Believe it or not, we can learn a lot about basic emotional regulation from watching children. Not babysitting… observing! Indeed, some of the most valuable lessons come from noticing how differently kids handle life when only basic needs are covered, and more importantly, when they’re not! One of the aspects of “PLEASE” Skills in the DBT philosophy is Balanced Eating (the first “E” in PLEASE is for Eating!). Sure, we hear that balanced eating is important in general, but do you really know why? And what Balanced Eating truly looks like?
Imagine for a second how a 3-year-old will react to – well, anything – if it’s been 4 or 5 hours since they’ve eaten something… Exactly. They will likely cry, scream, or have some version of a temper tantrum with even the slightest of unpleasant emotions. As big people, why would we expect that going long periods of time without food, having limited nutritional variety, or under eating would affect us any differently?
The truth is, when our brain is fed regularly and with enough food offering a balanced, variety of nutrients, our brain has the energy and the neurotransmitters to help us start to feel better and allow us to use other skills that improve emotional regulation. One of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of balance is that our brain only receives energy from carbohydrates, something to take to heart if you’ve ever considered following a low-carb diet.
What’s “regular, enough, and balanced”? Typically, our body and brain use up fuel from meals every 3-4 hours during the daytime, dependent on quantity and the mix of nutrients. One way to assess whether you’re eating enough is the regular, consistent emergence of hunger signals, which when answered, allow us to know when we’re satisfied. And balanced nutrition really means that we include carbohydrate, protein, fats and “color” (fruits & vegetables) within our meals, and attempt to have some combo of carbohydrate and protein with most snacks.
So the next time you think about delaying a meal or a snack, think of how that 3-year-old would feel if they were to do the same thing, and give yourself a moment to refuel and regroup. Your body, brain, and emotional health will thank you for it!