Monday, July 2, 2007

Three Squares Revisited

Written by Karen Shanley Author Mom With Dogs

When I grew up, the conventional wisdom was that you ate “three squares” a day. In my family, breakfast was at 7:30 a.m.; lunch was at noon; we could have a piece of fruit when we got home from school; and dinner was at 6 o’clock sharp. Whether we were hungry at those times or not.

The food pyramid chart was alive and well with bread, pasta, rice and cereal at the base. Carbos were king back then and we ate our share.

Being the good do-be that I was, I followed the rules and didn’t ask questions. Food was put in front of me and I ate it. All of it. Children were starving in Africa, you know.

The refrigerator was off-limits; it was as mysterious to us as the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, food was only to be eaten at mealtimes, and that was that.

Then I married my husband -- who is the king of grazing. He eats a little bit throughout the day when he’s hungry.

In the early years of our marriage, I’d cook up a storm trying to make sure I provided us with our three squares. He’d pick at his meal and leave most of it on his plate. Then, within an hour, he’d be rummaged around in the fridge for a snack. I’d chide him on his bad eating habits and redouble my efforts to get him to eat “properly.”

A few years later, I had my daughter. She, too, turned out to be a grazer. And before I knew it, I found myself trying to get her to “eat better.”

Then two of my friends’ daughters developed bulimia. That got my attention. I started reading. I started talking with these girls. I had my eyes opened.

I looked at my daughter and my husband. They both eat small amounts when they’re hungry. Over the course of a day, they eat substantially more than I do and they are both thin. I am not.

The more I read, the more I realized that our bodies have built-in cues. Essentially, there’s the gorge-and-starve cue which means conserve those calories for the lean times; and the graze-small-meals-all-day-long cue which means there’s plenty of food so it’s safe to use up all that you eat.

Of course, there’s much more to our metabolic physiology and chemistry than this, but I got the point. Eating three square meals a day is artificial and arbitrary. And it’s not the healthiest way to eat --because instead of listening to our bodies to tell us when we’re hungry, we’re looking at the clock to tell us when we’re hungry. For some people, it’s the first step in a long line of disconnects that can lead toward the slippery slope of eating disorders.

With this new understanding, I’ve revised my job description. Cooking meals is optional. Having plentiful, healthy, easy to grab grazing food in abundance is mandatory. That, and if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

My stomach is telling me I’m hungry now (at 11:10 a.m.) so I’m off to go snack on some fresh blueberries from my garden.

Karen Shanley is an author and mom. She is also owned by three dogs: one brilliant Australian Shepherd with whom she likes to chase sheep around a field; one comical Border Collie Mix with Flying Nun ears with whom she does not chase sheep around a field; and one dog in a Maine Coon cat’s body, who’s nearly as big and fluffy as a sheep.


Surviving Motherhood said...

I grew up in a similar house where my mother controlled the food and who got what. It never really fit in with my way of eating though, I think I was always a natural grazer and used to get into awful trouble for not finishing all my meals and then wanting a sandwich later on.

Of course I never got the sandwich and was often made to sit at the table for hours with my unfinished meal in front of me, only allowed down when I had finished it.

We ended up with quite a fat dog...

AuthorMomWith Dogs said...

Funny... I know quite a few food control freaks with fat dogs.

Desert Songbird said...

I grew up in a clean plate home as well, and I have suffered with weight issues my entire life.

As a mother, it's difficult to try and figure out just how to instill good eating habits in kids. Allowing them to eat just when they are hungry is probably one key way to making sure they aren't hung up on food.

LouBob said...

Oh how I wish I wasn't in the clean plate club!! And those poor african children they could have sincerely had what I didn't want!

nutmeg said...

I argue with my husband over some of this. He starves himself for hours and hours and then eats an enormous meal - almost every day. I eat at least six times a day and in spite of four pregnancies have maintained my weight. Feed the Beast is my motto. I think kids are grazers by nature. We corral them into the three meals a day thing. Nature usually knows best and that's really the natural way. With three growing girls, I have to think about these things all the time.

Jeanne said...

My five-year-old son is a born grazer - literally. From the moment he was born, he would eat every two hours (murder on me who nursed him. lol)

To this day, I go with the flow with him. If he tells me he's hungry, I ask him, "Sweet or savory?"
If he says, "I'm not hungry for dinner."
I reply, "Okay. You tell me when you are hungry."

I'm desperate to keep him tuned into his body's signals. So that he doesn't end up with an eating disorder like his mom.

It's taken me over three years of hard work in recovery to come close to being able to recognize my body's signals, let alone be calm and collected enough to act on them.

So kudos to you for encouraging your daughter to stay in tune with her body!!

As I tell my son, if you listen to your body, you will never have to worry.

SingForHim 94 @ Real Life said...

This is a message that is very close to my heart, having dealt with eating disorders. My husband is a clean-your-plate person, and I am always trying to get him to refine his views. I think he's coming around, because my daughters are grazers, too, as I suspect we all are if we'll pay attention.

Mama Zen said...

I'm a born grazer, and so is my daughter. At first, I tried to be a "good mother" and get her to eat (when she started solids) at regularly scheduled times. Finally, I let it go and let her eat when she's hungry.

Poppy Fields said...

Eating when I am hungry works best for me. Sometimes it's only twice a day, and somedays it's six times. My family isn't on the same schedule which complicates thing.

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