I’m going to dive straight in here and give my reasons, which you are welcome to look up and research yourself, why snacking and grazing are not good for your health.
Snacking/grazing on food throughout the day…
- Rots your teeth.
- Raises blood sugar levels, and in turn wears out your pancreas.
- Blurs the hunger and satiety signals from the body, so you forget what real hunger and true fullness actually feel like.
- Gives you stomach and digestive aches and pains. Gas, bloating, poorly formed stools, heartburn, random gut pains.
- Lines the pockets of Big Food.
- Is disrespectful to your food, and to yourself.
Why waiting to eat is so beneficial, for mind, body, and spirit.
From the moment food comes into the body, via the mouth, and a day or so later, leaves the body via you know what, hundreds of different processes get kicked into action! I’m currently reading an amazing book, and I highly recommend you to read it! Gut, by Giulia Enders. A fascinating, funny and highly informative book on our hard working, but often dismissed body part; the wonderful gut. In it, she goes through all the different actions and mechanisms and players that all work to turn lumps of food into separate parts that are useable to the body.
Did you know when food goes through the stomach and then into the small intestine, the body does a very clever movement to push all the last bits of food into the intestines. Nothing to be left behind. Enders delightfully characterizes this as the cleaner, meticulously brushing every last scrap away so it’s spotless. But alas, constant snacking delays the cleaner in its tidying duties. So it just has to wait. This isn’t so great. Lots of debris left behind just clogs everything up! Not good housekeeping, and not good for the health of the gut – or your body. Giving your body a good long break between meals, and that includes a nice light supper (no eating into the late hours!) allows it to clean everything away. No mess. No stress. Enders says that a gurgling feeling when the stomach is empty isn’t really the sound of hunger, as it doesn’t come from the stomach. Instead it’s the intestine making this special cleaning movement to clear everything out!
Proponents of fasting say that hunger, the actual feeling of hunger – the empty sensation in the stomach and the definite, intuitive feeling that you are indeed hungry (and not bored, or peckish) – is vital for the health of your brain! (Read professor of neuroscience, Mark Mattson’s well researched views here.) Hunger is a sort of stress, but a good stress. It allows the brain to wake up, shake things up and get some neurons firing. We feel more alert, more keen and more awake when hungry. This is a mechanism we have carried around with us since dragging our knuckles around in caves. Hunger = smart = find food. Logical, no? So snacking may lead you to never feel true hunger, never giving your body or brain a chance to shine and be at their best!
And what do we snack on anyways? Fatty, sugary stuff usually! And we don’t eat those things in calm environments, we eat them on the go. Oh dear me. The body cannot digest foods in stressful, or ‘unrelaxed’ atmospheres. The stomach literally does not do its clever squeezing and rolling motions under these conditions, so food just either sits there (heartburn anyone?) or it passes undigested food into the small intestine (gas or bloating then?).
And your teeth! This is an area I know something about from personal experience. Snacking on fruit through the day led me to lose some of my precious enamel off of my teeth. Ladies and gentlemen, I discovered the hard way, but the teeth should not be exposed to foods all day long (duh!). They, like the rest of the parts that play a role in the digestive system, need a break. Don’t wash them in grub all the live long day. And don’t think brushing them after food makes the problem better. It doesn’t. Enamel can soften just after eating, brushing at that time does even more damage, literally brushing off this most important coating – which does not grow back! And this most certainly goes for drinking too, especially pop! Leave it out completely would be the best for your health, obvs.
Also, eating late at night is how traditional sumo wrestlers put on weight, as Marc David says in his book, Nourishing Wisdom. There wasn’t THAT much highly calorific fast food available hundreds of years ago, so to be smart about it, they just ate their meals in the dark hours, when the body wasn’t really up to digesting and instead would say “Yawn, I’m trying to chill and clean here, into the fat cells with you!” So there.
But hey, I do find myself a-snacking against my best interests at times. Oh this brain of mine with its well grooved habits. Still, here’s a little manifesto that can help snackers of the world to unite for better health and wellbeing!
The No Snacking Manifesto.
The ideal food day is completely up to you. You may have any variety of requirements, (perhaps disease or illness) that requires you to manage it as best you can. So please, stick to what works for you! But for me, snacking did NOT do my body any health favours, and grazing all day is, most likely, not doing any favours for you either.
The Ideal Food Time Table is borne out of simple, traditional and respectful ways to eat that are practiced and honoured in many parts of the world that enjoy good food and good health.
Japan for example, with their longest lived people on the island of Okinawa have very similar food practices to those of the French, who may eat different foods, but still share a similar outlook on eating. I subscribe to these traditions as they were exactly the same ones that my grandparents would have shared, although perhaps not so deeply in their culture as it has been swept away pretty easily by marketing and food producers. And don’t you get fooled by them marketers either. Snacking is a business. It comes from large corporations. It was invented around the time previous generations enjoyed beehive hair styles and flares and had brainwashing devices in their floral orange sitting rooms – the TV. Adverts said “Snack! It keeps you going and it’s good for you!” Tosh. Don’t buy it. Literally.
- Eat sitting down.
- Pay reverence to your food – a blessing or giving thanks before a meal. This ties in to my mindful eating article, in which I say that we should pause before eating to respect the journey of our food and the journey it will make through our body. Changing our very selves as it goes through. Take a moment here too to respect the huge job the body is about to do. Turning your food into – you!
- Eat with people if you can. Why? Many cultures not only celebrate food for the sustenance it gives to them, but they enjoy it as a celebrational time to eat with others. Friends and family feed us in a different way. We cement those connections at every meal time. However, this is not easily done, and I, working alone in the day, rarely eat with people! But still, it gives an interesting perspective on snacking alone in the house with the telly on. What are we hiding? Have we forgotten how to have fun? Food isn’t always the fun bit, it’s the banter and the debates. If you want to be alone, introverts (hello me too!) then let’s find some nourishing ways to have time to ourselves. If eating it has to be, then pay it some attention.
- Do not snack, or eat on the run. Eat at set times. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. A small something can be eaten in the afternoon, but waiting is more than acceptable here too. For me, this means that in times of stress or discomfort, without snacking there, you have to learn to deal with things differently. A difficult morning sends you to an outdoor space to breathe, instead of the vending machine. A hard day’s work means you lie down with your eyes closed listening to music (Bach or Black Sabbath, y’know, whatever rocks your boat), instead of grabbing some food. It’s a whole new world order for a brain used to snacking in times of distress. We have to retrain the brain.
- Eat larger meals at midday, and lighter meals for dinner. And add some protein in your breakfast to see you through to lunch time deliciousness. I know this is a tricky one. But there are many traditional words of wisdom that state that when the sun is highest in the sky; our digestive forces are at their strongest. It also makes logical sense too. Why would you eat the most at dinner, when the only thing anyone does is sit down and shortly after go to sleep. (Hello sumo wrestler paunch!) But many feel tired after a large lunch and can’t then work efficiently afterwards. It’s a shame that colder climates can’t adopt the same principles as sunny cultures, who take long midday breaks to eat a languid lunch and then chill out, literally, in the shade. Me, jealous? Either way, a bigger lunch break would certainly help many people. If you can’t take a long lunch break, consider chewing your food really well (less work for the toothless gut) and eating lighter, and easier to digest foods, like vegetables, with their high water content instead of steak and chips (animal protein and fried fats, a digestion difficulty rating of ten for sure). If you like your roots and tubers, consider them in soup form, or very lightly steamed. The raw crunch of most veggies makes you chew, and that gives your brain time to ‘hear’ the message of satiety. A soft mushy cooked meal will go down well, but so much will have been eaten by the time the brain hears ‘I’m full’ that the belly is already distended and an afternoon energy slump is bound to happen. Eating refined carbs like pizzas, breads and chocolate is something I see many an office worker do. Come four o’clock the woozy body, with its horrible blood sugar crash is desperate for a pick me up. More chocolate and pop it is! Don’t force yourself to snack by eating refined rubbish. Eat whole and real foods that slowly give their energy to you over the afternoon.
One last thing, I think I see a hand raised up in the back there. Yes? “Wouldn’t our ancestors, in Palaeolithic times, have grazed?”
I thought there’d be one! Tsh! Well, I just can’t say. Who can say for sure? Starvation was a real threat to our ancestors, so they would have eaten, when they could have, of course. But hunger, and therefore fasting, was something regularly done (imposed or chosen?). With only a short window in which to eat, snacking was probably not the 16 hour munch fest that we know it as today, then food was eaten when it was ready to eat. And certainly deep fried mastodon wasn’t on the menu. Let’s take advantage of this lovely forward planning lobe we have above our eyebrows – yes we can dress it with a fringe, but we can also use it to plan our next meal and to know that the next meal is a certainty. What a luxury! We have caches and stashes of food at our disposal, now if only we have the willpower to access them when truly hungry! But we can take inspiration from the fact that willpower is a muscle and can be trained. And those who delay gratification, do well in all other areas of their life, yay! (see Walter Mischel and the famous Marshmallow Test).
Indeed, good things come to those who wait.