When we think of food columns, recipes and diet tips come to mind. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with all of that, the information provided is usually very specific to the author, or a very small minority. In this column, we’ll do our best to give our attention to every topic, especially the ones considered too touchy or boring by the casual reader. This column should be the starting point for a discussion, where your knowledge about food or your relationship with it should not prove an obstacle to begin thinking about it in a completely different way. This week, we’ll discuss eating patterns, why we have three meals, and why we eat when we eat.
Americans typically eat three meals a day—once in the morning, afternoon, and evening. There’s a plethora of information published by medical professionals and digital journals alike, and each article seemingly has its own opinion of what's right and wrong when it comes to when we eat.
A study in 2011 showed that around 31 million Americans skipped breakfast each day. I, along with the majority of my peers, also skip breakfast. Aside from our obviously hectic schedules, all the people with which I've discussed this claim the same thing: in the morning, we don't feel hungry. At all. This is very normal, according to my physician (and many medical publications). There could be many causes, like eating too much the night before, or a slow-to-wake metabolism. Regardless, it will do you no harm. We students are on the receiving end of what I like to call “breakfast propaganda.” After several tests taken (and barely passed) under the urging and influence of teachers, and a huge breakfast, I began to doubt the power of the “most important” meal of the day. Research shows that a couple hundred years ago, humans were eating whenever they got hungry. Meals were not designated times. From my point of view, this made sense; science has proven that the human species varies in an impressive amount of ways, and trying to fit us into a universal box has proven disastrous. Why try to please everyone when you can let us cater to our own individual needs? To this day, if I wake up early I tend to avoid breakfast completely and take a water bottle to sip on until lunch. If it's a weekend or break, or I just happen to get lazy (hello fellow homeschoolers), I’ll eat just enough, as to not make myself groggy for the rest of the day. It's been proven that to not need breakfast is beyond normal. But if you happen to get hungry when you wake up, that's more than normal too. It's a sign your body needs a bit of replenishing, and it's very easy to reciprocate. If you feel hungry, by all means, eat. If you play a sport that requires you to wake up early, eat (or bring something to munch on later)! Without the proper energy to propel us through strenuous exercise, our bodies deteriorate rapidly. Whatever you've been told or may think about breakfast, it's okay to ride your own wave.
In ancient Rome, lunch was called dinner and was often the only meal eaten in the day. Occasionally, there’d be a light dinner or breakfast, but the Romans considered eating too much as gluttony. Typically we get the most hungry around noon when we've been awake for a couple hours and our metabolism has been kickstarted. Logically, this is probably the one meal you don't want to skip. Our bodies have expended whatever food we ate the night before, and the day is far from over. In America, lunch typically comprises of something light so as to not disrupt your energy levels. It’s a smart concept.
We’ve been told dinner is the mandatory meal. I personally love eating at the end of a long day. It’s comfortable, and frankly, it puts me to sleep. The problem with dinner isn't the frequency of the event itself, though—it's what we're eating. If the meal knocks you out completely, its effects similar to those of a mild sleeping pill, I think it's safe to say you're putting something you're not supposed to in your body. And while this seems odd, it’s a more common phenomenon than you’d think. Tryptophan is a chemical that helps your body produce serotonin, which in turn helps to regulate sleep. Consuming too much food that contains tryptophan could be the reason you feel so sleepy after a big meal. Dinner shouldn't put you in a coma, nor should you go to bed starving. From what I've observed, dinner for most families is more for emotional gain than just another time to eat. After everything’s settled down, most of the time it doesn't matter how good or bad the food is; everybody just wants to talk and learn about the details of each other's days.
When it comes down to it, just eat your meals—don't stress about when or what to eat. All that matters is that we know how to fuel ourselves to enjoy a happy and productive lifestyle. It doesn't hurt to do research and experiment with your diet, but if you were to make a drastic change (like going vegan cold turkey, or switching to a keto diet when you don't have epilepsy), check with a physician or family health care doctor.