Snacks - a light, small and quick meal eaten between main meals.
I once read a quote from a fitness trainer posted by a friend on my Facebook timeline a year or two ago, and it said something along the lines of if you are hungry before lunchtime, your breakfast sucked. Being a proponent of eating every couple of hours for as long as I could remember, at first I rejected the idea. But then it got me thinking, what if he is right?
Is snacking, or eating in between main meals - the best thing for our bodies?
If you think back to cave man times, it would be reasonable to think that our bodies are adapted to endure long periods without any food, of course by storing energy, or calories. After this understanding in nutrition became common sense, the idea that we should be supplying our bodies with food every two to three hours as to keep it from storing calories also became common sense to those of us looking for healthier eating habits.
But after reading that quote, I started wondering whether eating snacks really is the best thing for our metabolism. One thing I can agree with from my own self-experiements is that snacking does help me make better choices by the time I get to my main meal. But I also notice that I feel better if I don't snack and manage to make good choices for that next meal. And by better, I mean more focused and, in a way, more energized.
Because of snacking, we are consuming more calories,
but are we burning more?
Since I've read that quote, I started to consider that the concept of eating every two/three hours may be taken a bit into extreme to the point that we end up overeating. And even if it is the best thing for our bodies, I bet that for the most part many of us are either over doing it, making poor snack choices, or simply not moving enough to counter all those meals. Many of us are not moving even 2 hours out of the 16 to 18 hours we are awake in a day. So our bodies may not be reserving more energy because we’ve taught it that it won’t go starving, but it certainly isn’t spending all the added energy that it is consuming every two/three hours.
Are you going for a snack or a treat? Be honest.
The whole idea of snacking between main meals revolved around eating something light and nutritious – maybe a handful of nuts and a cup of fresh berries, probably not a whole bag of labeled-as-healthy trial mix nuts coated in salt along with some sugar-loaded dried fruits and god-knows what else. So I guess that in that sense, if you are hungry enough to eat one of those bags two hours after breakfast, it probably wasn’t a very nutritious breakfast, indeed.
And salted, sweetened (and even chocolate covered) trial mix is not even that bad of a treat. It gets worse when you catch yourself innocently snacking on that pumpkin muffin from the coffee shop when you really only went there for the coffee. But it is around your snack time, so… give me that pumpkin bread! I was surprised to realize how often that sort of a thing was happening to me once I went back to paying attention.
Is it about snacking or is it really about eating mindfully?
So this post on my timeline, whether it was the latest in nutritional science at the time or just complete nonsense, it got my mind back into what and how I am eating, and I am thankful for that. At the end, I personally believe that it is hard to boil things down to a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to different bodies, different life styles and different activity levels. So when I see something that snaps me out of autopilot, I take the opportunity to review my eating habits.
Back then, my breakfast consisted of what a call the yumminess bowl – oats cooked in water, topped with coconut milk, honey, fresh fruits and sprinkled with coconut flakes. It is absolutely delicious and heart warming, surely worthy of a good-for-you label, but two hours in I was ready for a toast with something filling on it. The problem with my breakfast is that it had hardly any protein in it. It was a carb and sugar bomb. It got me out of the door but not much farther beyond it. So I changed my breakfast to not one but three poached eggs, a toast and fruit. I was thinking more clearly, getting more done and feeling happier (zero morning grumpiness). Maybe I was just hungry all along thinking I wasn’t a morning person.
During this self experiment, I kept my main meals to small portions (and I still do), but because I wasn't relying on snacking at all, I became more aware of making sure I had sufficient protein and good quality, fiber-rich carbohydrates every time surrounding my favorite veggies. No more unplanned salad bowls that relied on leaves and tomatoes alone. Having to think about it, made me make better choices every time I ate.
So What's The Bottom Line?
Focus on nutrient rich foods in every and each meal
After this little experiment, I took away the fact that it's not just about what the experts are saying is the right thing to eat and do. It's important to consider how each food or eating style applies to my body and the lifestyle I want to maintain. So rather than thinking about how often I am going to eat, I started to think about what I am eating every time I eat. So whether you are vegetarian or a meat eater, snack or don't snack, know what you are putting inside your body.
Stick with foods that you would normally find in nature
Whether the fad is more carbs, more fat or more protein, choose foods that you would normally find in nature and stay away from anything that is processed or that contains ingredients you can't pronounce. So whether it is a snack or a main meal, know that you are eating real food that is well balanced with high quality protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates.
Do what works for you
How your body metabolizes food is as individual as the color of your hair, so it is important to determine how foods affect you and what helps you feel your best so that you can look and live your best. Try different portions and strategies to see what works for you each day, what makes you feel better, more energized and most importantly: what you can stay committed to in the long run.