I recall an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm a few years back where Larry David was arguing with someone (as he’s wont to do) over the proper time to eat dinner. He was adamant that dinner is traditionally eaten between the hours of 5 PM and 8 PM. Not before. Not after. Since the majority of Americans don’t have the luxury of living off Seinfeld residuals, we have to go to work, and sometimes that means we can’t eat at normal hours, or in any sort of regular intervals. A constantly rotating work schedule or very long shifts present a challenge to eating right, but can certainly be overcome with proper planning and a positive outlook.
Your body is a creature of habit. It gets used to routines, and the chemical processes that go on inside of it are on a set schedule. Consequently, if you do something to throw those off, like drastically altering your eating habits, it tends to react poorly. The best way to fix this is to outsmart your body, and get it on a schedule that works for the both of you.
Here are some tips on how to do that:
1. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re busted no matter what. Therefore, the first order of business is to adjust your sleep schedule. Cutting out crucial hours of sleep will affect the results you see from not only your diet, but your workout as well. Not getting enough sleep is detrimental to your health and metabolism, even if you eat during “optimal” periods. Want more proof? Check out this recent newsletter article that offers a rather stark warning. (See “The Sleep Solution: 4 Ways to Get the Rest You Need to Boost Results!” in the Related Articles section below.) The point here is that if working late causes you to lose sleep, you will be doing damage to your body no matter how well you eat, and all the subsequent tips mentioned below will be for naught.
2. Late-night eating. We’ve always heard that eating right before bed is bad because the body doesn’t get a chance to burn those calories off, and instead converts the food into fat. At the same time, depriving your body of nutrients isn’t healthy either, so what’s the answer?
In a recent study at Northwestern University, scientists discovered that a group of mice who were only allowed to eat a high-fat diet during an non-optimal eating period (nighttime) gained over twice as much weight as mice only allowed to eat during an optimal eating period (daytime). In other words, mice that ate before bed got fat. While researchers are as yet unable to pinpoint a single reason for this discrepancy, “the interplay between body temperature, metabolic hormones such as leptin, and the sleep-wake cycle” were determined to be the biggest contributing factors.
So if you can avoid eating before bed, do. But if you’re hard pressed, keep it small and try to space it as far away from sleep as possible.
3. Eat moderately throughout the day. This is the best solution to avoid getting those deep hunger pangs at night when you get home, and to set your body’s metabolism on an effective rhythm. This is especially true for people whose jobs force them to be immobile, and prevent them from getting enough natural exercise throughout the day to allow them to burn off a few of the calories from a heavy lunch. If you’re working a double shift and find yourself awake for 20 plus hours, try taking a portion block from one of your meals and using it as a snack later on instead. If you’re on your feet most of the time and have an active job, adding an extra 200 to 300 balanced calories to your diet shouldn’t be a problem. Either way, try to eat every 3 hours, and avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before bed.
4. Skipping meals is not the answer. You may be tempted to fast and skip meals altogether, reducing your daily caloric intake in the hopes that consuming fewer calories will lead to weight loss. The problem with this logic is that drastically reducing your caloric intake can also cause your body’s metabolism to slow down and stop converting food into energy. In order to lose weight, your body needs fuel. Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume, not simply by eating less. It may be counterintuitive, but eating less without exercising is very unhealthy, and will leave you feeling tired and listless, due to a dip in blood sugar. If you want to be super-fit and lean, you have to eat and exercise to turn your body into a fat-burning machine rather than a fat-storing machine.
“Cyprindon” from the Beachbody® Message Boards elaborates on the potentially harmful side effects of allowing your body to become acclimated to fewer daily calories over the long term and enter what is referred to as starvation mode:
“You are putting less calories toward body heat production and toward activity than you would at a higher calorie level. You may or may not notice that you feel colder than you did at a higher calorie intake. You may or may not notice that you simply move slower and you move less all day long through your activities. You may even be sleeping more than before. You may also be putting less calories toward egg production, immune system function, tissue repair, and other things.”
5. Plan ahead. Don’t let your work schedule be an excuse for living an unhealthy lifestyle. If you know you’ll be working at dinnertime, find a time to eat healthy snacks and small meals while on the job. It may be difficult at first, and you might need to try out a few schedules, but being smart and proactive will usually supply an answer. Still don’t think it’s possible? Take it from Beachbody Message Boards contributor “PrimaBallerina.” She writes:
“I don’t get home from work until 10 or 10:30 at night. I didn’t think I had the option of eating at work. I teach dance, and I have classes back to back to back. I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. I had to make time to eat. I teach ballet 95% of the time, and I teach a certain method where they do the same thing to the same music, so I take the opportunity to eat a dinner that I pack while they’re doing the stuff they know well. I’m still watching and working, but I’m taking care of myself too! I agree with everybody else, pack a dinner!”
Shakeology® is an excellent way to give your body the nutrition it needs in a quick and easy way, and is very conducive to an on-the-go lifestyle. Other quick, portable, and healthy snacks include fresh fruit, chopped-up veggies, or raw nuts.
The bottom line is that you are the only person who can take control of your health. If you’re not really committed to taking the necessary steps to losing weight and getting fit, then there are any number of excuses you could make to explain why it’s just not possible for you. Don’t be lured by the temptation of the drive-thru, and avoid putting yourself in situations where the temptation to eat poorly is the easiest option. As soon as you start making excuses for yourself, you’ve lost. In truth, successful people are always the ones who persisted despite any obstacles or challenges that stood before them. Life will always get in the way, so make being healthy a necessity, not a choice. If you can schedule a time to work out every day, then you can certainly coordinate an appropriate eating schedule as well.