The problem with pre-eating

I’m not sure where I heard this term. It was in passing, a cursory phrase to describe something so familiar to us that no one – to my knowledge – has paused to discuss it in depth.

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So many of us pre-eat, especially at dinner. Peanuts, crackers and cheese before dinner. The desserty treat when we can’t quite make it to lunchtime. We think we can’t last, we’re that hungry. Or that’s what we tell ourselves.

This is the thing I wonder:

Are we so uncomfortable with the feeling of hunger, that we have to get rid of it before we eat?

I also wonder – actually I strongly suspect – it could have a lot to do with being scared of restraint and lack. Many of us fear that feeling of missing out and the feeling of “emptiness”, for a whole quagmire of really messy reasons.

We shove food down on top of hunger, hoping it will silence all other emptiness or flutteriness we might be feeling.

There’s also this: As I’ve written before, our willpower muscle has limited strength. After being worked all day, it becomes exhausted and by 6pm it falls into lactic collapse. Which is why we tend to pre-eat at this time.

But pre-eating is also a chapter in the big book Why We’re Getting Fat. Which is the companion title to The Story of How We Lost Our Real Appetite.

* We tend to pre-eat food that’s carby. We do this to stoke our flagging blood-sugar levels. It gives us a quick kick and is a great “emptiness” filler. Problem is, it sets up our metabolisms all wrong for dinner which would, presumably, be some good protein and vegetables. It sets us up to store calories.

* When we pre-eat – in fact, when we eat between meals in general – we don’t give our appetite hormones the time to re-balance. Same with our gastric juices – they don’t get a chance to build up. Remember: “snacking” and the idea of eating 5-6 meals a day was “invented” in the 1990s by nutritionists concerned about their sugar-addicted clients’ blood-sugar rollercoastering.

Snacking is a confection to “Band-aid” our messed-up metabolisms…which is caused by snacking.

* Plus, pre-eating leaves us not-so-hungry when the real meal arrives. Thus, we don’t tend to devour the nutritious bits; we go for the highlight bits.

Yep, the Spanish and Italians et el do tapas and aperitivo and meze. But they also tend to eat twice a day only. And dinner isn’t their biggest meal…often they only eat the tapas. Traditionally speaking, of course.

I can very much be tempted by pre-eating. But I resist it now…and try to be at peace with the resistance.  These tricks work:

  • I drink a glass of warm water and apple cider vinegar about 30 minutes before eating. This curbs the blood-sugar nagging while also preparing my gut for dinner.
  • I eat a proper lunch.  I don’t muck about. I fill it with protein and fat. Lots of it – no piddly little salads.
  • I tend to eat dinner earlier now. This really is a simple solution, no?
  • If I am tempted to pre-eat, I will pick at some raw veggies (carrot sticks, some fennel as I cook). The enzymes from raw food can also assist your appetite in preparation for the main event.
  • I avoid drinking alcohol before having my first bite of dinner (I happily drink a glass of red with my meal most nights)…booze can excite the appetite (ie make you a bit too hungry) and taxes the liver.
  • Meditating before dinner. Sometimes I just need to calm the fork down and be a bit OK with my anxiety and that feeling that I’m missing out on something.

Wondering…how cool are you with the feeling of hunger?

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