20 second summary:
- Everyone needs different kinds of foods at different times of the day to achieve balanced mood and energy levels, depending on their past history, present symptoms, and future goals
- Balancing blood sugar, healing your adrenals, and having a strong digestive system are all necessary for achieving proper mood and energy levels
- Anthropologically speaking, our bodies are designed to run on fat
- Fat is the longest and most even burning energy source, providing the best results when consumed properly
- Modern society centres around overly processed high carbohydrate diets. This has put a heavy burden on our bodies, causing widespread mood and energy imbalances, as well as a number of diseases.
It’s a question I get asked constantly: how often in a day should I be eating? Three square meals? A bunch of small snacks? 1-2 large meals with intermittent fasting? The simple answer is that it depends on what you’d like to get from your meals. We are all bio-individuals after all, and based on our ancestry, health history, and wellness goals we all need different foods, in different macro-nutrient ratios, at different times of the times.
*For more of bioindividuality and what it means, go HERE
First and foremost, when working with clients I figure out their primary health concerns.
Example #1: Blood Sugar Burden
If you, like so many people in North America have blood sugar issues effecting multiple areas of your wellness like weight, energy, mood, and inflammation, we start there. I usually suggest doing a protocol whereby the participant eats a diet high in fats and protein and low in carbohydrates to recalibrate their metabolism and essentially go from a “sugar-burner” (a body that relies on quick burning carbs for energy), to a “fat-burner” (a body that is able to tap into its fat stores for long-burning sustainable energy). This protocol requires pretty strict implementation so that your insulin chills out significantly, and your body is basically forced into using other nutrients other than carbs for fuel. This protocol is often coupled with reduced physical activity (it is hard to do a hardcore workout routine 5 days a week when your body is re-programming itself), and is complimented by a number of nutrients and supplements that balance blood sugar and improve fat digestion and utilization. Sometimes the client will need to snack to avoid blood sugar crashes and the stress on the adrenal glands that ensue, and sometimes they will need to avoid snacking so as to further diminish insulin output (like if they’re showing signs of insulin resistance).
Example #2: Digestive Stress
But what about someone who comes into my office who has some serious digestive trouble? Having larger meals that are meant to last for a substantial amount of time could put a strain on their system. Or conversely, too much snacking might not give their stomach the rest it needs to regenerate, thus causesing stress and damage in that regard. Often in this case we’re dealing with lots of healing foods like bone broths and slow cooked veggies that are easy to digest, gradually introducing new foods and new preparation methods, along with gut-healing and digestion-boosting supplements for a few weeks until the system begins to normalize. It doesn’t matter how perfectly balanced your macro’s are, or how perfectly timed your meals are, if you’re not properly digesting your food, you will constantly feel tapped out due to a lack of nutrients in your system. So in this case, focusing more on the way foods are prepared and then consumed will do wonders for mood and energy levels of a person who isn’t absorbing the goodness on their plates properly.
These are just two examples, but they show two very different approaches to achieving the same goal…
Finding balance in the body.
Body balance can take on many different forms. For many people it’s finding that optimal weight, for others it’s diminishing chronic pain, and for some it’s clearing up skin conditions and irritations. All of these things take different amounts of time to heal for different people in different situations. So how do I know if I’m on the right track with my clients?
Mood and energy!
These are the biggest markers of body balance (ie, homeostasis), and something that we should all pay more attention to. When our mood and energy are balanced we often feel like we can take on anything. We are more present, more calm, more vital! The world is a better brighter place, stressors are more tolerable, and we are excited or what each day can bring.
And how do we achieve this?
You might think the answer comes back to our first question (how often should we be eating in a day), but as mentioned above, I prefer to first focus on WHAT we should be eating in a day.
Balance Blood Sugar
We already discussed the power of high fat and protein in the diet to balance blood glucose levels. Blood sugar really is the main culprit behind mood and energy fluctuations. High carb diets cause spikes in our blood sugar, followed by inevitable crashes, leaving us feeling exceptionally listless, uncontrollably irritable, often depressed, and down-right crumby. The truth is we were never meant to eat the amount of carbohydrates that modern society has afforded us, so our bodies don't know how to handle it. We are, however, well equipped to handle protein and fat.
As mentioned in the blood sugar example, even after the first week clients usually start seeing massive changes. Firstly, with their mood and energy, then often their weight starts to normalize. After the 3rd week or so, sugar cravings almost completely diminish and we celebrate their body’s return to its ancestral fat-burning ways. Of course, this protocol is followed by a series of steps for re-introducing starchier and more sugary foods, and some level of carb-control must always be considered so the client doesn’t go back to their previous imbalances.
For the digestively stressed client, we are still paying attention to carbs, fats and proteins – a high carb diet isn’t only hard on blood sugar and adrenal heath, but also puts a massive affliction on digestion. Why? Well, carbs can easily ferment in the gut and lead to a number of icky situations like candida overgrowth and dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora in the intestines). But we’re also keeping a serious watch on how the foods are prepared, and of course how they’re eaten.
There are number of important steps you can take to digest your food properly including being in a calm and relaxed state, chewing lots, and possibly consuming some additional foods, beverages and supplements to further support the digestive process.
*For more about how to aid in digestion go HERE
So what should you do?
Start with a high protein, high fat breakfast…
For most people I recommend starting with a solid breakfast within an hour of waking up. You’ve essentially been fasting all night and this is when your blood sugar is the lowest and your cortisol levels are the highest. In order to balance blood sugar and support your adrenal glands (these little guys are responsible for cortisol secretion and control), you need to replenish your body with quality nutrients. So fats and proteins, and some enzyme-rich foods like vegetables, or even sauerkraut. Eggs, sausage, fish, steak, chicken, roast veggies, salad...all good options. If this seems too intense for you right now, try chia pudding, or hot quinoa cereal with ample amounts of nuts and seeds for some added fat and protein. Even a smoothie with coconut cream, avocado, greens, cucumber, some lower sugar fruits like berries, and some sort of high quality, minimally processed protein power is cool if that’s all you can do for now. No matter what you choose, I suggest having some warm water with lemon or apple cider vinegar to awaken your body and stimulate digestion before your meal, and ALWAYS eat it in a calm and relaxed environment (yes, even you smoothie sippers need to SIT while you drink…or better yet, "spoon"…your liquid meal).
If you need to snack, snack smart…
If the breakfast is substantial enough, it should last you a few hours, granted your body is an efficient fat-burner. If not, having a mid morning snack of some low-sugar fruit with nut or seed butter, chia pudding, some homemade protein bars or energy bars, or even a substantial smoothie, can help you get through that hump. Just promise me this: AVOID THE SUGARY BAKED GOODS AND CRAPPY COFFEE. These will only cause serious blood sugar spikes and crashes, putting a massive burden on your adrenals, and promoting a cycle of cheap-carb and caffeine reliance that is sending you straight to disease-ville.
Leave the carbs for lunch…
When it comes time for lunch, this is where I say it’s ok to up the carb-content a bit, if of course you’re not working on a low-carb protocol. A salad with a ton of yummy veggies, either raw or roasted is a great option. I like throwing on some chicken breast or salmon for an added protein boost. Tossing in some avocado and nuts will also provide you with some of that wonderful long-burning fat you keep hearing my harp about. Make a Whole Bowl with brown rice or quinoa as its base. If you are going to do a sandwich try a grain-free bread, or wrap it up in a collard green leaf or some lettuce. And if you’re fine with grains, at least choose sprouted varieties like Manna Bread or Ezekiel Bread.
*What does sprouted mean? Read HERE
Beat the afternoon blues…
Once again, if your body is able to metabolize your nutrients properly, and you packed a solid lunch, that should last you until dinner. But if not, scroll up and re-read my note about smart snacking. And I repeat: DROP THE SUGARY BAKED GOODS AND CRAPPY COFFEE! In fact, try skipping even the high quality coffee and opt for a green tea instead. It has less caffeine, so a better choice for an afternoon pick-me-up anyways.
Finish the day off strong with a hearty supper…
Most people get dinner right. Meat, veggies, salad, etc. eaten in a calm and relaxed way. So why can’t we apply these theories to the rest of our meals? We sure can! I make huge batches of dinner and eat the leftovers for breakfast and lunch the next day. The big take-away though is that you really need to eat dinner, generally about 3 or 4 hours before bed. Our bodies are so busy while we sleep, detoxifying and regenerating. They need long-burning energy to sustain themselves so as not to send us on a cortisol rollercoaster trying to keep us alive while we we’re out for the count. If you’re finding that you’re hungry before bed, or are waking up in the middle of the night, I suggest having a small snack an hour or so before hitting the hay. Once again, something high in fat is best (so like half an apple with almond butter, or some of that above-mentioned chia pudding), but don’t go too wild with this late-night-snack suggestion. I just mentioned how our bodies do a lot of detoxing while we sleep – well, we can’t detox while we digest, so over-burdening the body with too much food before we go to bed can really clog up our system. It's actually one of the big reasons why late night snacks have been linked to weight gain. Yes, you’re likely eating more in day, but even more so, when our body becomes bunged-up with toxins they often get stored in our adipose tissue. If your detoxification pathways are jammed due to poor digestion or an exhausted liver, your body will be very reluctant to let go of these toxins, keeping them tucked away safe in your fat cells, so matter how many burpees you do at the gym.
What to Take Away
OK I know, that was a lot of info to answer what you thought was a simple question. But I think you’re now realizing why there isn’t a simple answer. We’re all different. We need different things. And depending on our wellness priorities, that might unfold in different ways. Remember that we are meant to run on fat and protein so those types of foods will ultimately provide us with the most even mood and energy levels, as long as our blood sugar, adrenal glands, and digestion are all happy campers. What I will say is this: experiment with your meals. Find out what works for you and measure your success by feelings of clarity and vitality. We have been lead to believe that feeling constantly stressed, angry, irritated, sad, foggy, and grumpy are all normal conditions of the human experience, when in fact those dips and crashes should be limited and isolated and we should be feeling energized, excited, loving, caring, compassionate, bright, airy, and confident most of the time. THIS is what being whole happy is all about!