When you start paying attention to your digestive health, don’t overlook how you are spacing your meals. For so many of us, grazing, or snacking perpetually, has become an ingrained habit. Even if we are eating a fairly good-for-our-endo diets. We get bored or tired with a situation, so we look for something to distract us — usually it’s salty or sweet. We celebrate a hard day with
some many treats and boost up our mood with more snacks. Meal spacing, or creating a meal schedule, doesn’t sound incredibly exciting, but it is an important part of your body’s digestive health.
Why is spacing your meals out an important aspect of good gut health and healing? Read on to find out more!
What is Meal Spacing?
The concept of spacing your meals is that you strictly adhere to 2-3 meals per day and no snacking in between those meals. With me so far? Great! This concept seems practical to me but when I really thought about it, I remembered of all of the time, everyday, where I actually snacked to get through the work day or as a treat after dinner. Show of hands if you snack hard between 3pm-5pm and then aren’t truly hungry for a healthy and nourishing dinner early in the evening. Ah, I see I’m among friends!
Now, for those of you who may or may not be aware, this sounds really similar the “small meal method” used by those with low blood sugar. It’s not incredibly different. When you eat several small meals per day, they are actually supposed to be smaller than the meals you would eat on a 2-3 meal per day schedule. However, the main jist is there’s still no snacking in-between your meals.
You may be more familiar with the term intermittent fasting, which is similar to this concept. In intermittent fasting you may go long stretches between your meals. Research has found that going 15 hours between meals actually provides big impacts on health.
Why Meal Spacing?
Time and Resources for Digestion
One of the best benefits of meal spacing is that it allows our body to do the hard work of digestion (which takes a lot of energy out of the body). When your body is tied up with the hard work of digestion continually, little time and sparse resources remain for the work of healing and repair.
Your body has a lot of healing and repair to do, especially when you are battling endo, so anything we can do to lessen the burden of digestion (which we talk about a lot here at A Pain in the Endo) is going to help you out. Plus, when we are always eating, we can deplete the enzymes that help us digest that food properly. For example, each time we eat, we release digestive enzymes in our mouth and stomach, but overuse and certain foods (particular those that are snack foods) are very depletive of these enzymes.
Experiencing True Hunger
I’m starting to become very mindful of my meal spacing and it’s a habit I’m trying to get into. One thing I’ve noticed is that I am truly hungry when it’s mealtime. Plus, when we’re truly hungry, we’re much more open to a variety of vegetables, grains, and other foods we know we should be eating but haven’t prioritized.
Implications in Cancer
As implied above, with intermittent fasting has been shown to alter tumor growth signals in those with cancer, and helps to reduce insulin and glucose (levers which feed cancer cells). While endometriosis is not cancer, it has certain similarities to cancer and insulin resistance. The literature suggests fasting for 13 hours between your dinner and your waking meal is all you need to do to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting.
One of the hardest things about choosing not to snack throughout the day is doing it consistently. Anyone can do anything for a day, but building a new habit requires a shift in your thinking, which takes self-reflection, time, and a plan. And, we all know ladies, that healing will take more than a day. Some say that the length of time you have had the condition is the time it may take to heal. For some of us, that is a VERY long time and for others, it may be less.
It can be hard to be motivated when we know something will take time to completely heal, but we don’t know how much time or investment. You might not notice improvement for a bit. Feeling better might happen to someone else more quickly or someone else might have an outcome you desire but hasn’t happened yet. You may start to face the curiosity or even criticism of others who know what you are trying to do and question your process and progress. These can all set us up for disappointment and the derailment of our goals.
This is why it’s SO important to RUN YOUR OWN RACE. Put those blinders on and start slowly. Give your body a chance to get used to this and feel all the new feels that go along without snacking! I talk more about how to run your own race for deep healing and rest here.
I’m the first to admit that when I’m busy and trying to do a million things a day, I’m much more likely to feel a tummy grumble and reach for a quick bite of something. This happens so mindlessly. It’s a habit that I grew up with, mindlessly grazing on snack food all afternoon and evening after school, and then continued into my adult years. I felt that the constant snacking would help me keep studying long hours or achieve an active life outside of work.
But I’m learning now that the way I approach a meal is important to my continued healing. I’m already feeling less bloated and more energy by meal spacing.
Reasons to Prioritize Meal Spacing
I assume you’re here because you are trying to find mostly natural ways to heal from the pain and symptoms of endo, and that you’re driven to try new things. Maybe you love learning – and that’s great – because to go the holistic route, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and try new things.
As I mentioned, I did notice that my system processed food better when I didn’t snack all day, and I did feel less bloating almost immediately. I also felt more consistent energy instead of the crashes after having a too-full belly. You may even notice that you may lose weight simply by having intentional meals.
Research supports this. A 2019 study shows that proper meal spacing with about 5-6 hours in between meals helps to lower inflammation, improve energy, increase cell autophagy and stress resistance, improve the gut microbiota. (2) If you are wondering what autophagy is, read on…
Increases Lifespan and Energy
What’s amazing, and a huge motivator for many women aside from losing the pain associated with endo, is the increase in energy. When our bodies aren’t expending constant energy on digestion, we feel more energy.
But did you know that eating with some space in between meals also assists with increasing longevity? 2016 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, Yoshinori Ohsumi, conducted new research on cell autophagy – which is the process of the death of bad cells (like viruses and bacteria) and the growth and renewal of new cells. Research in this area exploded over the last several years as a result.
We really want the growth of new healthy cells in our bodies for alleviating endometriosis problems. We also want any bad cells that might be contributing to our health issues to go away.
He also found that fasting promotes this cell autophagy, which also increases life span. So, fasting helps our bad cells decrease, helps increase cellular renewal, and this in turn gives us more energy and a longer life span.
We’ve covered meal spacing, what it is, how to do it, and the benefits associated with the practice. We learned that eating 2-3 meals per day can help alleviate certain health symptoms related to endometriosis and can actually help us live longer, too! Have you been trying meal scheduling? Try it out and let me know what you think about it in the comments below!
Want to go further? Check out my post here for more ways to start healing your digestive system!
(1) Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books, 2009.
(2) Paoli, Antonio, et al. “The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting.” Nutrients, MDPI, 28 Mar. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6520689/.
(3) “Fasting for Health and Longevity: Nobel Prize Winning Research on Cell Aging – Blue Zones.” Blue Zones – Live Better, Longer, 2 June 2020, https://www.bluezones.com/2018/10/fasting-for-health-and-longevity-nobel-prize-winning-research-on-cell-aging/.