The Biggest Nutrition Mistake Busy Women Make
Whether you’re a business woman, a full time mum or both you may recognise this ‘busy woman’ eating pattern that so many time-poor women fall into.
From our early 20s when we’re waiting tables or working late nights and strange shifts to get by until the time we have to work around the clock at the start of our careers or live in sleep deprived cycles looking after new-borns and toddlers we often feed ourselves simply to stay alert and alive without allowing ourselves to properly sit down calmly and eat at the right times during the day – who has the time for that?!
Is Breakfast The Most Important Meal Of The Day?
From early on the mantra ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is somewhat drilled into us and so most of us will take the time to have our bowl of muesli and yogurt, oats or smoothie in the morning before the day gets crazy – at the very least you’ll grab an apple on your way out of the door or possibly stuff those toddler leftovers in your mouth so you can get going. At least you’ve had your breakfast!
Fast forward however through the rest of your manic day and you’re quite possibly only realising that you haven’t eaten a single thing (ok, maybe that digestive biscuit – or 3 – at teatime) until around 3 or 4pm when you start feeling a little wobbly. This is when having a quick snack to keep you going can mean simply more refined carbs – a slice of toast or if you’re being ‘healthy’ that Ryvita with avocado – if you’re out and about the options are even less appealing – crisps, snack bars or pasta salads. Your next meal will be dinner, usually a compulsory balanced meal made by you for partners and children and your first proper sit down, wholefood meal of the day. For many eating this way, a snack attack around 10pm is also on the cards and you have some biscuits, cheese or chocolate just before bed because you really NEED something.
If you recognise this pattern, think back to how long you have been eating this way. For many women it is 10 – 15 years of having irregular ‘busy-ness’ eating patterns and worst of all – skipping lunch! The biggest problem with going without substantial protein based meals for long periods of time is the detrimental effect it can have on your overall stress response and hormones negatively and doing so habitually can cause chronic symptoms of unwellness.
Countless women in their late 30’s to late 40’s suddenly find themselves burnt out, completely devoid of any energy and quite possibly grossly depressed and unable to get out of bed. Chronic fatigue and adrenal insufficiency is so common place with middle aged women it is frightening. Worst of all, symptoms are very often misdiagnosed as depression or anaemia because they can vary so dramatically from person to person, but exhaustion and inability to cope with day to day tasks become the norm.
Fortunately the remedy – if you pay serious attention to these symptoms from the beginning – is fairly simple. Don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you when you start having random dizzy spells, feel inexplicably nauseous, lethargic and even depressed. Heavy legs and difficulty walking up flights of stairs or random breathlessness are all signs that you need to start taking much better care of yourself. Sleepiness after each meal and waking up at 3 or 4 am out of the blue is a sure sign that you are on the wrong side of exhaustion. Ignore these signs for too long and you may find yourself with extreme burn out which is much harder to come back from.
The Rollercoaster Ride Of Your Blood Sugar Levels
Imagine your blood sugar levels responding to the food you eat – each time you eat something carbohydrate based (fruit, toast, muesli, pasta) your blood sugar will go up pretty quickly and give you some energy, but after 2 hours or so it will start to drop down gradually until the next time you eat. If that next time is 6-8 hours later and you have another dose of carbohydrates or even a small salad without any protein, your blood sugar will spike up pretty fast again from a very low point. Then 2 or 3 hours later, you blast it with a large meal at dinner time and up it goes again and if you’re having a late night snack it will spike once again just before you go to bed.
This rollercoaster ride your blood sugar levels are on is not helping you. Allowing your blood sugar levels to continuously drop to its lowest levels during the most stressful part of the day is giving you a double whammy of adrenaline. Adrenaline is released during times of stress – which for many of us is a pretty constant occurrence – but another time adrenaline is released is when your blood sugar is very low and so you end up with a body chronically producing adrenaline to keep going.
This cannot continue on indefinitely without having severe knock on consequences for the rest of your body. All the body’s hormones are interlinked and work on feedback systems, if one is out of balance the rest are sure to follow at some point.
What Is The Answer?
The answer: Protein, protein, protein and not skipping lunch!
Start your day with something substantial – you don’t need to have a large breakfast, but good fat and some protein are essential to keep your energy up for longer. Eggs and avocado are an ideal option. If you’re going to have a smoothie or oats, make sure you add some nuts, coconut oil or protein powder to give you a sustained energy release.
Make lunch your most nutrient dense meal of the day.
Taking time out to eat your lunch is vitally important. Forget the thought of ‘I don’t have time’ – you have to make time – it’s as important as brushing your teeth twice a day, it has to become a habit. If you’re having a salad, add a boiled egg or some fish or chicken. If you’re vegetarian or vegan chose the bean or lentil salad instead of the Greek salad. Load up on green vegetables and douse your food with good olive oil. Focus on getting good fat and protein on your plate at lunch time every single day.
Work on a ratio of 60-70% vegetable and 20-30% protein on your plate. Don’t be afraid of eating healthy fats – these are vital for your wellbeing. Brain function, memory, hormones and blood sugar regulation all depend on the presence of healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, butter and ghee – these fats eaten with your variety of vegetables and protein will keep your energy levels stable and sustained.
Dinner can be a lighter meal and shouldn’t be eaten too late. Aim for 2-3 hours before bedtime at least. When those late night cravings kick in, opt for a calming herbal tea. Changing one’s hormonal response to food can take a little while, but you can usually feel a marked difference in your energy levels and cravings after only 5-7 days.
Take Care Of Yourself
If your symptoms are already quite severe and you know that you’re no longer coping, then it may be time for you to get guidance from a qualified nutritional therapist that can tailor an eating plan specifically for you. Don’t underestimate the power that good, nutrient dense food can have. You can have a massive improvement of symptoms in as little as 10 days – even if you’ve felt unwell for years. It is only once you’ve made these important changes and given your body the tools it needs to begin healing that you can address any real underlying health issues.
As the multi-tasking women we are, we need to learn that taking care of ourselves is as important, if not more important, than taking care of those around us. We cannot be our best selves for our partners, children and life’s work and passions if we do not sustain ourselves in the way our bodies were created to function.
Let’s rebrand LUNCHTIME ‘the most important meal of the day’ and fully enjoy each and every bite while we have that vital moment to ourselves.