By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
It’s National Nutrition Month, a time when registered dietitians talk nutrition and all the benefits of eating healthy. As has been written here before, dietitians also have their challenges. No doubt I’m in that club.
What’s interesting in my case, and maybe even in yours, is I have found that there is a very distinct pattern that throws me off track. In fact, it’s often a domino effect where one thing leads to another. Knowing this pattern helps keep me from falling (or staying) in the vicious cycle of bad choices.
So here are 5 things that throw my eating off — and how I get back on track.
1. Lack of Sleep: I’m the type of person that needs about 8 hours of sleep. I’ve tried 7 hours and even less, and it always backfires. When life gets hectic, I find my sleep getting chipped away at, little by little. At first I’m okay, but then one day it catches up — and I find myself tired, cranky, and extra hungry.
Research shows that short duration of sleep is linked to higher weight. Scientists believe sleep deprivation boosts appetite by increasing the hunger hormone grehlin and decreasing the full feeling hormone leptin.
2. Less Exercise: When I’m getting less sleep I tend to exercise less because I usually want to sleep later or am simply less motivated to take action. The bottom line is: a tired me is much less likely to exercise than a well-rested me.
According to a study published in International Journal of Workplace Health Management, people who exercised at work were more productive and in a better mood than those who didn’t exercise. Exercise keeps the mind sharp and spirits up, something I really need when I’m pulled in many directions.
3. Mental barriers: Being tired and not exercising seem to make the circumstances of my life seem worse. Whatever stressor I’m dealing with feels insurmountable. I’m not very productive as the paralyzed, hopeless feeling kicks in. My mind is full, but my productivity is low.
This is when the poor decisions come in. Missing the morning workout to do more work. Stay up later to get things done. Missing rejuvenation opportunities because of a lack of time.
4. Poor planning: The aforementioned factors also result in poorer meal planning. I still shop and plan meals for the week, but when I fall into this cycle I do a particularly bad job of it. This means I run back to the grocery store all week or make unrealistic meal choices because I didn’t take the time to plan well.
5. Not tuning in: I find that overeating is also a consequence of all these factors. I will finish a meal and think “how much did I just eat?” I’m simply not as tuned in to the whole eating experience as I like to be.
By the time my eating is affected, I realize what’s happening. I ask why and it usually leads back to me letting sleep and exercise go. When I fix those two things, my life’s to-do list seems much more manageable and my productivity rises. I do a better job planning the week of meals. And best of all, I’m tuned to each meal, listening to my body and doing a better job eating the amount my body needs at most meals.
Does any of this sound familiar? What sends you off track, and how do you get back on? Share your tips in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.