I’m not a fan of meal skipping. I used to do it “accidentally” when I thought that something else was more important than eating (read: like watching paint dry) but it was, in part, also because I thought that skipping meals would help me lose weight. I mean, I’d be cutting calories by skipping a meal and going 7-8 hours without eating, right?

I’d just look forward to my square meal that day. It might’ve been a BIG square, but a square, nonetheless.

For me, it was hard. I was always hungry. I mean, I could not wait to dig in at the next meal. I’d grab the largest plate, and take as much food as I could fit on my plate. If I wanted seconds, I’d get ’em. No big deal, right? I mean, the last time I ate was six hours ago!

It was a while before I was able to stop this series of bad habits. Yes. Series of bad habits.

First… why am I always hungry? Is it because the quality of the food I was always eating couldn’t fill me up?

If you watched the clip above, you already know. Our processed foods are broken down to their most basic parts, mixed in with preservatives (which help, you know, preserve the final product), flavor additives, water, flour, various forms of salt, then manipulated to be whatever they want to sell us. The same ground up chicken carcass (which is what is in that photo) can be chicken patties, chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, “diced chicken,” the chicken in your chicken pot pie, the chicken in your soup… whatever. Just look for “mechanically separated [animal] parts.” You won’t have to look too hard.

Once it’s broken down to create this… goo… chemicals are used to hold it in place to form whatever shape it’s going to take. Once it meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see what that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging. You’re getting that “full” feeling for less calories. You’re not scarfing it down because it’s breaking down faster than it can fill you up… only to find that “all-of-a-sudden-I-feel-like-I-ate-too-much” feeling arrive.

Then… if I’m always hungry when I sit down to eat, how likely is it that I’m going to overstuff myself just because I’m trying to rid myself of that “OMG SO HUNGRY OM NOM NOM” feeling?

This is why portion sizes have doubled and tripled over the past few years… the more processed our foods have become, the more we have to eat in order to remain full and the more our bodies compel us to eat because the foods lack the nutrients our bodies are looking for. That’s important. A processed food diet relies heavily on that “full feeling” to identify when we are “satisfied,” as opposed to the naturally-occurring chemical and neurological processes of the body that tell us to stop eating. So, in being ruled by both of those instead of just the natural processes of the body, our compulsion to overeat multiplies. All bad.

Next, why was I grabbing the largest plate?

When you are first converting to clean eating, every decision you make involving food has to be conscious. You have to be aware. So everything from the piece of peppermint you had after breakfast to the taste-testing you did while cooking dinner, they all have to conscious. You have to know that food is going into your mouth. You also have to know how much you’re giving yourself.

Having said that… let’s talk about the best way to game the system: Your plate.

I’m willing to bet it’s huge. You know how I know this? Because mine are huge. Massive, even. My plates were a gift to me from a dear friend, and though they’re a gorgeous set – complete with tea cups, saucers, bowls and ginormous plates – they’re killin’ me.

When we make our plates, we literally work to fill the plate. Show me someone who is comfortable with making their plate and having only half of it filled, and I’ll show you someone who either (a) is using plates that they didn’t buy or (b) is extremely conscious of their portion sizes (even though they may not admit that part to you.) It’s just a fact of life.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a point where you no longer have to worry about portion sizes because this, like the old habits, does start to solidify itself as a new habit. But you still have to go through the growing pains. For now, that includes the basics.

Now… take it a step further. If I’ve got giant plates, I’m going back for seconds… and science basically proves that I’m going to seek to fill my plate – whenever I fill my plate? It’s a recipe for overeating, accidental or otherwise.

The reality is that going long stretches of time without eating, or waiting until you get that “starving” feeling, is bad for the body. They body becomes accustomed to expecting very little food, causing it to hold onto the stored energy supply (read: fat) and making it difficult to lose weight.

Once upon a time, in a land not very far from your home… lived mankind. No fast cars, no shiny structures, no skyscrapers, nothing. Just man.. rock… and animals.

See, this worked for man because his only task was to hunt wildlife, and gather his kill for his family. That was his responsibility. His purpose was to bring the salt and fat from the animal to the family. Not work, not bills… just hunt. Because life was much simpler then, this was man’s sole source of stress.

One day, man could not hunt. Every time he threw his spear, he’d miss his prey. He just couldn’t catch SQUAT! His family was to go hungry and he just… he couldn’t take it. The stress started to build up inside of him.

Because stress about the inability to eat is the only source of stress for man, his body became used to the eventual chain of events. His body knows: Lots of stress = lack of food coming in. How did his body react? His body decided to hold on to what it had – by way of diminishing the amount of energy his body could exert all at one time, by way of making sure his body took a very long time to lose weight, by way of making sure it held onto every pound and fat cell it could. This bodily reaction would only further compel man to step up his hunting skills… why? Because he didn’t want to feel that way! He didn’t want his family to feel that way! He had to get his caveman hustle on! When man was finally able to tackle that antelope or whatever-what-have-you, the fats and salts in the meat were sooooo satisfying that they would cure man of the bodily reaction to stress.

Let me explain. Though the above passage relates specifically to emotional eating, it still explains how the body approaches the feeling of famine. The body slows down on its expenditure of energy. I didn’t – at first – acknowledge a tired feeling… but I absolutely felt a boost of energy when I added to my eating schedule.

And yes – I gave myself an eating schedule! I packed away an apple, a pear, an orange, grapefruit slices – something – so that I could have something to bite into whenever my alarm went off.

Yes. I set an alarm. Whenever it went off, it said “Dig in, baby!” and that’s exactly what I did. After that… that “hungry” feeling was completely foreign to me. My energy levels increased. My weight loss couldn’t stall. I had a regular energy supply coming in, so my body could feel more comfortable with burning off energy. From here, calorie counting could actually produce better results. (If I’m not burning energy, any calories I take in will be stored as fat, remember?)

There’s also the issue of nourishing my body throughout the day. I wouldn’t go 6 or 7 hours without feeding an infant, right? Why? Because they need nourishment for their bodies to grow and function properly.

How is the adult body any different? We need not only the constant energy source, but we need the nourishment! Our bodies cannot function as well as it should if its only working on limited resources. We absolutely must eat… and nothing’s wrong with eating a little more often!

No one’s talking about full meals – cucumber slices, carrot sticks, apples, pears, mangoes (I am notorious for slaughtering a whole mango), cashews, sunflower seeds… whatever. Just a little something to tide you over. If you’re not hungry, nothing should be compelling you to overeat. If you’re eating whole foods, nothing should be leaving you so starving that you overeat until the next meal. If you’re eating a little bit regularly (hungry or not), your body can function properly and it’ll start to believe that it can safely release the fat stored on your body…. since it believes that it will get a regular supply of energy (calories) again.

In short… this, again, goes back to what I believe is the primary principle of weight loss. Neglecting to nourish yourself is neglecting your health and well-being. That neglect will be present in our bodily function as well as our weight. Don’t do it to yourself – set an alarm on your phone, pack a bag of apples and get your Johnny (Jane?) Appleseed on!

Update, 2/22/2015 – My dear blogger friend Roni tackled the question of eating intuitively or on a schedule, and she took a very different approach to the topic of eating on a schedule that those of you who may disagree with me here might appreciate!