Eating regularly

For almost everyone, the first step towards changing an overeating pattern is to eat regularly. This means eating no less than 3 times in a day-- even if you have had a full-on binge that day-- and no more than 6. If you’re trying to change a pattern of overeating, it would be natural to look for strategies for avoiding food rather than focus on scheduling eating into your day. But in fact most people who feel out of control of their eating find that long periods without food just perpetuates unhelpful eating patterns-- even if there was once a time when fasting or dieting seemed to be working for them. Some people are just designed to function better with gap of no more than a few hours, whether it’s because of their blood glucose patterns, or how their hunger/satiety system operates, or for another reason (you may be interested in researching what Ayurveda, the ancient approach to health created in India, has to say about this). But even those who can function well physically with 5 hour gaps may have a psychological fear of not getting enough food, or of not getting the kind of food they want. If this fear gets activated by a long gap between eating times, or by not knowing when the next meal will be, overeating follows.

If your unwanted eating patterns involve grazing (eating small amounts repetitively), you may think that the longer the gaps between food, the better. But experience shows achieving long gaps is short-lived and in the long run makes matters worse. By contrast, a structure which still allows eating between 3 and 6 times per day may make a surprising difference to your quality of life. And you’ll probably find that in the long run it’s more sustainable.

So even if your long-term goal is to eat only when you’re hungry, the journey towards that destination will probably involve structuring in regular eating times. This means sticking to the planned times regardless of your hunger levels, and varying the amount instead.

• Think about what your eating patterns have been over the last 2- 3 days. What time did you get up, and what was your first time of eating after that? When was the next one? If you can’t remember, keep a record for a few days to find out.
• What determined when you ate? Was it decided for you (such as the time of your workplace lunch break), or initiated by an external cue (such as seeing food), or by an internal one (such as an emotion, or feeling hungry), or did it seem to just happen?
• Notice what your reaction is to the idea of a plan which involves eating 3 - 6 times per day for a while. If you notice an unwillingness, what is this based on? If you have some concerns about what will happen, consider whether there be some benefit in experimenting to find out. (For example, many people fear that eating regularly will mean eating more, but find that it soon means a reduction in their overall food intake.)
• What challenges might you encounter as you experiment? How could you deal with them in a way that will allow you to continue with the experiment?

Take action
Try out the following regular eating structure first, and then amend it to suit you:
• As soon as you get up, drink a glass of water with some lemon juice (many people find room temperature or even cup-of-tea temperature water suits them best).
• Between half an hour and an hour later, have something to eat. Allow the amount to be determined by your hunger level. If you’re not at all hungry, have something small (for example, 6 almonds). Set a timer to eat again between 3 and 4 1/2 hours later.
• When the timer sounds, have something to eat. Allow the amount to be determined by your hunger level. If you’re not at all hungry, again have something small to eat.
• Continue this process through the day and notice what happens. If you have a time of unplanned eating, reset the timer for 3 - 4 1/2 hours later.

After a few days, take stock. Are times of unwanted eating now fewer, less intense, on different food, easier to stop? Are you thinking or feeling differently about food? What else have you learned about yourself?