Importance of Consistent Eating
Author: Breanna Mills R.D.
Eating regular meals is a very important part of recovery from an eating disorder. Our bodies require a consistent source of energy in order to function, with our brains being a large consumer. Our brains and bodies are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since our brains and bodies never stop, we need to consistently feed them so that they can work optimally.
It is recommended that we eat every 3-6 hours, which usually looks like three meals and two to three snacks over the course of the day. This matches the ability of the liver to provide fuel and maintain blood sugar levels. The liver acts like a pantry for energy in our bodies. It stores fuel right after eating, and releases it in order to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are tightly regulated in the body, as levels that are too high or too low can cause a variety of health effects. Like the pantry in your kitchen, if you don’t re-stock it, you will run out of food and once you run out of food, you go purchase more. In the case of our liver, once our fuel runs out, we need to eat again to replenish our stores.
Regular eating also helps to protect against binge eating. Our bodies are wired to survive, and if we aren’t getting enough food, we will be driven to seek it out. Inconsistent eating creates both physical and psychological pressure to eat. Thoughts about food increase, we may feel tired, irritable, restless, and experience headaches or anxiety. This pressure to eat evolved from our ancestors. In historical times, food was not as widely available as it is now, so when food was available, we would eat as much as we could at one time. Now, our food supply is much more abundant, but this biological drive has not gone away. If we aren’t getting enough of what we need, our body will continue to search out food. Our bodies are not aware that most of us have enough food available and it still thinks that the threat of famine is looming. Eating regularly and consistently, shows our bodies that food is available, and that it can rely on us to provide it with what it needs.
Many people that struggle with an eating disorder experience inconsistent hunger cues or a complete lack of cues until they are more stable in their recovery. If your hunger cues are not consistent or are all over the map, regular eating becomes even more important. Since we cannot rely on our hunger and fullness cues, eating consistently and regularly helps our body to be properly nourished and to help normalize these cues again.
Regular eating lays the foundation for recovery. Eating regular and consistent meals allows the brain and the body to have enough energy to give to our brain and body tissues, as well as works to re-stock the pantry in our liver. In recovery, regular eating also helps decrease binge urges, helps reconnect to hunger signals and helps you break away from rules and work towards freedom from the eating disorder.