Food is fuel. Food is medicine. Most of us are familiar with the first saying, and those who have had or cared for someone with an eating disorder also know the second. Our bodies send out hunger cues every 3-4 hours as our blood sugar level drops. If we don’t take the cue and eat enough, we lose energy and aren’t as alert or focused. We start to feel sluggish, irritable, and weak. If we respond to our bodies’ need for fuel, we typically feel and behave better. It makes sense that a regular eating schedule can significantly contribute to helping our bodies and minds function at their best.
This simple cause and effect we experience with hunger is offline with those with eating disorders. When Julia was heading towards anorexia in 7th grade, those every 3-4 hour hunger cues were getting cross-wired in her brain with the disease’s demand for self-control. The signals became distorted as anxiety and hunger competed in her mind, resulting in her not being motivated to eat by hunger like the rest of us.
Fast forward to what helped her recover; it was a disciplined eating schedule where she sat down to eat 6 times per day, roughly every 3 hours: 7 am breakfast, 10 am snack, 12 pm lunch, 3 pm snack, 6 pm dinner, and 8 pm snack. Every day, day in and day out, for years until her brain was able to come back online with hunger cues and intuitive eating. Food was medicine for Julia.
I grew up with a regular eating schedule so it felt natural to do the same in raising my family. The benefits were many from better energy, concentration, and focus throughout the day to healthier food choices to an improved mood to less sickness. And maybe the best of all; family dinner together every night around 6 pm. The memories I have of family dinner from my youth are as great as those I have had watching my kids grow up around our dinner table.
When Julia needed to live by the 6 times a day eating schedule, it felt natural because it fit right in with our family’s eating philosophy—except for the part where I had to watch over her every bite. The fact of the matter was that Julia was chronically hungry and did not want to eat. And so, our lovely dinner table became a battleground for many years as Julia said no to every meal or snack and I said, “I understand this is hard, and now it’s time to start”.
We made it through those dark days in crisis as a family and our dinner table eventually returned to a place of eating enjoyment. Julia is in recovery, which in no way means she is free and clear of anorexia. She still needs to make sure she follows a regular eating schedule every day to maintain a healthy mind and body. I have a feeling we’ll always find comfort in keeping to this basic framework for eating. It has kept us nourished, healthy, and close as a family. The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.