Sad to say, but it probably is. Worse yet, it’s doing so while pretending to be your friend – the one you miss, wait for impatiently, and embrace when finally get to see. How treacherous. If you feel betrayed, you should – and not only by the snack, but first and foremost by a misleading nutritional advice that for years told you that eating every 2-3 hours will help “keep your metabolism up,” “keep your hunger down so you don’t overeat at the mealtime” and other utter rubbish*.
If you feel incredulous and want to go on trusting your “friend,” here is what happens when you do. The description below is admittedly simplified – we are not trying to become certified endocrinologists here, so a certain degree of approximation is unavoidable.
Crazy Road Flagger
Here is how you (and the rest of humankind) were designed to work. You take in calories – process which we fondly call enjoying the delectable food. Your blood sugar spikes, and in response your insulin level goes up. Insulin is a road flagger – it directs the calories flow through the body. It, among other things, commands the glucose from carbohydrates to go to your liver, where it’s stored as glycogen for later use. When your blood sugar drops back again, so does insulin – and the energy flows back, fueling our brain, muscles and even the heartbeat itself. When we run low on fuel, we feel hunger – our body signals that it’s time to refill the tank. That’s all nice and dandy while the road flagger – insulin – is sane and sober.
Now imagine that the road flagger lost his mind, got drunk and refused to leave. Despite his job being over, he remains on the road forbidding the calories to leave their storage and provide the energy for our body.
Despite there being enough fuel, it doesn’t flow back to the bloodstream, making your brain and muscles starve. What is going to happen when your body thinks that it runs low on fuel? Of course – you feel hungry. More so, you will crave the easiest, fastest energy supply – refined carbs that get digested in no time. So you inhale a bagel with jam, some of this newly-injected energy supports your immediate needs and the flagger is still on a job, now legitimately. So, after the rest of calories get shoved into storage room again, how long is it going to take you to feel hungry again? Right, not too long.
So, what made the road flagger drunk in the first place? Why did he remain on the road instead of leaving when the job was done? Guess what – you did. By snacking while not really hungry, you made the road flagger stay. Your snack caused blood sugar to rise and stimulated secretion of insulin. The new portion of food – that same snack that was supposed to maintain your metabolism and keep your hunger at bay – signaled the flagger to remain on the job. Instead of allowing the stored calories to re-enter the bloodstream and supply you with energy, he kept the road one-way and directed new calories into the storage. The storage got overfilled and the road quickly became empty – thus, a new bout of hunger and liver containing too much fat.
Then the legitimate mealtime came, and you arrived at the table feeling ravenous. Notice, that’s despite that same snack that promised to keep you full. Wait, despite? No, thanks to it. The promise was false. The advice was misleading. The friend was an enemy.
How Do You Fight Back?
You don’t snack. If you think it’s difficult, just try it. Remember the advice from the last post, to try and cut down on carbs and increase the share of healthy fats and protein in your menu? When you do it, you feel full for much longer. In the absence of sweets and refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar spikes are dulled down and so are increases of insulin levels. You may experience the habitual hunger – learned sensation resulting from years of bad habits. It’s fairly easy to keep at bay with a cup of tea or hot water with lemon. As you come to the next mealtime, you will be amazed to find out that you don’t feel voracious; rather, you have a healthy appetite and feel satiated when you have enough. It’s quite remarkable how quickly our body learns to like the good behavior. Try that for a week or two, and I bet you won’t ever want to go back to your free-snacking ways.
Short-term benefits are going to be easy to observe: no hunger, no constant tiredness, more energy, and more clarity. That’s not all, though; there are long-term benefits as well. In the absence of constantly elevated insulin levels, your insulin resistance is not likely to become a problem down the road, as we discussed in this post – or at least you remove one of the major risk factors.
Now, what if you have a legitimate need to snack? Let’s say, your next meal got delayed for whatever reason, your hunger is legit and you are not into the whole Intermittent Fasting routine yet? It’s easy: make your snack really healthy one. That means good fats and proteins, not the sugar or processed stuff. Leave that candy bar or even a protein bar on the shelf. It doesn’t belong in your stomach. (Actually, it doesn’t belong on the shelf either, but store managers are likely to frown at your noble attempt to burn their unhealthy offerings). Here are some perfect snacks, courtesy of this excellent overview (numbers signify the grams of carbs per 100 g of food):
Feel more like vegetables or berries? Here are some ideas and numbers from the same source (visit the post for more ideas):
And here are some things decisively not to eat:
Again, thanks to The DietDoctor for excellent graphics. Let’s get that road flagger, a.k.a. insulin, sane and sober again. Happy (non) snacking!
A hypercaloric diet with high meal frequency increased IHTG and abdominal fat independent of caloric content and body weight gain, whereas increasing meal size did not. This study suggests that snacking, a common feature in the Western diet, independently contributes to hepatic steatosis [fatty liver – Vad] and obesity.”