And thank you :)

      1. Kathy Avatar

        That’s a tough one for me (less preoccupied w/ food) on many levels. Esp. w/ IBS it’s like “if I eat this, is it gonna set me off.” ON a plane home this spring, I had maybe 3 potato chips from hubby’s small bag…big mistake….flared it big time.

  11. Ashley Avatar

    This is very good advice. I’m glad someone else out there is promoting good eating habits.

  12. Annie Avatar

    Since you and Ellyn Satter advocate this (and are basically my nutrition GAWDS), I’ve been trying to do this. When I follow this method, I find myself bingeing less and being less generally occupied by food.

    Sometimes, however, I go through periods where I just don’t want to eat. Nothing seems appealing, occasionally to the point where I find the thought of eating revolting and imagine myself throwing up anything I would eat. I know I must be hungry and that my body needs food, because a certain amount of time has passed, yet I find myself in this battle of wills between knowing I need to eat and not being able to force myself to do so. And the hungrier my body gets, and the more it NEEDS food, the less I can function to power through it and just feed myself.

    It is quite possible that this comes from a history of dieting, severe restriction, bingeing, and compulsive overeating. It could also be a side effect of my anti-depressant. Have you come across this before, and any suggestions?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I have heard people mention this before. In this situation, there is a bit of pressure put on *to* eat, and it can be useful to counteract that pressure. The way I do this is either by telling myself that I don’t HAVE to eat, but I do have to provide myself the opportunity to eat – which means actually sitting down with food in front of me, then giving myself permission to eat or not eat it.

      What also works for me is telling myself that I will have just one bite, then reassess. It depends on how fussy and pressured you feel.

      You also need to make sure the food you’ve selected is something that generally falls on the “I love this” list. You can’t be guaranteed of picking the most awesome thing every single time you sit down to eat, but it can help to rely on old favourites for a while until you get it sorted out.

      1. TheSasquatch Avatar

        I would like to point out that this happens to me when my acid reflux is at its worst: I stop being able to recognize it as acid reflux, and it starts feeling like
        “I’m going to throw up anything I eat”. It then turns into a bad spiral of keeping my stomach empty, letting it stew in acid and feeling more and more repulsed by the thought of food. Forcing down a few crackers, getting the acid under control and reminding myself what is really going on is always my first step.

        Just offered FWIW…

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Good point. A lot of people also seem to get hunger in the form of GI upset (nausea, heartburn, etc.) instead of classic hunger, which of course puts them off eating. Not very fun!

          1. Annie Avatar

            yes, that sounds about right. Thank you. I’m definitely working on managing my stress, and particularly my stress about food. I’ll try giving myself the opportunity while accepting either eating or not eating is fine.

      2. Kathy Avatar

        what does it mean when you completely lose your appetite at a buffet, which happens to me all the time? It’s almost like the sight of all that food completely grosses me out?

        1. Muse of Ire Avatar
          Muse of Ire

          Kathy, that happens to me all the time. I think the key is to try to focus in on the one or two items that you really really want. Just have a dab of whatever it is you like, then see how you feel.

        2. DuckyBelkins Avatar

          This happens to me at school cafeterias and the Golden Corral, I always assumed it was the combined smell of all the foods being overwhelming.

  13. Heidi Aphrodite Avatar

    This resonated with me like crazy. I went through a major depressive episode several years ago that took at least three years to really pull out of. During part of that, I didn’t eat very much at all. I wasn’t hungry. My brain was in fight-or-flight mode for at least a year and I didn’t have any appetite. There were days my stomach cramped so badly I would be doubled over in pain, and days when I was so dizzy and tired that I would almost fall over just in the act of standing up. When I finally recognized that this was a problem, I realized that I Needed To Eat. It didn’t matter what, it just mattered that I ate SOMETHING. Sometimes it was a week of turkey/mayo/white bread sandwiches. Sometimes all I wanted was cookies. I let myself eat what I was hungry for, even if it was the same thing every single day and even if it was “bad” food–at least I was eating again.

    It is because of that experience that I’m terrified of diets. I have friends doing the paleo diet, or juice fasts, or cleanses, or whatever. My theory is that if it’s working, it’s probably indicative of undiagnosed food allergies. I have no food intolerance issues or allergies (I know I’m a bit of an anomaly there), and I refuse to give up the things I like just because someone has assigned them an arbitrary human value. I realize I’m fortunate, but I’m incredibly grateful my body seems to regulate itself and I don’t have major food-related issues. . . I can’t help wondering if I’m fortunate because I never messed with my brain chemistry through dieting. . .

  14. Sim Avatar

    Wow, this post couldn’t have come at a better time (oh, and it’s SO great to have regular posts again!). My mother in law apparently told my daughter the other day that I am fat because I eat too much bad food, and I can feel myself tending towards disordered eating again. (Mother in law is in BIG trouble, she also suggested that my thin 10yo should go on a “healthy diet” WTH!)

    I was just in the process of skipping breakfast because I have a headache and I’m tired and couldn’t be bothered preparing the healthy porridge i’m “supposed” to eat for breakfast.

    So I grabbed a date scone off the bench and ate that. I still feel guilty about the scone though, I’m diabetic and the lists of what i “should” and “shouldn’t” eat overwhelm me at times. But lets face it, a scone is better than nothing, especially when I have to take morning meds! (and it has dates, they’re fruit right!)

    I agree with many of the others, this idea really is revolutionary to me. For so long I have abused my body physically and psychologically, no wonder we don’t trust each other!! I wouldn’t treat any other person as badly as I treat myself!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I wouldn’t bother worrying about the scone! And, in the future if you want to ameliorate guilt pangs, just add some cheese or peanut butter to it and then you can tell yourself that you’re regulating your blood sugar by having protein and fat with the scone :)

      It’s better to have something for breakfast than to not have it at all. Yes, even if you have diabetes.

    2. Kathy Avatar

      note to your mother-in-law: a person can get fat eating any kind of food..just saying…

  15. Twistie Avatar

    Amusingly enough, I happened across this article while I was eating some potato salad, having suddenly realized it was almost three in the afternoon and I hadn’t yet eaten lunch.

    It doesn’t happen often these days, but I have a bad habit of slipping into skipping meals and losing my entire brain. Thank goodness my Sims game crashed when it did or I might have suddenly looked up to find it was four or five before I ate! LOL!

    Growing up, my mother always had dinner on the table at 6:30 sharp. Mr. Twistie sometimes teases me about the fact that I generally try to do the same, even though he’s often not home until at least seven, but I have always found it useful to have one specific time of the day when I know I will have food in front of me, whatever it happens to be, no matter whether I’ve eaten successfully the rest of the day.

    Besides, if I started cooking only after Mr. Twistie gets home… I would wind up eating at midnight waaaaay too often. And he knows when he gets home, there will be food available to eat, too. It may need warming up, but it will be there, guaranteed.

    1. HAEScoach Avatar

      That was another thing growing up we never had a regular mealtime it was all over the place as my mother was often distracted on other projects or whatever. I hated it because I would be both so tired and hungry. Oh boy some new insights are coming into consciousness now thanks

  16. ako Avatar

    This is interesting. I know that the time window for meals that works for me is much bigger than you recommend (I change time zones a lot, and my body’s kind of used to shifts and knowing things will settle down sooner or later), but if I don’t get it within the window, I can definitely tell the difference. I may eat lunch at 11:30 on a day when I’m really hungry and 1:30 on a day when it never really hits, but if it’s two in the afternoon and I haven’t had anything to eat, I can definitely feel it.

    Also, I’ve started getting really good at picking up the non-physical signal. For some reason, when I’m hungry, my brain tends to either focus on fantasy meals or weight-loss diets. If I catch myself googling either one, I know it’s time to go eat.

    (And if I get home from work a bit late, grabbing a small snack is a really good idea, because it gives me an energy boost that helps me get the cooking done, instead of getting stuck in front of the computer going “I really should get dinner soon.”)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Also, I’ve started getting really good at picking up the non-physical signal. For some reason, when I’m hungry, my brain tends to either focus on fantasy meals or weight-loss diets. If I catch myself googling either one, I know it’s time to go eat.

      Totally. I’m planning to write about this next.

      And yeah, there are definitely people for whom it’s normal to be comfortable going longer stretches of time without eating. I’m just not one of them! :)

      1. KellyK Avatar

        Yep, they exist. I’m married to one. I tease him that he has the metabolism of a snake, while mine is more like a hobbit’s.

        1. Daphne B Avatar
          Daphne B

          As another hobbit married to a snake, I’m totally stealing this. :)

          1. KellyK Avatar

            Hehe! Thanks. The worst are the hobbit/snake road trips, especially because I tend to go from “a bit peckish” to “feed me now or I gnaw your arm off” very quickly. Though it’s much better since I realized I could snag a snack when we stop for a gas/bathroom break.

            He suggested Clif bars in the glove box, but I don’t like Clif bars (maybe they taste better after climbing–a lot of “exercise” food and drink tastes lousy until you need it). Snickers bars in the glove box, though, I may have to try that.

          2. HAEScoach Avatar

            uni, conferences, seminars & road trips I pack a variety of nuts (cause they don’t go icky in hot cars or need refridgeration) mixed with some various dried fruits and seeds. Plus lots of water. Because I always do this, I don’t have to think about other food and I’m pretty satisfied. I find I don’t mindlessly eat as much as if it were chips (crisps) or other less nutritious foods that often leave me feeling very tired and uncomfortable. Plus important at uni or conferences etc I am way more alert

  17. Sharon Avatar

    I love this article and all of them for that matter! They are so helpful for someone who has struggled with eating disordered behaviors for most of my life and I am almost 50. I had anorexia in my teens and after years of restricted eating started binging. I have worked hard to achieve body/weight acceptance. No scales in house, I don’t weigh myself or buy women magazines. I don’t binge and rarely overeat but I am still very conscious of food and what I am going to eat. I have to have food available and always bring food with me to work. I have noticed that if I focus too much on eating healthy it starts to feel like a diet, I feel like I might be losing weight and then I rebel and want to eat less healthy food, snack food, etc. I want to eat those foods which I have mentally told myself, and have heard (the voice of my mother) that they are “bad” or “fattening.” The only way I can feel okay about food/eating is to include treats (chocolate, cookies, icecream,etc.) into my diet and try to also eat some healthy food. I guess I am Still, not seeing all food as equal. This artical helps me to feel okay about myself and my food issues! Thank you!

  18. newt Avatar

    My spouse has a weird/interesting sleep disorder – a normal length to his circadian rhythm (slightly more than 24 hours) but broken when it comes to synchronizing it with daylight/society/wall clock. Left to go about his life, he tends to have a random schedule – he has learned to completely ignore “time to go to sleep” signals, then work until he’s exhausted.

    If I chart things, I can actually cut through the noise a bit, and see when it is that he’d naturally be sleeping/waking (which rotates around the clock on a cycle about a month long). I have been using the tools provided by your normal eating theories to try to nudge him towards something saner… “you don’t have to sleep now, but you’ve been up for 12/14 hours, it’s time to take a few hours to wind down.”

    We’ve never managed to eat together on a regular basis (as a result) but now I’m wondering if nudging a meal onto some shift-adjusted anchor time is a good experiment. (His food issues are not major, but he does seem to be “taken by surprise by needing to eat.” We’d both love the feeling of having more predictability, but it’s hard to arrange that for each other.)

  19. Orodemniades Avatar

    Oy, so hard. I’m currently having an undiagnosed chronic pain flareup (2 1/2 years, yay) and a couple of weeks of panic attacks, and what I’ve noticed is that I’m having a really hard time eating. Not only that, I have no interest in cooking, either. Due to major food sensitivities, not cooking is not an option…hence the beef stew I made on Friday and am still eating – 2x a day.

    But it’s difficult, because while I am mostly hungry, I literally find it hard to open my mouth to eat. Add in my suspicion that fruit sugars are, I think, triggering some of those panic attacks and, well…I just don’t know what to do any more. The only things I want to eat are things I shouldn’t, not even in tiny amounts, because they make me feel terrible. Also, they are not things I have to cook.

    Le sigh.

  20. Abacaxi Mamao Avatar

    Revolutionary idea! I carry food that is tasty and healthy around with me all day but almost never feel hungry (although I do crash and get shaky), and I either forget to eat or or can’t/don’t find the time. Thanks! (I will think about it, but I’m not sure I’ll do it. It sounds AWFULLY hard to eat regularly and predictably.)

  21. Tamara Stephenson Avatar

    Having lactose intolerance and also a gluten insensitivity can make eating a bit of a navagation at times. When eating literally makes you sick at times it’s easy to become neurotic and controlling about food. I have fought the urge to focus on food and never want to be one of those people that obsseses over all that goes into to my mouth. I’ve gotten wiser about my eating as I’ve gotten older and I’m more deliberate about my eating and make sure to eat the way you are describing (without any dairy and only limited yeast/gluent) with regular times during the day a good mix of protein and vegetables and some carbohydrates. Unlike some peers I have never been able to starve myself or deny myself of sustanance– it simply doesn’t work for me and if I do forget to eat by noon I’ve become irritated and cannot think clearly and hence make bad choices by grabbing the first food item that I come across. So it has taken a lifetime to get to this point and your words are very powerful. On the flip side to this, there are just as many people who use food as a crutch and live to eat – become literally uplifted by food as if a drug and it defines them, and distort them as a result. I enjoy food, love to cook but food should not define me….it’s a delicate balance I guess. Thanks for providing food for thought….literally

  22. Accidental Tangoiste Avatar

    Wow, this is just really beautiful. Like many others, this is something I needed to hear right now.

    Thank you for writing.

  23. Mercy Avatar

    You suggested setting alarms for meal times in an email to me –wow, must be a couple of years ago by now! I tried that for a long time, but it just didn’t work with the unpredictability of when I’d be up in the morning (whee chronic illness/fatigue/pain). A few posts ago –the one on the importance of snacks– you mentioned the eating every 3-4 hours variation. That works WAY BETTER for me –two months later, I don’t even need to set alarms as reminders! (that might change if I got a job that took me out of the house, I realize…)

    My only problem now is, I’m often crashing around the time of the second time-to-eat because 3-4 hours after I first eat in the morning is 5-6 hours after I get up, usually (I can’t eat right after I get up for medication reasons), and that’s the most common time for me to get can’t-stay-upright tired. So I have to decide, try to eat something or sleep first?

    But I think I’ve only gotten to the so-hungry-I-feel-sick-to-my-stomach stage once in the last two months, and I haven’t had the hungry-but-can’t-make-myself-eat problem once!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yay! Glad to hear you found a system that made it work out better. Medication throws a big wrench in the works, I know. I have to take mine after I eat, or else take it on an empty stomach and wait at least 3-4 hours before I eat. And that is not good times for me.

      1. Ellie Avatar

        I’m trying to figure out how to handle mornings right now, because I tend to wake up ravenous (no matter what/when I ate the night before) but I have to wait an hour after taking insulin to eat, and by then I’m usually ready to chew off my own arm. I suppose I need to experiment and find out if there are any foods that have a small enough effect on blood sugar to eat without taking insulin first. I’d really like to have one morning where I can concentrate on finding socks that match and Zen meditation and not so hungry so hungry I’m so hungry is it time to eat yet? so hungry

        1. Courtney Avatar

          Can you adjust the insulin? You may not want to fudge with something that seems to be working, but also maybe this isn’t really working for you.

          1. Ellie Avatar

            Heh. Okay, so I read this comment when you posted it, and I was all, “Change insulins? You mean, stop trying to make this one work? NOOO I MUST BE PERFECT I CANNOT GIVE UP QUITTING IS FAILURE.”

            Then I went to an appointment with a diabetic educator today and she was like, “I literally have no idea why anybody gave you this type of insulin in the first place. It’s ridiculous. Here’s some that works in under fifteen minutes.”

            So, um, we’ll see how it goes! ^_^

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Interesting! So they’ve decided that fast-acting is a better choice for you? I hope it helps!

          3. Aiyesha Avatar

            I know your comment was a while ago, but I had to jump in – there IS something you can eat that won’t affect your blood-sugar, it’s coconut oil! Google if you want to find out more – as for eating it, it doesn’t taste good to me, not the refined or unrefined stuff (both are just as good for you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) but you can melt a tablespoon of it in an inch or two of freshly-boiled water, wait for it to cool a little, and then just hold your nose and slug it down.

  24. commenter1 Avatar

    Thanks for writing this – I lost about 35kg by not eating (and hating every minute of it), with the horrible side effect of hating my body and food. Problem is, I LOVE food. And then I eat it and I hate it again. Being thin doesn’t really seem worth the body-hating for me :\. It would be great if Everything, Everywhere wasn’t telling me that I needed to stay thin.

    I’m going to give your method a go – I’ve planned breakfast for every morning at 7am for the next week. Let’s hope I can keep it up. You’re an inspiration :)

  25. Pthalo Avatar

    I have a history of an eating disorder and food security issues. My eating disorder that I had as a kid/teenager stemmed from the food security issues, trying to help out my family by eating less, and now that I’m an adult I still have problems with it. My problems aren’t related to body image at all, but I do have problems understanding that I deserve food and that it’s not a waste of money when money is tight. I also don’t have a working fridge or freezer and can’t afford to replace them right now. They’ve been broken for a long while.

    Recently, a fairly cheap restaurant opened in my neighbourhood which gives me access to a wide variety of food (they cook a different 3 meals a day, and I can order them in advance. they hold it for me till i get in for lunch). Eating there is much cheaper than it would be to buy the ingredients and cook them at home, especially given how hard it is to cook for one person, and buy small enough quantities of food to prevent spoilage. So, as of this summer I’ve started eating once a day. (This was an improvement, because I’d previously been eating less).

    I never used to get hungry — I’d just get a headache. Now I’m getting less headaches, but as my body has gotten used to one meal a day, I’ve started getting hungry again for the first time in decades. And I’m getting hungry not just before I get my daily meal, but some hours later. I’m not entirely sure I can afford two meals a day, but I know that hunger is a good sign that my body is starting to trust me. I want to reward it for communicating with hunger instead of headache. But I’m not sure what to do. I might be able to work a second meal into my budget but I panic about it and I fret about money and I fret about getting used to a second meal and having to later incorporate a third, and then snacks.

    I’m also not very good yet at timing my daily meal. Sometimes I make it down for lunch around noon. Yesterday I made it down for lunch at 9pm. It varies. It’s 2:40pm now. I’m hungry. I work from home, so I’m still in my pyjamas. I’m eating more than I have in years. I’m probably up to a thousand calories a day (way too little, I know). And I’m hungrier than ever. It’s frustrating.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It is really hard – but it’s true that if you start eating again after a long period of restriction, you’re going to feel more hungry as those hunger signals spring back to life. Since you ignored them for a long time, I kind of imagine they went silent, or were dulled to a great extent and only presented in the form of headaches.

      Feeling hungry is going to feel strange and uncomfortable, I’m sure, but wow, you have really made a big first step. That’s amazing work.

      For a while you’re going to continue feeling hungry even though you’re eating more, and maybe even ravenously hungry. There’s a bit of a “refeeding” period that needs to happen until your body feels safe and well-nourished again. This happened to the young men in the Minnesota Starvation Study – after lifting the calorie restriction and allowing them to eat ad libitum, they reported being constantly hungry despite sometimes eating tens of thousands of calories in a day. And not until they had regained a significant amount of weight did the hunger really seem to go away.

      1. Pthalo Avatar

        It’s good to know the hunger will level out eventually.

        I’m not underweight, despite having eaten so little for so long. There were days I didn’t eat and other days I’d try to make up for it, so maybe it averaged out somewhat.

        I think my metabolism slowed down to compensate. I’ve lost a little bit of weight since I started eating more regularly. My body image changes independently of my weight. Sometimes I see myself as larger and sometimes smaller, so it’s hard to have a clear idea of what I look like, but I’m not too bothered by it. I think I’m a little bit curvy, but it’s hard to tell. My body will eventually settle into a weight that it likes. I don’t know if that will be more or less than I weigh now.

        Breakfast or dinner will probably be the next step. I can do breakfast for an extra dollar a day, and the breakfast I have in mind (lángos – fry bread with garlic and cheese) fills me up for a few hours. (I live in Hungary but I’ll use US dollars in my comments because you probably aren’t familiar with our currency.)

        I could also do dinner for a dollar a day. The place I get lunch at sells large sandwiches for $1 with a generous helping of meat, tomatoes and cucumbers, so now that the weather is cooling off I can store it outside, covered and hanging from the window till I’m ready to eat it. I tried that tonight and it was still cold when I got to it. Lunch is $3. Today, I got there around 5pm and had bolognese spaghetti with cheese. Yesterday, there was fruit soup, and rice with a capsicum-tomato-onion sauce with chicken. The day before I had a hamburger and fruit soup.

        For snacks, once I incorporate them, I’m guessing rolls may be the way to go. A roll of bread is $0.10.

        Three meals and three snacks would be $5.30 a day, which is almost twice what I currently spend. It seems wasteful. I’m thinking of cutting out the soup, though. Usually it’s good, but today the milk in it had curdled, so I couldn’t eat it. The soup is great, except once or twice a week when it’s curdled, and not ordering it would save $1. I could have 3 meals and 3 snacks (but no soup) for $4.30 a day. That’s less scary.

        I guess I’ll just have to take it slow. I can try for breakfast, and if I don’t manage breakfast, then I’ll get lunch and a sandwich for later. On Sunday, when I fill out next week’s menu, I won’t order the soup, so going up to two meals a day won’t cost me anything. Once I’m used to that amount of nutrition, I can try to get up to three meals a day, and later I can try for snacks.

        1. ako Avatar

          That really doesn’t sound at all wasteful. A lot of people spend that much on one lunch. Food is one of the most basic necessities (along with water, and shelter adequate to avoid death by freezing), and if you can afford to spend that much on feeding yourself, it’s
          worth it.

          If it’s easier to work your way up, or you can talk yourself into getting another meal by cutting soup, that can be a good way to do it. But you definitely are not
          being wasteful by spending that money to feed yourself.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            Absolutely not wasteful at all. Like ako said, lots of people spend that on a single meal, or spend twice that on a single meal, all the time.

            I think you’re right about working up gradually. It’ll probably take some time to get used to eating regularly.

      2. karelys Avatar

        omg! I can so relate to this! I was absolutely thrown off when i started eating “normal” again or trying to. I didn’t even know what hunger felt like so I would think that unless I was dying and about to pass out I wasn’t hungry.

  26. Joy Avatar

    My fuzzy self is jumping up and down about all this. I get so caught up in “eating better” that I forget, sometimes, that just *eating*, just giving my body food at regular intervals, is, in itself, an act of love.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  27. […] currently dealing with dieting, eating disorders or food restrictions, there is a lot to learn from this post by the Fat Nutriotionist. Some of my favorite parts include her discussion of the little […]

  28. itchbay Avatar

    Yes, this! It really is about self-love and self-care! I have never really missed a meal, but I know people who do, regularly, and I’ve always wondered how to help them.

    My SO will occasionally skip lunch and come home in a foul mood. I get upset with him precisely because, to me, it’s as though he’s not taking basic care of himself, and creating an untenable situation that affects me.

  29. Courtney Avatar

    Thank you. For this post and your site… just, thanks!

  30. Rachel Avatar

    Oh my gosh yes! Ugh, and the people complaining about the food police – that’s awful! Talk about making it SO much harder. OK so everything in this article, now that I’ve read it, seems totally obvious yet I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT BEFORE! Noones ever said this to me before! How fucked up is that? Thank goodness for you Michelle! You are brave and radical to say this sensible stuff!

  31. Nicholosophy Avatar

    I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. I just booked in an appointment for tomorrow at 12pm to eat. And for 12pm every day after that. I didn’t expect it to be an emotional experience, but here I am.

  32. Ega Avatar

    This is completely brilliant. And you are right– happiness and love take effort. Thank you for putting things into such frank, meaningful terms.

  33. Dominique Avatar

    Hey, I’ve got a double question about this: I’m not having trouble setting appointments, but I see that I make appointments to eat «something healthy» (fruits and vegetables, whole grain, lean meat) and I end up grazing on sweets during the day. How can I address that? plus, I REALLY PREFER fruit to veggies. I’m eating like… 4 fruits and 1 veggie a day. People say it’s bad for your blood sugar and that you must eat veggies to balance it. What do you think??

    1. ako Avatar

      How do you feel, physically, when you eat like that? I know that I have a much easier time getting myself to change eating habits when the less-healthy option actually feels less healthy for me, then when it’s something other people tell me.

      Also, are you currently having blood sugar issues?

    2. Adelene Avatar

      It seems to me that it might actually be more in keeping with the spirit of the exercise for you to (temporarily, perhaps) make appointments to eat the sweets rather than the ‘something healthy’. A big part of the point is to make it clearer to yourself that you’re ‘on your side’ and not depriving yourself of anything, after all.

      Also, yeah, what ako said: How do you feel when you eat sweets/fruit? If it feels okay, and you’re not, say, ending up with a low blood sugar crash a few hours later or anything, then it probably is okay.

    3. Michelle Avatar

      I would try to make a point of adding some sweets TO your meals, as though it’s another food group.

      There is nothing wrong with eating fruits over veggies. If you’re not having some weird reaction to them, most of the nutrition you’re getting from fruit is similar to what you would get from veggies, just with a bit of sugar added.

      If your pancreas works, you do not need to worry about the sugar so much. Eating sugar does not cause diabetes.

  34. Julia H. Avatar

    What’s important for me is to take a look at my schedule for the day & figure out a general idea of when I’ll eat. I don’t like waiting longer than 3-4 hours between eating (and neither does my body!), so I try to make sure that I can have something available around those times!

  35. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar
    Zaftig Zeitgeist

    I like preparing meals that I know I will like at the weekend, when I have plenty of time, and freezing them in single portions. I can then have a delicious supper with no more effort than putting something in a microwave. Sometimes I’ll have baked beans or bread and margarine or instant mash or something to go with whatever I’ve made. I also know that I need to make my sandwiches for work the night before, if I leave it until the morning I won’t have the time and will just grab plain bread as I head out of the door to catch the train.

  36. […] Gorgeous: The Fat Nutritionist’s take on food as love. […]

  37. Kathy Avatar

    I struggle with the emotional/mental aspects of eating. Here’s how the cycle often goes for me: Since I have IBS, almost anything I eat is a possible “mine field” for IBS symptoms–in my case, lots of bloating, gas, & diarrhea if it’s really bad. So, I eat food, have bloating, feel like shit about myself because of how I look, and the bigger the bloat=the more self hatred. Lather, rinse repeat. Some days I wish I could just take a pill that would give me all the nutrition my body needs. Sigh.

    Thus I learn to associate food with self-hatred.

    I tried self talk “I have a medical condition that causes bloating” but it only helped a little bit.


    1. KellyK Avatar

      It might be helpful to make sure you own clothes that fit comfortably when you’re bloated, because being in tight clothes seems to up the negative self-talk, at least for me.

      Also, my guess is that you notice it more than anyone else does. Do you have sympathetic and grounded friends or family members who can give you a reality check?

      Plus, even if you hate how you look when you’re bloated, you don’t owe anyone pretty, yourself included. Even if you really truly were ugly when bloated (and I’m betting you’re not), you would be no less worthy of love than a supermodel.

      Trying to watch less TV/read fewer magazines and spend more time looking at average, everyday people might help normalize how you look in your own head (e.g., go to the Adipositivity website or just people-watch while you go about your daily routine).

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Thanks for the suggestions, heading over to Adipositivity now…

  38. curiosa Avatar

    Sorry if you think this is a bit of a tangent, but what’s your opinion on religious fasting? Is that self-harm or a special case?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I suppose it depends on the person – but most religious fasting things (that I’m aware of) stipulate that, if you’re in a condition in which fasting would be harmful, you’re exempt.

      Mostly, I think religious fasting is up to the individual and is totally fine if you’re not having big issues with food overall.

      1. Jen Avatar

        Just thought I’d throw in that as a religious person who has food issues I have never actually been able to complete a religious fast. My food issues get all tangled up with the process of fasting – and I end up losing the spiritual point of the fast to begin with. Fortunately I do not belong to a religion that requires me to fast – but I do wish it was something I could do without completely freaking myself out.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I suspect that this would happen to me, as well, and I would need to opt out of fasting.

          Ellyn Satter places religious fasting, I believe, at the top of her hierarchy of food needs, meaning that you need to be in a place where your eating is very, very orderly and normal in order for fasting to be something that you can do in a healthy manner.

          Thanks for throwing in :)

      2. KellyK Avatar

        For me personally, I’ve never been able to separate religious fasting or the semi-fast of “give something up for Lent” from weight loss or moralizing about food. Because we talk about eating in religious terms anyway (ooh, chocolate, so sinful!), it has the potential to get really tangled and messed up.

        I think that for someone who has a very healthy and stable relationship with food overall, it wouldnt’ necessarily be a bad thing, and it’s not that fasting in and of itself is bad, just the way it intersects with other things.

    2. Kathy Avatar

      FWIW, my 2 cents, a “fast” does not necessarily have to be from food, if one is doing a “fast” for spiritual reasons..one can “fast” fr. technology for example or entertainment or shopping or….

      1. KellyK Avatar

        That makes a lot of sense, and might be a good option for someone who can’t fast from food (whether it’ll mess up their eating habits or their blood sugar) but still wants to participate.

  39. Heather Avatar

    I found this particularly triggering and I’m not sure why. As I read it made me feel anxious (in a scared, I need to run away, type of way) and jittery and a litle panicked in addition to that deep horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that is usually reserved for self tormenting (like when you remember that thing you messed up 10 years ago and your stomach just falls as you replay it in your head?). I’ve been practicing intuitive eating for about a year now.. but i still don’t eat at regular times (because I’m just not hungry at regular times and I sometimes feel sick in the mornings anyway). Is eating when you’re not hungry counter productive to intuitive eating? Or am I only not hungry because my signals are all out of whack (or it could just be the hypothyroidism- i hear a lot of thyroid patients have no appetite in the mornings)?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      If what you’re doing works for you, keep doing it. There is no requirement that anyone, anywhere, eat regular meals if it makes them feel weird or scared.

      Not feeling hunger could be due to lots of things – medication, and definitely your thyroid stuff could contribute. It could maybe be because you’re just not in the habit of eating at regular times, but that still doesn’t mean you’re a bad eater or that you’re doing it all wrong or anything.

      If the lack of hunger really bothers you, you might try experimenting with eating appointments for a week, but it is definitely not a good thing to try if you feel triggered and freaked out by it.

  40. Gene Avatar

    I’d like to do this, but I have a few concerns. First, I kind of suck at doing anything at the same time every day. Routines have never been easy for me.

    Adding to that, I have a wildly irregular work schedule, so I can’t schedule food at the same time every day and have it not be at work.

    Which wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t really nervous about eating in front of people. My coworkers can do it, but I get so freaked out that I put it off for hours, even if I’m really hungry and it’s physically uncomfortable.

    Any advice?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      For this, I usually suggest people try to eat at regular intervals rather than regular times. That way, it doesn’t matter if you wake up and go to bed at a different time each day. Also, there’s flexibility with it – as long as I eat every 3 to 5 hours, I’m generally a happy girl.

      The work nervousness thing, yeah. That’s rough. If you can find a safe place to eat for a while, do so – your car, in an empty office or room somewhere, the stairwell, outside on a bench, in front of your computer with back turned to everyone – whatever you need to do to make eating happen.

  41. Ali Avatar

    This is so well put. I have been struggling with a raging eating disorder for fifteen years. I eat too much or not enough, I vomit, I starve myself. And just very recently I am trying to do better. I only started eating lunch within the last two years. It was so hard. Now I’ve incorporated breakfast as well. I am guilty of not snacking and waiting far too long to eat. But I’m getting there and the way you spelled this out is right on and very poignant.

  42. Empress Avatar

    I’m loving the image of the ‘fuzzy self’. It might be just the thing I need to talk myself down from my occasional impulses to crash diet.

  43. Kaz Avatar

    Oh wow, this is something that I think I could try. My eating schedule is all over the place – which is sort of depressing; I actually have suspected IBS, the GP prescribed me pills to take half an hour before I eat to see if they help, but I’ve never managed to take them because I essentially never know that I’m going to eat half an hour beforehand! But if I pick some early afternoon time that might end up working out. Hmm.

    I do love the ‘fuzzy self’ idea, and the breach of trust thing is something I’ve noticed as well. When I was in my teens, I’d get hungry at regular intervals – e.g. I had to have breakfast and if I delayed lunch by so much as half an hour I’d end up needing to sort out food stat because it felt as though my stomach was about to start digesting other organs. But when I went to uni, I struggled with regular meals a lot – especially in my first year, where I’d frequently end up not eating for two days or something like it because I couldn’t manage to leave my room. And after that I noticed my sense of hunger was totally out of whack, that it was as if my body had figured that since I wouldn’t feed it anyway it didn’t have to bother sending the hungry signals. It hasn’t recovered since – often I’ll end up feeling hungry but then the feeling goes away if I don’t do anything about it very soon (this happens to me a lot when I end up going to sleep hungry, that I wake up feeling not hungry in the morning), or I only realise that I’m starving once I start eating. People stare at me when they ask me if I’m hungry and I answer “I don’t know?” but it’s true!

  44. Fromthefuture Avatar

    I had a really really long comment about this, which detailed every reason why I have been unable to trust myself and every thing that’s gone wrong/is wrong with everything. I wasn’t planning on writing it, but for some reason it was super cathartic. I don’t want to be obnoxious though, so if I don’t post it, or if it’s not a good idea to post it, I just want to say that this is what I want more than anything in the world- this trust thing- and furthermore, it terrifies me more than anything. Fucked right?

  45. Fromthefuture Avatar

    That said, are there any venues where I could post such a thing? I read this site all the time just to get some sanity and perspective. I’d like to add my voice somewhere, just once. I don’t know if I fit into this blogosphere, because my weight is pretty low. Does that matter? Anyway, please keep writing Michelle. A lot of us really need to hear this over and over and over. Last week I almost bought green tea pills. So please, over and over and over till it gets in there.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      If you want to add it here, please feel free. Your weight really doesn’t matter – I think so many of us are looking to be able to trust ourselves with food, even if we’re not fat.

  46. Anita Avatar

    Oh, I needed to reread this. I have not been doing well at the regular eating thing.

    I definitely have a fuzzy self, and it’s a contrarian. I don’t even *like* bananas, but I now want to go eat one just because I can.

    TW – Food deprivation and diet ideation.
    I moved, and that weirdly changed all my eating patterns – and I picked up another job, so I’m at two jobs, 8 credits of hard chemistry stuff, and I’m basically a crazy person. The thing is, I feel hungry, but don’t feel like eating is worth the energy required. Yesterday by 6:30 pm, I’d had two chocolate-covered espresso beans and a half pint of milk. Which I know is not ideal – I cannot pass biochem unless I have some brain food. Then I was doing diabetes research for a paper, and discovered that the diabetes diet recommendations are harmful – their “ideal” breakfast is 165 calories. Which . . . if a single egg-white omelet and a piece of ham is enough for you, great. I’m not really a breakfast person myself. But that doesn’t seem ideal to me at all. But it’s triggering all sorts of diet thoughts that I thought I was over. (If 165 calories is ideal, no food until night is EVEN BETTER, right?)

    I’m going to go get a bagel. And cream cheese. And coffee. And spend my legally mandated break eating it in the stairwell where I won’t be interrupted every 15 seconds.

    1. FatChickinLycra Avatar

      165 calories?? You have got to be kidding me. That’s barely more than a snack. I’d be chewing on my keyboard within half an hour if that was all I had for breakfast. Out of curiosity, where did you find those recommendations?

    2. Michelle Avatar

      There’s a reason there is a higher risk of eating disorders in the Type 1 DM population. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

      Enjoy your break. I used to eat in stairwells at work all the time :D

    3. KellyK Avatar

      165 calories? As a *meal*?? That’s severely messed up.

      Possible Trigger–more calorie-counting stuff

      Even when I was actively trying to lose weight, breakfast still needed to be 300 calories bare minimum. Now, I figure it doesn’t count as a meal unless it has 500 calories. Not that I count unless I’m getting something pre-packaged, and even at that, it’s more gauging to make sure I get enough food. Nothing like getting a “meal” that you find only has 200-odd calories and wondering why you’re ready to gnaw your own arm off an hour or two later.

  47. P G Avatar
    P G

    I lost my ability to really feel hunger about four years back when I took a six month dive into disordered eating. I’ve been unable to either recognize or experience physical hunger cues ever since, even though I have been eating “freely” for almost two years now with only a small handful of lapses. I’ve had to rely on emotional cues, and I really hate that.

    Is this maybe because I don’t eat at regular times? I can’t do that (emotional thing, not due to time constraints) but I’d really love to know when I’m hungry. Do I need to wait longer, or is there something I could work on?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hmmm – if eating regular meals is too hard for you, I really think it’s time to see someone who specializes in disordered eating. Don’t get me wrong – lots of us have disordered thoughts/habits around food, but when it’s impeding your abilility to do basic self-care tasks like eating regularly, you need a hand to get you back on level ground.

      I would look for a therapist who specializes in eating disorders if you can. The emotional stuff is really important to deal with, to at least get to a place where eating can happen. If you don’t have access to a therapist referral service in your area or through your insurance, I’ve had luck with searching for therapists on the Psychology Today website.


  48. Natasha Avatar

    I seem to find that when I am employed and buying my own food, it is incredibly easy to eat at least once a day at the same time and eat on regular intervals. When I am unemployed though and someone else is buying the food I find it incredibly hard to do so. There is always the problems of I either can’t eat something because it has to be saved for someone, someone wants you to wait until the meal is made for everyone or they don’t want you eat any of it until everyone is ready to eat it. It also makes it hard because people get upset when you ask for food just for you unless it is the cheapest thing possible regardless of your dietary needs. As miserable as this makes me, all it does is mess up my eating habits until the next time I find a job and can go back to buying my own food again.

  49. Jo Avatar

    Okay. I’m freaking out over eating. I’m so zonked when my 2 yr old goes for a nap I end up eating goldfish crackers. Yes, i feel guilty that he eats goldfish crackers. I feel guilty eating meat or cheese shouldn’t I be vegan? I ate so many salads I can’t stand salad… Argh!

    Aren’t processed foods going to kill me? Pizza? Lovely crusty French bread?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Are processed foods going to kill you? Nope, not unless you’re allergic to them in some way.

      More importantly – do they make you a bad mother? A bad person? Nope.

      Food is food – if it contains calories, it contains nutrition by definition. And those particular things you mentioned contain way more than energy-providing nutrients, they also have plenty of vitamins and minerals.

      If you force yourself to eat salad in the short term, you will destroy your relationship to it (and possibly other vegetables) in the long term. Counterproductive.

      You need to give yourself permission to eat processed food – again, it is food. It is not poison, and it is not the arbiter of your mothering skills. It gets the job done on busy days, and on days when you just need that particular flavour and mouthfeel, or that particular comfort.

      Salad is food too. It is not a merit badge of some kind. As such, you have permission to like it or dislike it, to want it sometimes and not others. To go through phases with it, just like with every food. In short, you have permission to not eat it when you don’t feel like it.

      1. Jo Avatar

        I don’t know. I feel like I have to be an ethical, conscious, eating little mostly plants Michael Pollan acolyte . Like if I made better food choices I’d look better, be healthier, etc.
        Plus what is this 80% full deal ? How the heck can I tell that? Isn’t that still restriction?

        Ugh. I hate this.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          …and this is why I find Pollan’s message so potentially destructive.

          Is it helping you to eat better? No. It is making you beat yourself up and feel crappy.

          And yes, requiring yourself to reach only X % of fullness can be used as a sneaky restriction tactic. I would throw that out the window entirely since it is causing you issues. Eat as much as you want to eat, whether that means 100% full or not.

          You’re a grown-up…you can do this :)