Skip's Linux Home Page
Brought to you by Skip using CityDeskTM from Fog Creek Software
Why do we eat so much before going to bed?
By SkipThe Hacker's Diet
Created: Friday, January 31, 2003, 09:10:20 MST
Last updated: Monday, October 20, 2003, 08:44:12 MST
Changes: Removed extra headers.
This article was inspired in part by The Hacker's Diet, which I started to read many years ago (1995 I believe), and never finished, by my brothers who incesantly strive for physical perfection and sports god-dom, and by my loving wife who makes me want to live forever.
Current eating habits
What are your current eating habits? If you are anything like people I know (myself included) or what the media says you should be like, dinner is a huge meal at the end of the day, after which, you roll home, grab some Tums or Rolaids and crawl into bed.
Is this wise? I don't think so.
How about breakfast? Eat a hearty one, they say. Bacon, eggs, toast, steak, sausage, rolls with jam, the breakfast menu is packed with fatty foods. Why? Because, if you are working on a farm and eating breakfast at 7 or 8 AM, then you have probably been up for 2-3 hours already and broken a sweat. But for most of us, breakfast shortly follows rolling out of bed or showering and we can't even see straight yet, much less think about breaking a sweat.
Lunch? Eat out with friends, restaurant portions large enough to make even your dog stop eating and roll over with pain, fatty fast foods, "healthy" "low-fat" cheese cake? Lunch is almost as bad as dinner. But this one is more forgiveable, as long as you watch what and how much you eat. After all, if they are going to serve you two or three portions of food, you might as well take home some left overs and enjoy them tomorrow or the next day. Of course, if you are making your own, then ... Ahhh, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Basically, my take on it is that WE EAT TOO MUCH! Dieticians have been saying it for years, so have doctors, and your mother. Think about it. The average adult needs about 2000 calories to maintain their body weight assuming they are living a moderately active lifestyle. Are you moderately active? I know most programmers aren't.
My thoughts and Suggestions
Well, if we eat too much, then what should we do? Obviously, eat a bit less. Here are my ideas.** Note: While these ideas are based on professional suggestions and information I have gleaned from numerous respected sources, these are just my ideas. If you are going to change your diet, especially if it will be a radical change, consult with your physician. And, before engaging in any diet or exercise program, definitely consult with your physician.
Let's start with breakfast. In days past, people used to expend a tremendous amount of energy getting the farm ready for the day: taking care of the livestock, milking the cows, feeding the pigs, collecting the eggs, etc. Today, getting ready for our day usually means dragging ourselves out of bed and stumbling first, to the bathroom, second, to the kitchen (unless you happen to want to bathe before breakfast, which I do). Obviously, this requires significantly less energy than our predecessors needed. So, in a nutshell, eat a light breakfast.
Personally, I don't know of anyone who needs on the order of 700 calories before they start the day. A bowl of cereal, (try the serving size on the box and you'll see what I mean about regularly eating too much), some fruit and toast with juice, a couple of eggs and toast, whatever it is, don't eat too much. It's just something to kickstart your system and keep you going until lunch. Protein is a good source of long term energy so don't just eat cereal everyday. Try mixing up your menu so that you get cheese, milk, enriched juices, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, even steak if you are so inclined. Just don't eat them all together, and don't eat the really fatty stuff too often. For example, 2 strips of bacon is a serving, 3 maybe, but not 5 or 6.
If you regularly chow down at breakfast, and then go sit behind a desk, you'll notice a huge difference in energy level and alertness if you cut back at the table in the morning. It takes energy to digest food and large quantities of food will make you sleepy as well as more hungry later in the day.
Eat a hearty lunch. Lunch is the middle of the day, your mental juices are flowing, you're thinking hard, you're moving around getting things done, and dinner is five to six hours away. I consider this to be the main meal of the day.
This doesn't mean junk food and fast food are what should be on the menu. Sure, they have lots of calories, but they aren't good for you. Eat healthy. Have some salad. Vary your meals to include vegetables and fruits as well as protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Make this the best, healthiest meal of the day, and you'll see a difference immediately in how you feel.
Eat a small dinner. Think about dinner this way, if you are going to bed soon, or to watch a movie or some TV, or even get in that late night hacking session, you don't need all the calories in a typical restaurant meal. Those things tend to be so huge that you could literally run a marathon without losing any fat from your body (this is an exageration, but, seriously, who need a 1000 calorie meal before heading to bed?).
Now, if you are planning on playing raquetball or going swimming, you may want to eat a little bit more so that you don't poop out as fast. But this seems to be the exception not the rule for me. Even when I'm planning an active evening, I tend to eat light so that I don't feel sluggish and so that I can burn a few more fat calories.
So you don't die!
Or, so you don't suffer a horrible, miserable, life in a body that just doesn't work right. (I don't mean to offend those people for whom this is a physiological problem that isn't within their control. I do mean to spur on those sorry, lazy people just haven't taken the time to do something about their condition.)
Or, how about just so you can go outside, and break into a jog across the street without worrying about your blood pressure sky-rocketing and that pain you feel in your left arm, which you haven't told your doctor about.
Actually, how about this reason: Exercise to maintain muscle mass. Your body will try to obtain sustenance in any way it can, that is why you get hungry in the first place. Unfortunately, this means that your body will start to break down muscles for energy before going for the fat since muscles are easier to process than fat. That is, unless you are using your muscles. You see, your body responds to stimuli. If you exercise, your body will try to keep as much muscle as you use on a regular basis. This means that it will process the fat before the muscle. If, however, you aren't using your muscles, then your body will eat them up, happily storing the fat "for a rainy day." So, exercise so that you don't end up immoble, or worse frail.
Another reason to try and keep as much muscle as possible is that muscles burn fat. Get those thighs pumping and you'll burn fat faster than any pill ever will. Get started on an exercise program and you'll see the fat come off your largest and hardest worked muscle groups first.
Simple, MOVE! What do programmers get paid to do? Sit. And sit. And sit. ... And sit. Actually, it's think and think, then type furiously for a few minutes, debug for hours, then think some more, and repeat. Our job demands that we focus our attention on one thing, a project, for huge stretches of time. Now, what is the best way to get your muscles to atrophy? Not move.
The very first, most commonly suggested exercise for the recently sedentary is not jogging. It is walking. Walk, and not just from the car to the store or the house. If you want to see a change, you'll have to do some serious exercising sooner or later, but the best way to start is walking short distances, then longer ones. On a regular basis, try to park farther away than you normally do. Go for a walk in the evenings. Go for a walk in the morning. During lunch, grab some co-workers and, instead of munching on some vending machine treats, walk around the parking lot discussing solutions for problems at work, or the latest Star Trek episode, or even the flowers and sky.
As with any exercise program, the hardest part is getting started (sticking with it is the hardest part after that.) Start slow and be consistent. Walking a little bit more each day is better than walking a ton on Saturday and then doing almost nothing during the week. Once you feel comfortable and you can see some improvement, lengthen your walks or pick up the pace.
Doing this with a friend is the easiest way to stick with it and help keep your interest and committment. Find someone else who is committed to changing the way they look and improving their life and set up a program of exercise to help each other out. Find someone at your level so that you can progress together.
As you get stronger and healthier, you can talk to your doctor about an exercise program to take off weight faster, or build muscle, or just tone your muscles. Consult with them when you are ready.
In short, modify your meals to suit your level of activity, amount of exercise, energy expenditures, and meal times.
Update: Here is the "to be continued" part. I really don't have much more to say that what I already said. For myself, I try to judge what my activity level will be for the day and for the next day and then eat accordingly. If I'm going to be moving rocks (I hope to post an article describing the construction of our garden and garden wall), or playing volleyball or running, then I'll tend to eat a bit more the meal before the activity. If it will be long and arduous, such as shovelling out 8 yards of dirt, I'll eat more protein and some carbohydrates to give me fuel.
On the other hand, if I'm planning to be behind my desk at work and then studying at home in the evening, I'll try to eat fewer carbs and protein and try to keep my meals light. This will give me the energy I need without overloading myself. Also, eating more frequently will keep me more alert and help with my concentration.
Meal times. When you eat is something else you can adjust to fit your schedule. You shouldn't skip meals and don't pack them too close together. But you can push lunch back an hour if you plan to be very busy right after work. Or eat dinner a little later (and lighter) if you will be getting home late from work or some activity.
The point I'm trying to make is that, everyday isn't the same. We need to be flexible to help our bodies meet the demands that we'll be placing on them. Eat more and differently when we will be active. Eat less when we'll be more sedentary.
[Author's note: This section was alot more informative and eloquent when I was thinking about it when I wrote the original draft of this article. Hopefully, it is still useful.]
Be smart. Eat less. Eat smart for your activity level and planned activities. Exercise.
What more can I say? This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as nutrition and exercise potential goes. I promise you that if you work on getting your portion sizes down and your activity level up, you'll find yourself happier and healthier.
Be sure to consult with your physician or a licensed nutritionist about your personal needs before radically changing your diet and exercise level. These are just suggestions about things to watch for and my ideas about how to improve my own life.
One last thing, cut back on the sweets and anything sold in a vending machine (including diet sodas and sandwiches). Most of it is high in carbohydrates that your body loves to store as fat while you sit and work. Your mother was right, sweets will rot your teeth out. What she didn't know is that they will also rot your body away. This isn't true for everyone, but most of us could stand to get our sweet tooth (or snack tooth) under control and save our appetites for something more substantial and good for us.
Be smart. Be safe. Be healthy. Be happy! :)