Learning Curve: Packing Lunch

This is a scary post for me to publish.


This quote from Go Kaleo’s post sums it up.:

There’s another, even more dysfunctional factor at work…..women in our culture have been conditioned to associate eating with feelings of shame and guilt. I’ve run into this on my facebook page and here, I’ve had several people make up ridiculous rumors about how much I eat and speculate that I must be taking steroids in order to eat as much as I do and not get fat. This is a response I get for eating a healthy amount of food to support my activity and my weight, and for acknowledging in public that I eat that much. Women are supposed to be dainty and delicate and eat like birds, and in popular media women enjoying eating and eating more than a few bites of food are frequently portrayed as undesirable, and presented as comedy. So many of us have internalized these perceptions, and the result is a tremendous psychological pressure to not eat (or at least to not be seen eating), and highly dysfunctional eating behaviors.

So, I feel nervous about going into my energy requirements in detail, when it isn’t in the context of wanting to count calories in order to lose weight. Especially as a fat person – I feel nervous that I will be judged harshly for not attempting weight loss. I fear that calorie talk in general will call attention to that. I have some anxiety that as a fat person, I shouldn’t call attention to the fact that I eat at all.  So, I definitely have some internalized shame and guilt going on about this.

Just putting all that out there, before I go into the actual topic of this post. Why am I publishing it anyway? Because I strongly feel that this culture of guilt and shame around women eating is harmful, and the only way it is going to change is if women are going to make eating more visible/normal.

Now that it is out of the way, here it goes….

I am proud of myself for taking steps to better fuel my body this week.  A big step? Learning how to pack meals and snacks for days at work / on the go.

I work at a farm and I have easy access to fresh produce when it’s in season. That made it easy for me to slack on packing lunches. Worse comes to worst, I’d throw a couple cans of tuna, a salad bowl, a knife, and a can opener into my bag. I could always make a salad.  Munch on some fruit.

Well, a couple months ago I noticed something: when I did that, I was really short tempered when I came home from work. And HUNGRY. I would be cranky and short with my husband. I couldn’t deal with simple human interaction.

So, I knew I had to pack more filling lunches. Even though I enjoy salads, I told myself that I would probably feel better if I ate more calorie dense foods for lunch, and ate salads for dinner if I wanted them.

That was a step in the right direction. But I still found it challenging to pack my lunches. If we had leftovers on hand, it was easy, but we didn’t always have leftovers on hand. I was still eating paleo-ish at the time, and so a lot of packaged foods were not ones I considered.

Over the past month, I would pack a lunch….which I would be hungry for around 11am. I’d eat it. But I’d often get hungry again in the mid afternoon. I knew I needed more to fuel my training, etc, but I just never seemed to be able to pack enough. It all seemed overwhelming in the morning, when my toddler would be whining, and I didn’t have ready to grab options. So I would pack what I could think of, and eat that in the morning…. and get some takeout in the afternoon. This happened often. My family’s budget really can’t handle this. I knew I needed to pack more food.

Or, alternately, I just wouldn’t eat enough during the day….and then eat a very large meal in the evening. That made it not super comfortable for going to sleep at night.

Or, on a day I didn’t work, if my kiddo and I went on an outing, I would often pack his food, but not enough food for myself. Again, I’d either not eat enough during the day and eat a ton at night (leading to poor sleep), or buy food on the go (and spend too much money).

So, last week….I knew my budget was still stressing me out, but my body needed to eat enough to fuel and recover from training, be well-nourished, be focused and clearheaded, and emotionally able to handle my family.

I decided to use a Total Daily Energy Expenditure calculator to estimate how many calories I need in a day. I have no intention of logging my food or counting calories, since I don’t believe that would be enjoyable or sustainable for me.  I have a strong aversion to doing that from being forced to do it as a child, and forcing myself to do it as an adult. But I knew, without logging anything, that I wasn’t hitting the target, based on how I felt. Or if I was hitting the target, it wasn’t at the right times of day for me to feel my best (in the example of undereating during the day and overeating at night). So even if I didn’t log food or count calories, it made sense for me to at least get an idea of what the target WAS, for my age/weight/size/activity level.

I entered into the calculator my gender, weight, height, and age. For activity level, I chose “moderate – exercising 3-5 days per week.” The Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) for those criteria is 2967 calories per day, according to the calculator.

Now, as far as the activity level goes, I wasn’t sure if I had chosen the most appropriate category for myself. It’s kind of hard to tell, since it doesn’t specify the nature of the exercise, the duration of the exercise, or the intensity of the exercise assumed by the calculator. So, I calculated using two other activity levels in order to get a range for myself.

When I put in “heavy exercise – exercising 6-7 days per week,” the TDEE listed was 3302 calories. If I used “light exercise – exercising 1-3 days per week,” the TDEE listed was 2632 calories. So therefore, my estimated TDEE is somewhere between 2632 and 3302 calories.

I already said that I wasn’t planning to log my food intake or count calories. So, what do I plan to do with this information?

I plan to use it to pack enough food to eat when I am out of the house! Here’s how:

If I know my TDEE is somewhere around 3000 calories, and I am leaving the house for 8 hours…..I know I probably need to pack 1500-2000 calories in meals and snacks to be eaten during those hours (assuming I eat breakfast and dinner at home). I also know that restricting food groups (as I was doing when eating paleo-ish) was limiting my options and making it more difficult (not impossible; just more difficult, especially on a budget) to meet these requirements.

Am I going to stress about hitting an exact number of calories in my lunch bag each day? Nope. That’s why there’s a range (1500-2000)

Am I going to force myself to eat all that food if I’m not hungry for it? Nope. In case I haven’t made it super clear, I’m working really hard on learning to listen to my body this year. The point is…..if I AM hungry for every last bite I pack, it will be there! I won’t need to choose between spending money on take out or going home feeling “hangry” at the end of the day.

I’ve already tried it twice. I packed a big lunch box full of food for our blueberry picking trip on Friday. I hadn’t eaten much breakfast, and I noticed that I got tired of blueberry picking quickly and started to get impatient with my kiddo. We sat down at the picnic table and ate our lunch. It felt really good to not have to go buy food. I was full after eating about half of what I packed for myself. So I ended up eating the other half later in the afternoon once we were home.

Then, on Saturday morning, I tried it again. I had to go to the lab for some follow up bloodwork, which meant I had to wait until after the test to eat breakfast. I had barbell club later in the morning. I decided to pack my breakfast so I could eat after the blood test and not need to stop home. I packed several options. I ended up not eating everything I packed, but I ate as much as I wanted, and felt great while training.

I am excited to see what improvements I notice as I get more practice in packing enough food to eat during the day.

What are some of your favorite meals and snacks on the go? I need all the ideas I can get!


7 thoughts on “Learning Curve: Packing Lunch

  1. Hi Bethany! I’ve been following your blog through BPA and though I don’t have kids, I can relate to much of what you mention.

    I’ve spent a lot of time – and its still a work in progress – figuring out food. Nope, we aren’t dumb about food, but sometimes our minds shut down on options for whatever reason.

    Like you, I’m not a calorie counter per say – though I know when I have had too much crap, not enough of what I need. Or just not enough. Each day is and will be different depending on your normal activity level plus whatever sort of training you do. The heavier and longer the activity, the more likely I’m to eat anything in my way! Proper fueling options are needed. Once in a while I’ll go onto Fitness Pal and log my food for a couple of weeks. It is a reminder to me of having the better macro nutrients mix, and to think of what I’m eating and why. (is it hunger, emotional, boredom etc)

    Tortilla wraps with peanut butter – sometimes adding cinnamon, coconut, broken pretzels or a few chocolate chips for flavour changes. Shelf stable so it can be made and on hand for a couple of days. I’m starting to use this, cut into smaller rounds, on my bike rides for food.

    Apples that have been cored and stuffed with a nut butter or soft cheese such as cream cheese. Keep in the fridge and bring a small knife to slice into wedges.

    Bean salads – using chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans etc are great options that have protein/carb mix that satisfies. Can be used as a snack, a side to go with meat or as a meal on it’s own to match with the veggies you have access to.

    Energy bars can be useful to have on hand. Keep in mind, energy means sugar. But it’s better than hunger. Look for options that are low GI or more a protein bar. And if time allows, there are options to make your own, cut, wrap and freeze. Then you have your grab and go that you are comfortable with. Most are 200 calories. Sometimes I cut mine in half for that light last minute snack before a workout. Or pair it with a small handful of raw nuts.

    Make your own trail mix – add in your favourite nuts, perhaps a cereal (Shreddies or Cheerios are options), dried fruit as you like (coconut, cranberries, apples, mango, pineapple), a few chocolate chips (or butterscotch, or yogurt chips or . . . ). Mix it all up. You can portion it all out right away into the snack sized ziploc bags. The combination is whatever you decide. There are other mixes that require a bit of baking as they use some oils or sugars that way. Again, internet search on recipe and fitness sites can be very helpful.

    Hope this helps. And now, I need to take my own advise and make up some snacks ahead for this week!


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