In high school, I used to carry around snack boxes of raisins and eat them throughout the day to keep my energy up. In college, I would drink 3 to 4 high-sugar coffee drinks during class to stay focused and make up for poor sleep. When I had young kids, we had snacks in the house, in the car, in the diaper bag, and in my pockets!
I used to proclaim, almost like a threat, that I needed to eat at least every two hours or my blood sugar would drop too low.
Needless to say, I was a snacker and had no idea that my need to snack was actually a warning sign that my metabolism was not working properly.
After all, we are told to enjoy "healthy snacks" throughout the day to keep our metabolisms burning and to prevent overeating at meals.
But here's the truth: there is no healthy snack.
The raisins, coffee confections, and Cheerios were not just unhealthy, they were masking a bigger metabolic health issue.
We snack because our cells are screaming for energy, especially our brain cells. Our brains drive us to seek out food when it senses energy stores getting low. From our muscle cells to our brain cells, they all need a constant source of energy. Food is our best source of energy. When your body starts to run out of energy, it sends out strong signals to go get more food, this is called hunger.
Some hunger is healthy and some hunger is unhealthy. Snacking is an unhealthy hunger. Your hunger is driven by your metabolism.
Your metabolism is the energy production plant. It produces the energy for your brain cells, liver cells, muscle cells and all other cells. Your metabolism can burn two types of fuel for energy: sugar or fat.
Fat is the number one preferred source of energy for our whole body. Your brain doesn't use fat directly, but it does love to use ketones, which are made in your liver from fat. Your body loves to create long-lasting and clean energy from either your stored body fat or from foods that contain natural healthy fats like nuts, avocados, meat, and whole fat dairy. In fact, it produces twice the amount of energy per gram as sugar.
But here's where most of us find ourselves in a metabolic mess. We don't burn fat as we should. We can't burn the fat from our bodies between meals for energy. When your body can't burn fat for energy, your cells are forced to turn to the other, less awesome fuel: sugar.
When our metabolisms are damaged, our cells are dependent on burning quick sugar for fuel. Sugar is a less reliable source of energy. It doesn't last long like fat, so we need to eat it more often to keep up. It doesn't provide sustainable energy like fat, it's more of a jolt of energy and doesn't feel as good.
Your brain and other cells chew through sugar so quickly, your body has a tough time transporting enough sugar around your body in adequate and stable amounts.
If you have a damaged metabolism that can only burn sugar, you have no choice but to snack because you're burning an inferior fuel and your brain is screaming that it needs more! More!
Plus, when you're eating too many carbohydrates, your liver won't make ketones for your brain, so your brain is stuck on sugar.
I talk about what a no-no it is to snack, but for many of us, not snacking is not an option. If you can't burn body fat for energy, you can't comfortably stop snacking.
Snacking throughout the day to power our rollercoaster energy levels promotes more body fat accumulation by overstimulating our fat storage hormones. So now you have more body fat that you can't burn for energy, but continue to accumulate! And you're still hungry!
Metabolic damage is a horrible cycle that leads to constant weight gain and further dependence on toxic sugar.
We need to break that cycle by helping your body learn to burn fat. We need to repair your metabolism to a place where it can burn your body fat stores between meals for energy and not be dependent on snacks to fire up your body and hobble it along all day.
What can we do?
Don't just try to stop snacking. There is a correct order for metabolic repair. You have to provide your body with lasting energy first so it will stop screaming for sugar. Otherwise, you will be stuck using white-knuckled willpower to not put a snack in your mouth and you'll feel the negative physical effects of low-energy like irritability and brain fog.
We all need to be eating more natural healthy fats at every single meal to provide us with clean, long-lasting energy so that we are not dependent on sugar and don't feel driven to snack.
You stop snacking naturally because you have plenty of energy from your meals in the form of dietary fat. You become naturally not hungry between meals.
Here are my favorite four healthy, natural fats that we should be eating at meals to help create abundant energy.
Fully repairing your metabolism to consistently and efficiently burn fat for fuel between meals is an intricate process that takes a step by step protocol, but one thing you can start doing today is eating more clean-burning fats at meals.
You need to eat better at meals to stop snacking. This creates a new, healthy cycle of training your body to burn body fat and relying less on sugar which helps reverse metabolic damage, so you can burn more body fat for energy!
Which is what we want, right? When we talk about wanting to lose weight, what we really want is to burn body fat, which is made up of fat...not sugar.
Freidman, M., Stricker, E. "The Physiological Psychology of Hunger: A Physiological Perspective." Physiological Review, Vol 83, No 6, 1976, 409-431.
Medeiros, DM, and Wildman, R.E.C. Advanced Human Nutrition. Burlington, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2015.
Shanahan, Cate. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods. New York, Flat Iron Books, 2008.