Is snacking bad?
Motivated by an article I recently read, I decided it was time to clean up and publish this post which as has collected dust in my Drafts folder for a month.
The HuffPost article titled Have American Parents Got It All Backwards? compared the mealtime habits of Americans to Koreans:
In Korea, eating is taught to children as a life skill and as in most cultures, children are taught it is important to wait out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down together and eat. Koreans do not believe it’s healthy to graze or eat alone, and they don’t tend to excuse bad behavior (like I do) by blaming it on low blood sugar.
Instead, children are taught that food is best enjoyed as a shared experience. All children eat the same things that adults do, just like they do in most countries in the world with robust food cultures. (Ever wonder why ethnic restaurants don’t have kids’ menus?). The result? Korean children are incredible eaters. They sit down to tables filled with vegetables of all sorts, broiled fish, meats, spicy pickled cabbage and healthy grains and soups at every meal. (Source.)
It’s okay for children to wait for meals. It’s also okay for adults to wait for meals.
Our American culture, demanding instant gratification from food, no longer views nourishment as a sacred and shared experience. I think that needs to change.
Here are 5 reasons – from physiological and philosophical perspectives – why I avoid snacking.
1. I want to actually digest my food
I know some of you may flinch if I ask you comprehend your nervous system, but stay with me for a moment. This is the most important concept to grasp about your body.
Your autonomic nervous system controls automatic bodily processes: breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and digestion. It has two settings: Sympathetic Mode and Parasympathetic mode. Sympathetic mode is fight-or-flight, when your body turns off digestive processes and directs all energy toward the muscles. Parasympathetic mode switches on digestion.
We access our parasympathetic nervous system when we feel safe, when we breathe deeply, and when we feel connected to others. No wonder our culture suffers chronic sympathetic dominance.
If you eat your breakfast on the bus, drink your latté while driving, or munch an apple while doing errands you are likely not in parasympathetic mode and therefore not digesting your food. In cultures where food is revered as pleasure and nourishment, people do not eat on-the-go. If you go to France, you’ll know the tourists by the people who eat while walking.
Eating while in sympathetic not only cheats our body of nutrients, it can create leaky gut. As a result, the body often develops food sensitivities and eventually chronic disease.
2. I eat protein and fat for breakfast
When asked about the most important step in a healthy lifestyle, I say, “Make a a low-carb, high protein breakfast your priority every single day.” I recommend eggs and sausage, or some of the other breakfast recipes available in my free Steps for Sustenance.
And yes, that means no smoothies. Smoothies are not a breakfast. Smoothies are not a meal. Meals require some degree of chewing and are enjoyed sitting down at a table.
I switched to this eating rhythm, inspired by Dave Asprey’s metabolic research in his book The BuIletproof Diet. A breakfast high in protein along with healthy fats triggers the metabolism to burn fat and keep you satiated. Further, according to Asprey, carbs consumed in the morning triggers the body to store fat rather than burn it. Chris Kresser, another watertight nutrition researcher, recommends a whopping 40 grams of protein each morning with healthy fats and sequesters carbs to lunch and dinner in Your Personal Paleo Code.
With this dietary tweak, I was suddenly able to go from 7am to 12pm without hunger.
Most people experience carb cravings mid-morning, because their high-carb breakfast has spiked and then crashed their blood sugar. Additionally, their bowl of cereal lacked the protein to satiate them until noon.
My daily breakfast is pictured below. Blended coffee with coconut oil and 2 scoops of collagen protein, along side 2 over-easy duck eggs. That’s about 30 grams of protein balanced with healthy fats.
3. I want to support my blood sugar levels
If you snack because you are hungry between meals, you can likely blame imbalanced blood sugar. When we consume too many carbs and too little healthy fat and protein, our blood sugar responds with a spike and then crashes. Your body perceives that crash as hunger, because all your cells are literally screaming, “I need sugar! Gimme sugar!”
The vast majority of health practitioners I’ve seen, both alternative and conventional, recommend eating many small meals per day to support balanced blood sugar. This common advice may not be the best advice, and I’m speaking from experience.
Even after transitioning to a grain free diet, I experienced the symptoms of a blood sugar rollercoaster between meals. I followed the advice of eating more frequently, but that did not reduce the high readings on my glucometer.
I felt desperate and frustrated as I tried to adjust my carb intake, hoping for a magic fix. But I was already eating relatively low-carb and when I further reduced my carbs, my energy levels and hormone balance suffered.
Finally, my blood sugar balanced when I did the following:
- I implemented my breakfast routine above
- I quit snacking, cold turkey. As a result, I realized that I was usually reaching for snacks out of habit, not true hunger.
- I began regular infrared sauna therapy
Intermittent Fasting, currently surging in popularity, involves a restricted period of time in which food is eaten. The research on intermittent fasting and its cousin, Time-Restricted Eating, suggest that reducing your eating frequency holds huge potential for long-term blood sugar balance.
4. I want my body to regenerate, not constantly digest
When I interned for the leading Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (and also Senior Nutritional Therapy Instructor) John Tjenos, I saw the success of his clients when, along with other nutritional changes, they quit snacking at his recommendation.
He would tell nearly every one of his clients, “It is inconceivable that the gut tissue can regenerate while it is constantly digesting food.” It takes about 4 hours for the stomach to empty, and then food passes to the small intestine where it takes about another 4 hours for the food to digest and pass to large intestine. If we keep adding more food to our system, these organs are impeded in their regeneration process because they are constantly secreting digestive juices and breaking down food.
He also condemned snacks from the perspective that they are not digested because we are not in a parasympathetic mode (see point #1). When paleo clients would defend their snacks because they were healthy picks, he would say, “When we are not in a state ready to digest food, what do we Paleo-eaters usually choose for snacks? Nuts, probably the least digestible food on the planet.”
5. I want to honor mealtimes
The world of health blogs has opened up a vital discussion about ancestral diets and traditional food. Obviously, I champion the innate nutrition wisdom of our ancestors. Ancient cultures across the globe followed dietary guidelines because they were in truly touch with the body’s demands for specific nourishment.
But I believe a huge part of this discussion is missing. Ancestral diets should be valued for not the food and preparation methods, but also the ritual of mealtime.
Snacking is not a traditional food practice. Traditional cultures didn’t graze, they honored mealtime as a community gathering. Meals were enjoyed with the tribe, not alone. In addition, the meal was ravished with blessings and gratitude.
That is the true lineage mealtime: a community gathering to nourish each other not only with food, but also companionship and conversation.
Food sustains my life. I believe it deserves my full presence. Not only that, I believe it deserves my time, my love, and my gratitude. When I eat, I show up to my food. I dedicate consideration and energy into the preparation, and, whenever possible, I eat with others.
I don’t imprison myself in my “no-snacking” lifestyle. On the occasions when I choose to eat between meals, I’m fully present to the food and to the people with whom I’m eating.
How do you want to show up to your food? Ask yourself next time you are reaching for something to mindlessly munch.