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Eating: Get Your Mind in the Game

Are you really hungry? Find out when to eat, how much to eat, and why so you can eat healthfully all the time.

Do you ever get really hungry during the day? Ever eaten so much you felt stuffed or gotten sick? You don't have to.

Thinking about when and how much to eat can help you feel your best.

When Should I Eat?

"You should really eat something every 3 hours," says Kristen Liebl, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with Sanford Health. "If you go much longer than that, your body pulls out its survival gear. You're so hungry that you eat too fast, and it is hard to slow down. Also, when you're really hungry, it is hard to make good choices."

You should never let yourself get so hungry that you're feeling shaky or sick to your stomach. Ask your parents to help you. To make sure you're giving your body food often enough, think about eating like breakfast, snack, lunch, after-school snack, and dinner. Keeping your eating spaced out will keep you from being really hungry at meals and help you have energy. Make sure you eat the right-sized portions, not so much that you feel uncomfortable.

How Do I Build a Healthy Meal?

Whether you're eating a meal or a snack, you want to make sure you eat a healthy balance of 3 food types to give your body good energy. The 3 food types you should have every time you eat are protein, carbohydrates (nicknamed carbs), and fats.

Protein keeps you full and makes your muscles strong. At dinner you'll recognize healthy protein as lean meats like fish or chicken, or foods like beans (such as tofu). For snacks, you can find protein in nuts, peanut butter, or dairy foods (such as yogurt, milk, or cheese).

Carbs give your body quick energy. Whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice are healthy carbohydrates. When you have a choice, don't pick white bread or white rice. White versions of foods usually don't have as many nutrients for your body as whole grains do. Fruits and veggies are also healthy carbohydrates.

Healthy fats help you feel full and help your body get nutrients from the other foods you eat them with. While too much unhealthy fat is bad for your body, eating some healthy fat makes the meal taste better and can actually help prevent some diseases. Try eating a salad with 2 spoons of oil and vinegar. To eat healthy fats, try olive oil, avocado, or a handful of nuts.

For a snack you could eat:

  • A slice of cheese (protein and fat) and an apple (carbs)
  • Peanut butter (protein and healthy fat) on a whole-grain cracker (carbs)

What Should I Think About While I Eat?

Think while you eat? Yes, it is good to slow down. You may have had people tell you to take your time and don't gobble. But why does it matter?

"It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the 'full' signal," says Stephanie Walsh, MD, at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "So if you eat until 'full,' 20 minutes later you will feel stuffed."

That's why you need to take your time when you eat. There's a delay before your stomach feels full. Take a break before you feel really full. It gives your body a chance to figure out that it's being fed. If you're really hungry, it can be easy to eat way too much and end up overstuffed.

To help you slow down, keep these things in mind when you eat:

  • Really taste your food. When your bites aren't as yummy as they were at first, that's a sign you’re getting full.
  • Take a break between bites. This slows your eating down and helps with your digestion. Once you take a bite, put your fork or spoon down to make sure your hands are empty. This will help keep you from putting food in your mouth without really tasting it.
  • Chew, chew, chew. See how many times you can chew each bit of food. Can you chew it 20 or 30 times?

Also, don't let yourself get distracted during snack and meal times. Sit down and focus when you eat. Watching TV or playing video games can lead to overeating because they can keep you from listening to your body. Eating should leave you feeling energized and satisfied (feeling just right). It shouldn't leave you feeling yucky, too full, or sleepy.

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