Years ago, no-one snacked between meals. It’s a form of clutter that has developed in our modern eating habits that may bring fleeting pleasure but makes us unhealthy and fat.
A comment made by English comedian Jack Whitehall in a Sunday Times interview last year has stayed with me and got me thinking about snacking.
‘I definitely have times to eat ingrained into me from my dad’, he said. ‘You cannot have lunch before one o’clock and you cannot have dinner before eight. I am 32, I haven’t lived at home for a while. But even when I eat dinner at 7.55 I feel a bit naughty’.
Jack Whitehall’s eating pattern seems very old-fashioned now, but 50 or so years ago this was the norm. Mealtimes varied from household to household. In my family, lunch was at 12 noon, dinner was at 6pm and no-one snacked in between meals. ‘That will ruin your appetite’, my mother always said, if any of us were ever tempted. Most people of the post-World War II generation that she belonged to were as slender as Jack Whitehall is today. It was rare to meet anyone who was fat.
Fast forward to 2021, when 73% of Americans are overweight, including 40% who are obese. In the UK, 64% of British adults are overweight, including 28% who are obese. The main things that have changed between then and now are larger portion sizes, eating processed foods and snacking between meals. Of all of these, snacking has been found to be the most disruptive and harmful.
Why we like snacking
Neurochemically, it’s all about dopamine. Eating high-calorie processed foods containing sugar and fat releases a surge of this highly addictive feel-good hormone. That’s why many snacks food types are also known as comfort food. The main reason we eat them is because we crave them, not because we need them.
And why do we crave snacks instead of just three balanced meals per day? A study conducted at the University of Virginia in 2020 has discovered that the part of our brain that creates dopamine is linked to the part that regulates physical rhythms such as eating and sleeping. So when we eat high-calorie foods, our regular eating habits get disrupted and snacking takes over.
In other words, the reason we snack is because of the food choices we make. And the food choices we make are largely driven by the tantalizing array of processed foods that commercial companies make available to us and by each person’s individual need to suppress their emotions.
Put simply, the more you graze, the less you’ll feel. If you never allow yourself to feel hungry between meals, you’ll be constantly suppressing your emotions. Life will feel superficial and meaningless, so you’ll be tempted to seek solace in comfort eating, and so the cycle continues. But it doesn’t need to be that way. You can change it.
Why we’re not designed to snack
What many people don’t understand is that the small intestine of a human has periods of contractions that repeat every 90 to 120 minutes. This means it needs about two hours between meals to complete the cycle and sweep undigested food particles and bacteria into the large intestine. Snacking between meals, and especially grazing all day long, can severely disrupt this and is a primary cause of bloating.
So snacking is not just a major cause of weight gain. It also puts enormous stress on our digestive system, which can lead to major health problems.
Snacking also suppresses emotions, which makes it impossible to navigate through life with clarity. If you’re a perpetual grazer, your life choices are likely to be made blindly, based on what gives the most pleasure and minimizes pain rather than on what’s life-enhancing and for your greater good.
How to eat the Whitehall way
If you weren’t brought up the way Jack Whitehall was, it’s going to require some willpower to set your own mealtimes and stick to them. Whether you choose to have three meals a day or just lunch and dinner, decide what time you will have each of them, arrange your schedule so you can stick to it and make sure the meals are well balanced. Eat until you feel fed but not over-full.
If you feel hunger pangs between meals, let your feelings come up, feel them, move through them and let them go. As non-snackers will tell you, a lovely bonus you can look forward to is how good your next meal will taste because you’ll genuinely have an appetite for it.
Many people find that cutting out snacking helps them to lose weight and then keep the pounds off after that. Best of all, taking control of your diet in this way is likely to have the knock-on effect of taking more control of other aspects of your life too. When you remove the snacking clutter from your diet, you’ll be less likely to need or want other forms of clutter too.
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2021
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