One of the current diet trends is the notion that we should be snacking constantly, or eating 5-6 “mini-meals”, instead of the three square meals that our grandparents sat down to daily. Is this a fad diet which will join the ranks of the low-carb or low-fat diets or is it here to stay? While I do not have all of the answers I do want to offer a fresh perspective about why this nutritional theory may be sabotaging your health.
There are two main reasons why this fad became so popular. First, after World War II, the government had to find a use for the surplus of ammonium nitrate. This chemical was then converted into a fertilizer to use on our farm crops. It worked especially well on two crops in particular: corn and soybeans. Shortly thereafter, farmers were encouraged to abandon crop diversity in favor of focusing solely on these two crops due to their high yield. Copious amounts of these two crops were turned into products such as high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and feed for cattle and chickens. The result: U.S. farmers now produce an average of 3,900 calories per person per day. That is 700 calories more than three decades ago and almost twice as much as we need!
We have all heard about portion distortion in this country over the past few decades. For example, the original McDonald’s hamburger patty was 1.6oz, and now the Double Quarter Pounder is 8 ounces. A Hershey chocolate bar originally was .6oz. Now it weighs 1.6 oz. It is advantageous for food manufactures and restaurants to increase portions as it does not cost them that much and it lures more people in the door thinking they are getting ‘more for their money’. We often judge restaurant meals based on their size thinking the bigger the better. What we neglect to consider is how wasteful it is to our health.
Second, there is a lot of money to be made by the food manufacturers and fast food restaurants if we are eating around the clock. Has anyone heard of Taco Bell’s campaign to get us in their door late night for the ‘fourth meal’ of the day? Remember all of these extra calories we produce as a nation have to be eaten by someone. As a college business major, I understand the brilliance behind the food companies campaign that we need to be eating around the clock. The supply is there. The more food they sell in the form of “the fourth meal” or “100-calorie snack packs” the higher the profit. The higher the profit the happier the shareholders are so it is a win-win, right? Not so fast.
For those of you who have attended one of my workshops, you know I do not advocate one ‘diet’ over another. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. My intent now is to challenge the idea that we must constantly be snacking and question if it is right for you. For some people, such as diabetics, endurance athletes, and pregnant women, it is necessary. But for others, I think it is more of a band-aid than a solution. For example, we often hear we should snack to control our blood sugar. But why is our blood sugar out of whack in the first place?
Face it, we are all busy and overworked. Who has time anymore to sit down to three square meals? Eating 5 or 6 mini meals in the car or at your desk in between meetings sounds like the ideal solution. I would encourage you to look closely at your daily life and see where you might be able to carve out 30 minutes for lunch and dinner. I know, I might just be asking the impossible? Start slowly, just one lunch a week away from your desk.
What do I expect to happen? You will find that when you take the time to focus, taste, savor, and chew your food your body actually ‘gets it’. Yes, we are eating now and not writing an email, talking on the phone, and stuffing food down as quickly as possible. According to Marc David in the “Slow Down Diet”, researchers “estimate that as much as 30-40% of the total digestive response to any meal is due to CPDR (cephalic phase digestive response)or our full awareness of what we are eating.” CDPR is a term for the pleasures of taste, aroma, satisfaction, and the visual stimulation of a meal. In simple terms, if our body does not register what we just ate then you can expect to be hungry an hour or two later.
Besides looking at how you eat, the next step is assessing what you eat. As we have moved from a nation consuming fresh, whole organic foods pre-WWII to one consuming processed, packaged, refined, chemical-laden foods that have been stripped of all their nutrients, is it surprising our bodies are constantly hungry? One of the most common breakthroughs I see with my clients occurs halfway through our relationship. They usually ‘confess’ that they have not been snacking and have actually been eating less. They often say this in a quiet voice with a look of shame. Quickly I burst into a big “Congratulations! This is wonderful” and explain that your body is no longer starving for nutrients. When you eat more nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins then your body is no longer looking for nutrients to get it through the day. Think of the difference between these two breakfasts: coffee and a low fat muffin or processed cold cereal vs slow cooked oatmeal with nuts and sliced fruit and a hard-boiled egg? Which meal do you think will provide long-lasting fuel and which will make you hungry an hour or two later?
Evaluate your current eating patterns and ask yourself if it is working for you. Do you have long lasting energy and rarely get ill? Or do you suffer from digestive issues, weight issues, and/or daily headaches? The answer may just be on your plate. And when you change what you eat, everything else changes too.