Can’t fit three balanced meals into your busy day? This is the challenge for you.
“You miss out on vital nutrients when you skip meals,” says Mary Ellen Phipps, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson. “Your body needs food every five to six hours to function properly.”
Eating every few hours refuels your body and puts you in better shape to fight off diseases like cancer. It also helps keep your blood sugar and metabolism at healthy levels.
Eat a healthy snack
“Do you go without food for longer than six hours? Eat a healthy snack. It’ll tide you over until your next meal,” Mary Ellen says. “It’s also OK to eat a small snack if you get hungry in-between meals.”
A healthy snack includes two things:
- Unrefined carbohydrate, like fruit or whole grain crackers
- Protein, like peanut butter or low-fat cheese
Pairing these two together will help you stay full longer and keep you energized.
“I take ballroom dancing classes and see women in these classes who are in their 60s and 70s,” says Ella Forel. “They still have a lot of vitality – I want that to be me.”
A former yoga instructor, 63 year-old Ella describes herself as “overweight and out-of-shape.”
“As I’ve gotten older, eating healthy and staying at a healthy weight require more effort,” Ella says. "I want to relearn how to eat right and get back in shape.”
Making healthy choices
“When I first met Ella, I asked her to tell me what she typically eats in a day,” Mary Ellen says. “I learned that she often skips dinner.”
Because Ella lives alone, she rarely cooks. “After a long, stressful day at work, the last I thing I want to do is go home and cook,” Ella says. “When I do eat dinner, I’ll have a few marshmallows or a bowl of cereal.”
“I advised Ella to make time for healthy meals,” says Mary Ellen. “Skipping meals might seem like a quick and easy way to lose weight. But starving your body of essential calories can actually lead to weight gain over time.”
What worked for Ella
“I’ve always tried to eat healthy,” Ella says. “So I was surprised by how difficult this challenge was for me – especially when I got busy at home and in my personal life. It made it hard to stay focused.”
Ella offers this advice:
- Get support: “On days when I did complete the challenge, I noticed that talking to my support network was most helpful. They gave me the encouragement I needed to make sure I didn’t skip meals.”
- Keep a food journal: “Keeping a journal on my desk every day helped. I enjoyed breaking down my meals and looking specifically at what I was eating day-to-day. It made me feel better and more accountable.”
- Plan ahead: “Planning ahead also helps. On good days, I’d decide at the beginning of the day what meals and snacks I’d have for the rest of the day.”
- Make healthy snacks: “Bring healthy snacks to work. Just be careful with snacking – you don’t want to take in too many calories. You also shouldn’t eat a snack too close to your next meal. For example, snacking late in the day made me not hungry for dinner.”
“I still struggle with eating at regular times throughout the day,” Ella says. “But, I’m learning to listen to my body so that I’ll eat when I’m hungry and not when I’m stressed.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.