Why Snacking is a Health Hazard
Over the past few years there has been an emphasis on eating regularly throughout the day, with main meals separated by snacking: Breakfast followed by a mid morning snack; lunch followed by mid-afternoon snack and dinner followed by evening snack or supper. This was supposed to help stimulate metabolism, keep weight in check and provide stable blood sugar regulation. Well it hasn’t worked and it will never work.
People today eat more food than ever and eat more frequently than ever. Despite (or because of) this, the problems of metabolism, overweight and blood sugar irregularities are worse than ever. The rates of obesity and overweight are climbing, diabetes is epidemic and chronic tiredness is universal.
It is no exaggeration to say that western society is eating itself into a stupor, chronic illness and an early grave, in that order.
Understanding Metabolism: Anabolism and Catabolism
Metabolism is the balance between two biological processes within the body called anabolism and catabolism.
On the one hand the body has to be continually renewed. New tissues, including the skin, the gut, bones and so on are continually rebuilding. This process is called anabolism. You have heard of anabolic steroids, which are sometimes taken illegally by athletes to stimulate new tissue growth. Bodybuilders are notorious for taking anabolic steroids to build bigger muscles. Well this is where the word finds its context. Anabolism means building up.
The second process is called catabolism. This is where the body breaks old tissue down, removes waste products and excretes them, a process closely linked to detoxification.
In bones for example, two different types of cell perform these two functions. One bone cell, the osteoclast, clears away old, mottled bone. This process is then followed by the second type of bone cell called an osteoblast, which builds new bone. All body tissues undergo these processes, some more quickly than others. Thus the entire body replaces itself every few years.
The Importance of Catabolism
If our catabolic processes are compromised or inefficient, we become toxic. When the cellular wastes and old, used tissue and materials are not efficiently removed, they accumulate in different parts of the body. Toxaemia results, where these waste products accumulate within the body tissues, fat and blood. This condition of toxaemia has been now officially accepted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the States in 2001. All sorts of illnesses result from this chronic process, from inflammation to chronic disease to premature ageing.
It is what we want to avoid if we wish to live a healthier, more energetic, disease-free, and of course, long life.
So what Does Snacking Have to Do with Catabolism?
When we eat, and this includes snacking, we promote anabolism, or building up, and we temporarily inhibit the process of catabolism. We divert energy away from the catabolic or clearing processes of the body and focus the body’s energy on building up.
When we do not eat, we rest our digestive system and promote detoxification and catabolism. This helps keep our bodies cleaner and less toxic, allowing our bodies to remove wastes and detoxify materials which otherwise could cause unwanted health issues.
To further illustrate this, it is why we often might notice a slightly off breath upon arising in the morning. This is because we have spent a number of hours (hopefully) not eating, while asleep, and this allows the body the necessary rest to initiate its catabolic and detoxification processes. Not only is our breath stronger, but our urine is also a little darker in colour, a result of the kidneys having extra energy to help detoxify our blood.
It is also why we lose our appetite when sick, feverish, very stressed or exhausted. This is called anorexia, meaning lack of appetite. It has important survival value. Animals and young children automatically do it, but many adults and doctors encourage the opposite, which is to eat “to keep your strength up”. Such foolish advice has literally killed countless people.
Eat and Then Don’t Eat!
It is best to eat and then go without eating. No snacking. Wait until the next meal and you will enjoy that meal with a genuine hunger. You will relish the food. Because of this, your genuine hunger will allow better digestion because the digestive enzymes and organs have had a rest, a catabolic rest. The few hours away from all food allows our bodies to focus on detoxifying or cleaning the system. The body becomes less toxic, cleaner and lighter. Our normal and healthy weight is more easily attained.
Many people are on an “eat-all-day- diet. They are forever eating and drinking. Snacking is engaged in frequently. The problem is they are not truly hungry. They are governed by what Dr Joel Fuhrman calls “toxic hunger” in his books Eat to Live and Fasting and Eating for Health. This toxic hunger is not true hunger, but is characterised by a feeling of weakness or discomfort, headaches, light-headedness, tummy rumblings and emptiness, which the person mistakenly interprets as hunger. It is really a symphony of withdrawal symptoms from food addiction. Eating then relieves the discomfort until shortly after, when more eating is engaged in, perpetuating a cycle which is ruinous to health.
To eat and snack regularly this way is to invite trouble: indigestion, reflux, overweight, headaches, fatigue, nausea and later on more serious problems.
True hunger is felt in the mouth and throat, not in the stomach. It is associated with salivation. It is not accompanied by any form of pain or discomfort.
Those in excellent health can miss a meal completely and still feel neutral: not incapacitated by discomfort or weakness. They just feel “hungry”. They go to their meal feeling energetic but “ready to eat”.
In fact, the Native American Indians had a saying: “the hungry dog hunts best!”. When hungry, it had great energy and alertness, necessary for its continued survival.
Science Proves Snacking Shortens Life ( At least in Rats):
The National Institutes on Ageing conducted a study published in Science Magazine in August 2002, where they fed 2 groups of rats 7,500 calories each per week.
Group 1 was fed regularly throughout the day (snacking), while Group 2 was fed only 3 times per day (non-snacking). At the end of the week both groups had consumed the same food and the same calories.
At the end of the study, Group 2 rats (non-snacking) significantly outlived the Group 1 (snacking) rats.
If Not Hungry, Don’t Eat
It goes without saying that we should not eat if we are sick or unwell. It also applies to us when we are not genuinely hungry. The fact that we are not hungry simply means our body has no need for food at the time. To eat because of someone’s mistaken opinion is to overburden the body and increase toxaemia.
There is no adverse consequence to missing a meal when not hungry. The opposite is true. There is great benefit. You will set in motion greater catabolic activities which facilitate enhanced detoxification processes. Just like breakfast means “break- fast”, so periods of time between meals represent a form of mini-fast, and its plethora of biological benefits. For better health, do not snack routinely. The occasional transgression is not a problem, it is when snacking becomes a routine, habitual part of our lifestyle.
Elite athletes engaging in high-intensity or ultra-endurance sports and training might need to modify this principle, as their routines may require the judicious use of high-nutrient snacks. Such athletes represent only a fraction of the population, however.
For the average person not engaged in ultra-endurance sport, it is best to eat and then go without eating.
Your health will only improve.