Two terms that I always bring up with my patients are proactive eating and reactive eating. I often tell my patients I want them to be prepared for the days and weeks ahead. I want them to be a proactive eater. Now, this is not something that is going to be mastered overnight. Learning to be a proactive eater takes time. It takes time to change years and years of reactive eating behavior.
Let’s start by defining what a proactive eater is. Well, it’s just like it sounds. Be proactive. Have a plan. By being a proactive eater, you are not allowing external cues to affect your eating. When you are a proactive eater, you are choosing:
- When you are going to eat
- What you will eat
- How much you will eat
What is a reactive eater? A reactive eater means you are reacting to hunger, stress, boredom, or other emotions. When you react and don’t have a plan, you are more likely to eat what is convenient. Convenient foods tend to be more calorie-dense and contain more sugar.
How do you become a proactive eater?
First, you need a plan. A food plan is going to ensure you are getting exactly what your body needs. Think about what your meals will be. What do you need to buy from the grocery store? Meal prep for the week. What is your goal for calorie intake? Protein intake? Carbohydrate intake?
Timing- You should be eating every 3-4 hours. Determine what time you will eat breakfast and plan the rest of the day from there. For example, if you eat breakfast at 8 am, you will eat no later than noon, snack before 4 pm, dinner at 6-7, then a snack before bedtime.
Portions- Control your portions. Don’t allow yourself to over-eat. Instead, place your food in containers. What is in the container is what you will eat.
Becoming a proactive eater can be daunting. At the end of the day, it’s not. The time it takes you to react to the hunger and find something to eat will be balanced by the time it took you to plan and prepare your food. Never expect perfection. If becoming a proactive eater is a new concept/new behavior, it will take time to master. What is important is never to give up and never expect perfection. Don’t beat yourself up if you forget to plan and eat a convenient meal. Reflect! How did it happen, why did it happen, and how did you feel afterward? Often it’s guilt or shame. Remember that you have control over those feelings. Be proactive! Success will not happen overnight. What is essential is to reflect on that day of reactive eating and get back to being in control. Go back to what you know works, and that is being a proactive eater!