- George Elder
Snacking and Obesity
It’s nearly 10am, you have been busy and it is about 3 hours since breakfast. You are feeling a bit cranky and have been watching the clock in anticipation of your mid morning coffee. It’s time to have a drink and to eat those snacks you packed this morning.
What you may not realize is that this is probably the very worst thing you can do for your body. It feels great, it tastes great and you have developed quite a habit of snacking during the day. Often more than 3 snacks in the day, with the last just before retiring to bed. That magazine article you read last weekend, suggested that eating more often would keep your metabolism humming along and that up to 6 meals per day was somehow optimum for your health and may even help you lose weight. They couldn’t be more wrong.
A myth has gradually developed that suggests snacking is healthy and while this is good for the companies making and selling snack foods, it works completely against the way your body is designed to function. Unfortunately this is also taught at nutrition school, but it just does not match how your body works. It is even claimed that this will reduce your total calories for the day, but research shows otherwise and we all know that counting calories is difficult and has no long term benefit.
It is now a well known and established fact that a continuous and high level of insulin is the driver of obesity. Obesity is a hormonal problem and is strongly driven by insulin. This hormone is responsible for fat storage. People who are on insulin injections or pills as part of Type-2 Diabetes treatment, gain weight. Proven fact. Type-1 diabetics whose pancreas can no longer make sufficient insulin, lose weight fast and will die unless they get some insulin. People who have a continuous high level of stress in their lives develop high cortisol levels, which leads to higher insulin and usually weight gain. Proven fact. People on any sort of drug that raises insulin are at serious risk of becoming obese. When we eat, regardless of what we eat, we stimulate the production of insulin which is released to manage glucose in the blood. Research shows that just thinking about eating can trigger insulin secretion. People who are continuously eating throughout the day as a result of snacking on top of 3 or 4 meals a day have a continuous high insulin level.
Hormones are chemical messengers within the body and normally operate in waves. The level is raised to signal or stimulate some action then it is deactivated or reduces normally so that the body does not become accustomed to a high level. This rest period from the action of the hormone allows the body to adjust and ensures that it will still be sensitive to the hormone when it is next released. Without this variation in exposure, the body becomes “adapted” to the hormone and this reduces its sensitivity. You may have already experienced this with other things such as alcohol, salt, sugar, drugs, chilies, sunlight etc. Continuous and high exposure to something desensitizes the body and a higher level is required in the future to achieve the same effect.
Historically your grand parents probably did not eat as often as we do now. I can remember my grandmother telling me that I was not allowed to snack as I would not eat my dinner later. Unfortunately the trend to consume more carbohydrates has helped drive us towards more eating times in the day. When the energy for your body comes predominately from refined carbohydrates such as sugar, flour, rice and foods made from these things, there is limited storage capacity in our bodies for the glucose, resulting in us feeling hungry again about 3 hours later. This encourages snacking to reload our blood sugar and the habit of regular snacking is started. Additionally the very ready availability of snacks from coffee shops, bars, vending machines and cafes also supports this trend.
Take a look at what is for sale in boxes beside the supermarket checkout and you will see plenty of sugar and grain based snack food, conveniently wrapped in smaller portions, sweetened for taste and ready to be purchased for any occasion that you feel the slightest need for extra energy. Unfortunately a tendency to wean children onto a diet of fruit purée, custards, rice, sweet yoghurt and cereals (all as ultra processed carbohydrates) rather than animal based foods will not help. Instead of learning to eat highly nutritious food, they are being trained to expect sweet food. This sweet tooth is further cultivated with sweet treats often used as rewards. These sweet foods stimulate higher levels of insulin secretion than either fats or protein.
When insulin is high plus it is continuous, both conditions are required, the result is a gradual adjustment by your body to the higher level of insulin. As a result the amount needed to achieve the necessary chemical signaling in your body must be raised. This higher level further drives even more raising of the needed level. This adjustment can take place over a number of years so that over this time which may be 10 or 20 years the insulin level just gets higher and higher in a viscous cycle. If insulin in high doses was not toxic to the body and did not promote obesity then this may not matter. But it is and it does promote obesity. This is popularly known as “insulin resistance”. The end game for the obese is often Type-2 diabetes and the end game for diabetics can often be heart disease, blindness, Alzheimer’s disease (Type-3 diabetes) and amputations. Nasty.
There are a number of signs that this condition is developing. Perhaps the easiest to see (male or female) is if your stomach measurement is more that half the measure of your height. Let’s suppose your height is 170cm or 67 inches (5 foot 7 inches) then if your waist measurement is larger than 85 cm or 34 inches then you are probably developing insulin resistance and may be heading towards Type-2 diabetes. Skin tags can be a sign as are red patches (rosacea) on your skin or dark patches under your arms, your neck or between fingers (Acanthosis Nigricans).
Insulin resistance can also cause a higher level of male hormones (androgens) in women resulting in more hairiness and acne. It also drives up the risk of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) contributing to a loss of fertility in women and is a major contributor to (ED) erectile disfunction in men.
Any way that you can reduce your exposure to excess insulin, will assist in reducing this problem. Ideally you would adjust when you eat and what you eat so that your body gets an opportunity every day to have at least half the day or more with a low insulin level. Unfortunately the longer that you have been exposed to this problem, the more difficult it is to reverse.
Examples of actions you can take from a diet (what to eat) perspective are:
Drastically reduce the level of sugar in your diet whether from table sugar, added sugar in food or drinks, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or from those refined carbohydrates such as flour, rice, potato and sugar and products made from these such as bread and pasta.
You will need to read food labels to see what is included in the ingredients and be aware that sugar comes in many guises. For example “fruit juice concentrate” is really just another name for sugar.
Cutting out fruit juices, beers, sweet beverages and soda is absolutely necessary. That glass of orange juice is not healthy.
Avoid ultra-processed food as it is almost all made from refined flour, corn and sugar or contains these. The finer the processing, the faster it spikes insulin. The flour in a slice of white bread spikes insulin faster than refined sugar.
Focus on eating foods that do not spike insulin strongly such as animal based foods, meat, eggs, cheese, dairy, fish, nuts, shellfish and plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables.
Minimize fruit to about one piece per day or eat berries. Fruit sugar is fructose. Excess fructose leads directly to insulin resistance.
From a “when” to eat perspective. Stop snacking. Reduce the number of meals to 3 per day maximum with the last meal of the day at least 3 hours before bed time. No more snacking. For a more intensive detox, you may wish to confine your eating to 6 hours per day with a suggested window from 12 noon to 6 pm and then only drink water, or unsweetened beverages such as tea and coffee at other times. This means giving up breakfast. It is not the most important meal of the day and it will only be a short time until you no longer miss it. Breakfast food manufacturer's marketing has been very persuasive. I have personally foregone breakfast for the last 4 years with only positive results. This 18 hour window of no food is known as intermittent fasting and truly gives the body a chance to experience a very low insulin period each day. Review my book at bit.ly/3KJwedY or take a look at my blog at www.takebackyrhealth.com for free articles, ideas and help.
You might be looking at this advice and saying “I could never do this”. However only having these bad foods occasionally enhances your enjoyment of them. I am now 4 years into this way of eating and have fully adapted. I even eat sardines on occasions much to the disgust of my grandchildren.
If you are already on external insulin, you may feel that there is no slim future for you, but this is not the case. The old approach to treating Type-2 Diabetes was to add even more insulin to drive down the excess glucose level. But enlightened doctors are now recognizing that the first response must be to reduce the level of incoming glucose which can result in a much lower insulin need. After all high insulin is very damaging to your body. While the short term solution may require insulin, adjusting what and when you eat to match this advice can, in a surprisingly short time, (days) reduce the need for external insulin and over time, in up to 50% of cases, even reverse the Type-2 Diabetes entirely. For a Type-1 Diabetic this same advice can see a significant reduction in needed insulin. Doctors support definitely required for the transition.
If you are already on any form of medication for diabetes either Type 1 or Type 2 or for obesity, or for hypertension then you will need the assistance of your doctor to manage the likely changes in required medications. This is a serious need. Seek professional medical advice before making dietary changes, particularly if you have underlying health problems.
Good health, George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition. www.takebackyrhealth.com