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Weight Loss and Snacking

Weight Loss and Snacking

by Laura J Hieb, ND on August 10, 2022

To snack or not to snack, that is the question.

Is snacking healthy, or not?

Americans snack more than ever these days. Some of my clients tell me they don't eat regular meals-- they just graze (snack) all day.

For most of us, food is everywhere and a lot of us eat for reasons other than hunger. Clients who worked from home during the pandemic noted they were snacking a lot more--because their "office" was just around the corner from their kitchen.

One good thing that snacking can do is to help keep our blood sugar levels even--as long as the snacks are not made up of sugar and starches.

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and told the treatment was to avoid sugar and to eat a protein-containing snack every 2-3 hours. So I did this. (Well I was 15, so may be a little sugar sneaked in...)

And then I noticed I was gaining weight, even though my snacks mainly consisted of a hardboiled egg, or chicken with veggies. I mentioned this to my mom who said, "Well you are eating all the time".

I know. I was--because I was told to do so!

As a child, my snacks were limited, because, they might spoil my dinner. A friend of mine whose father was a doctor, forbade any after dinner snacks, because they would  interfere with sleep (a man ahead of his time!).
But then the snacking-to-keeping-your-blood-sugar-even thing really took hold and so did snacking in general.

So keeping our blood sugar levels even is important, but are we meant to eat every 2-3 hours?

It is rather inconvenient for one thing. Traditionally most cultures have eaten 2-3 meals daily, with possibly a snack (think the afternoon English tea) but not necessarily every day. And there are other ways to keep one's blood sugar level even.

The main argument against snacking is two-fold.

First, if we are eating every 2-3 hours and it takes 2-3 hours to digest our food, our digestive system is working pretty much non-stop without a break. Besides not getting any rest, it makes it hard for the digestive system to do other necessary things, like repair itself.

Second, our pancreas secretes insulin.  When we eat, our pancreas produces a surge of insulin. The amount of insulin secreted depends of course on how much sugar/carbs we just ate.  But when insulin is high, we can't lose weight. Because as you may recall from my previous blogs, insulin is an energy storage hormone (among other things).

So when we are storing fat, we are not burning fat.

If you are eating/snacking all the time, you will be having surges of insulin all the time, and that will impede weight loss, because you will be making and storing fat instead of burning it.

Eating every 4-6 hours allows for your digestive system to rest and repair, and allows for lower levels of insulin, which will help promote weight loss. This is why intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating) helps with fat burning. (See my blog from 5.14.2020)

So NOT snacking will help more with weight loss.

But what if you get hungry before 4-6 hours go by? And what about keeping your blood glucose levels even?

Being hungry all the time often means your blood sugar levels are not even. Why?

Because you are eating too many things that raise your blood sugar (and insulin) levels and not enough of the things that help keep blood sugar levels even.

I think we all know which things do what--especially if you have been reading my previous blogs--but just to be clear, let me reiterate:

Sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, agave syrup, starches, processed foods, etc, all raise blood sugar (glucose) and insulin.

Fiber, protein, and healthful fats all lower blood glucose and insulin.

Try 3-4 meals daily to start. Each meal should contain at least 20 grams of protein, 1-2 T of healthful fat and 1-2 or more cups of veg (fiber). Then you can add a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, or  1/2 cup of fruit (not tropical fruits which include bananas and oranges). If you are having a desert-like food, have it immediately after your meal.

If you still feel you need to snack, always include  protein, healthful fat and veg/fiber.

Potato chips and Doritos (sadly) contain none of these.