Ask a Health Coach: When Should I Be Eating?

Beautiful young woman working from home. African-american woman working from home using laptop and having a breakfast. Businesswoman using laptop while she is in home isolation during coronavirus/COVID-19 quarantine.Hey folks! This week, Erin Power is back to answer your questions about when you should be eating. If you’re wondering if you should be having breakfast, how to avoid being ravenous after a cross-country flight, or the best way to navigate summer BBQs, you won’t want to miss this post. Keep sharing your questions on our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook page or in the comments below.


Rachel asked:

“I’m not typically a breakfast eater. Should I force myself to have breakfast even if I’m not hungry in the morning?”

I’m a front loader when it comes to eating. That means I put the most emphasis on my first meal of the day. And you should too if you want to avoid the grazing, eating-every-three hours mentality that, in my opinion, is totally contradictory to the way we were meant to feed ourselves.

Assuming you work a first shift job, it makes sense to fuel the day ahead of you. Plan on having your most nutrient-dense meal in the morning – or whenever your first meal of the day is. Remember, breakfast is when you BREAK YOUR FAST. It doesn’t have to be at 6am when you wake up. It could be at 8am or 11am or 2pm.

But What If You’re Not Hungry?

If you’re not hungry when you wake up, you’re not alone. Most people’s daily food intake looks something like this:

  • Eat as little as possible throughout the day, constantly thinking about what you’re going to eat and when you can eat it
  • Decide you can’t take it anymore and binge on a huge evening meal
  • Feel unsatiated, so you continue to snack until bedtime
  • Wake up still feeling full, likely with undigested food in your system

Breaking the Late-Night Eating Cycle

As a health coach, I help my clients break old habits that no longer serve them. When you eat a large dinner late at night, it not only prevents you from being hungry in the morning, it also interrupts your sleep cycle and prevents you from becoming metabolically flexible.1

I typically recommend that my clients do *force* a morning meal loaded with protein and fat. I’m not saying to eat past your satiation level, but if you usually start your day with a quick protein bar and coffee, or a yogurt and banana, honor your body by sitting down for a full meal of eggs, bacon, and veggies, and then taper from there.

How To Be Hungry at Breakfast Time

By the time you get to dinner, you’ll naturally want a smaller dinner (and feel like eating it earlier). And you won’t be tempted to snack all night to make up for the calories and nutrients you missed out on earlier in the day. You’ll also be more apt to get a great night of undisturbed sleep because you’re not working on digesting that late night bag of trail mix or waking up because your cortisol has spiked.

Research shows that habitual breakfast skippers are more likely to be chronic dieters, meaning their relationship with food is in the fussy rule-following camp.2 But there’s a difference between skipping breakfast and then grabbing a Frappuccino on the way to work, skipping breakfast because you’re still full from the previous night’s dinner, and skipping breakfast because your first meal falls a little later in the day.

Remember, your first meal is your breakfast — it’s the meal you break your fast with, so if it’s later in the day, no big deal. If you’re not hungry, start dialing back your dinner and evening intake, and if you’re typically opt for a sugar-laden coffee drink in lieu of a sit-down, protein-packed breakfast, start thinking about shifting your priorities there, or work with a certified health coach who can help you put new, healthier habits in place.

Thomas asked:

“I just started traveling for work again and will be making several flights around the country over the next few months. What are some paleo-friendly snacks I can bring onboard to prevent me from being ravenous when I land?”

Let me start by saying that you shouldn’t have to fuel yourself on a three- or four-hour flight. Or a three- or four-hour anything for that matter. Sitting on an airplane is a fairly sedentary activity. You’d never worry about fueling a multi-hour Netflix binge or a night of sleeping, would you?

Unless you’re diabetic or have been diagnosed with a disease that requires you to eat in shorter intervals, your body is designed to withstand hours without food.

Plan Ahead to Prevent Hunger

Sure, it might be your habit to be prepared — especially when you’re in an airport, with Standard American Diet fare like pretzels, biscuits, and sodas by the cartful, but your body can handle going without food. Trust me.

If you really can’t go for that long without experiencing urgent hunger, your metabolism might need a little TLC. Hunger that feels like an emergency after a few hours of sitting motionless isn’t normal. Well, it’s normal for most folks, unfortunately, but if you eat mostly paleo, and still feel ravenous from time to time, your diet might need a few tweaks:

  • Eat more. In general, just eat more food. Just because you don’t eat grains or legumes, you could be in a situation where you’re consistently depriving your muscles and cells from energy and nutrients. Even if you’re not on an airplane most of the day, practice eating more earlier in the day and see how you feel.
  • Eat more protein. I don’t have a specific gram count since I’m not a macro counter and really dislike anything that feels fussy, but Mark has a comprehensive post all about protein intake that you can check out for more info. My basic rule of thumb is that if you experience hunger or have low energy, adding more protein to your meals is a good place to start.
  • Eat more fat. Fat is a highly satiating macronutrient (that also lends excellent satisfaction and deliciousness to food), so make it a habit to tap into it regularly.3 Some of my favorite good-for-you fat sources are avocado and avocado oil, grass-fed meats, and nuts and nut butter.

When you take care of your metabolism, you’re free to tap into your body’s built-in system for extracting the fuel it needs to survive any food scarcity situation, including a cross-country flight.

Pam asked:

“My family is planning a reunion this summer, and no one eats like I do. I don’t want to seem rude and bring my own food and I guess I could eat beforehand, but what’s your take on the best way to handle this event without falling off the wagon? I’ve worked so hard to get to where I’m at.”

For some people, eating in isolation has been easy. Your choices don’t get judged, you’re not tempted by regular BBQs and happy hours. You’re in your own world and you’re feeling great about it. But now that we’re reaching the end of the pandemic — and long-awaited parties, vacations, and reunions are being planned, I feel like a pep talk is in order.

Often times, we assume that someone is going to challenge our food beliefs out in public. We tend to self-isolate (even in social situations) to avoid the risk of being seen as weird or one of those “healthy people” or worse, “on a health kick.”

Explaining Your Food Choices

First of all, you never have to explain how you’re eating or why you’re eating it. There’s something extremely powerful about the use of the words, “no thank you” as seen in the follow examples:

  • Someone offers you some pasta salad? “No thank you.”
  • Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies? “No thank you.”
  • A refill on your wine? “No thank you.”

Empower yourself by setting a firm boundary. The way you choose to eat is nobody’s business but your own. You don’t owe anyone an explanation and you certainly don’t need to justify or defend yourself, but food and celebrations go hand-in-hand and there’s zero need to deprive yourself just to stay on track either.

BYOS (Bringing Your Own Snacks)

When it comes to parties, I live by the acronym: BYOSSNDMSS.

In other words, Bring Your Own Satiating, Satisfying, Nutrient-Dense, Metabolically Supportive Snacks. It’s a mouthful, hence the acronym. If you see me at a party, I’ll be the one supplying the charcuterie plate for an app or the chocolate peanut butter fat bombs for dessert.

I don’t know about you, but foods like sausage, cheese, nuts, olives, and pickles, as well as dark chocolate and peanut butter are some of my favorites. And guess what, they’re typically crowd-pleasers for non-primal eaters too.

When you bring your own metabolically supportive snacks, you’re contributing to the party, not being rude for bringing your own food. You’re also not trying to convert anyone to a paleo way of eating, you’re simply sharing your love of delicious (nutrient-dense) food. Plus, it will help deter you and others from reaching for the less-than-healthy chips, dips, and cupcakes.

And if you’re looking for more tips, here are additional ways to navigate the judginess of partygoers you might encounter this summer.

Do you struggle with figuring out when to eat? Share your thoughts below.


About the Author

Erin Power

Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by Primal Health Coach Institute co-founder Mark Sisson.

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