By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC
The whole snack-happy, “six-small-meals-a-day” dieting philosophy is one of the worst things to have happened to Western food culture, and is pretty much the bane of my existence as a nutrition counselor. Basically, this phenomenon has created a nation of perpetually hungry, moody hypoglycemics, and although this is great for my business, it is terrible for the health of this country. Allow me to persuade you that snacking is one of your biggest food woes, and to show you a much better way!
Snacking is an American Phenomenon (and that ain’t good)
Fun fact: most other cultures don’t snack. And if they’ve recently begun, it’s part of a larger trend of the Americanization of the world’s eating (read: more fast food, more snacks, more processed food, and more obesity). The distinctly American phenomenon of snacking is a natural result of our culture of excess. As a result of age-old farm subsidies, we have so much excess corn in our country that we just don’t have enough places to put it. So, we created high fructose corn syrup, which we put in pretty much everything; we created processed foods that we eat as children and then crave as adults; and we created a national snacking movement. Which is ruining us. The rise in snacking in America has paralleled the rise in obesity, especially in children. With all the excessive available snack foods, we also are in the habit of eating when we’re not hungry, which is, of course, a surefire way to gain weight! The majority of other cultures, particularly healthier cultures in the Mediterranean and Asia do not snack. They stick to three meals a day, with lunch traditionally being the biggest meal of the day.
Snacking Prevents Consistent Fat Burning
Think of it this way: why would your body go into fat-burning mode if you’re feeding it every 2-3 hours? When we eat often and snack, our bodies burn off what we’ve just eaten, and we don’t have a chance to burn our fat reserves. This makes weight loss very difficult, and instead causes the body to build and store it’s fat reserves. If you snack between meals, even the healthiest possible snack like a carrot or some nuts, you are going to burn off that carrot or nuts, and not your excess body fat. On the contrary, if you’re eating 3 meals a day, at an interval of 4 hours or so, your body goes into a healthy mini-fast between meals, and has the opportunity to start burning fat! This is not only great for reaching and maintaining an ideal weight, but it also allows your organs to cleanse and detox, and staves off hypoglycemia, type 2 diabetes, and more.
Snacking Makes You Obsess Over Food
When your body relies on snacks to keep blood sugar stable, you experience crazy fluctuations in your mood and blood sugar levels throughout the day. This puts your body in a stressed out, emergency state where it is constantly waiting for it’s next food fix (sounds kind of like food addiction, doesn’t it?). Psychologically, this means you are spending wayyyy more of your day thinking about food than you need to. Relying on snacks means that your meals are probably not substantial enough, so when that inevitable blood sugar drop comes, you are also much more likely to reach for those birthday cupcakes in the break room, or the candy jar on the receptionist’s desk. When you’re constantly thinking about food, you’re letting food rule you. If you can’t leave the house without a bar of some sort in your bag, or you find yourself running out to grab a snack in the late afternoon, your diet is just not working for you. Opt for making each meal satisfying enough to get to the next meal without feeling hungry, and without thinking about food.
Snacking is Unnatural For Your Body
Imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Do you really think they would have survived if they needed to eat every 2-3 hours? Our species would have become extinct! Our very survival as a species is due to the fact that humans were able to endure long periods of time without food. Contrary to the Paleo diet and other supposed “primal” ways of eating, our ancestors did not have successful hunts every day (meaning, they did not eat meat every day), and they certainly didn’t run around with backpacks full of snacks. They would eat big meals when they had a successful hunt, and would eat gathered vegetables, fruits, and nuts when they were hungry (and could find them). And I assure you, this wasn’t every 2 hours. The very concept of snacking is unnatural for your body… We just weren’t built for it!
If you STILL don’t believe me, check out the loads of research in the sources below, and read the amazing book, The 3 Season Diet by Dr. John Douillard.
Snacking Makes You Bloated
You know that miserable belly bloat you experience throughout the day? That might be a function of your snacking habit! When you don’t give your body at least 3-4 hours between meals, you are basically piling food on top of more undigested food, compromising the speed and quality of your digestion and causing a backup in your stomach. That food baby is an actual thing! Also, depending on what you’re snacking on, your bloated belly may be a function of the foods you’re eating as well. Eating fruit after meals leads to a build up of gas in your system, which makes your stomach feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Ok, Natasha, I’ll stop snacking… So how do I eat?
Eat 3 healthy meals a day, making each meal satisfying enough to get to the next without feeling hungry. What’s a “healthy meal,” you ask? Check out What Do I Eat? Healthy Eating is Easier Than You Think!If you need to, start with 4 meals a day and work your way down to 3.Make lunch the biggest meal of the day, when you need the most energy and resources to make it through the day. Your digestion is also the strongest at midday, so it’s most able to take on a bigger meal, without any uncomfortable side effects. This also keeps your blood sugar nice and stable, so you don’t crash at 3 or 4pm every day!Make supper the lightest meal of the day. Rock some soup, salad, or cooked veggies! You really don’t need to load up on tons of calories and energy for all that sleep you’re going to do in a few hours, right? Studies¹ show that eating the main meal of the day before 3pm increases weight loss, whereas eating it in the evening (ie: dinner) leads to weight gain.Eat only when you’re hungry. No more mindless snacking or eating for any other reason other than hunger! If stress or sadness are leading you to seek out snacks, take a moment to breathe and deal with the emotion at hand. Food is not a solution.In the wise words of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”Enjoy your newfound freedom! You are no longer a slave to your blood sugar.
¹ International Journal of Obesity, Jan 2013, Garalualet M.
Douillard J. The 3-Season Diet, Three Rivers press, 2000
British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 100 / Issue 05 / November 2008, pp 1142-1148
International Journal of Obesity (2005) 29, 711–719. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802950, Published online 5 April 2005
Clinical Nutrition, Volume 29, Issue 3, June 2010, Pages 323–330
Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S57-70