Did you know that snacking could be a key part of managing stress, losing weight and even changing your long-term dietary habits? Snacking can be one of the healthiest things you do for your diet. The typical approach to dieting involves cutting out whole food groups, forcing yourself to eat very small portion sizes or going for extended periods without eating. These approaches to dieting are stressful to your body. Our bodies were designed to survive and do not have any genetic coding that communicates “You have gained too much weight.” In fact, adipose tissue (fat cells) are the equivalent to your savings account. When was the last time you thought to yourself “You know, my biggest problem right now is that I’ve saved up too much money in my accounts?” This just sounds ridiculous! This is exactly how your body perceives you wanting to lose weight. Using this very appropriate analogy of adipose tissue being like your bank accounts, now imagine that you have become financially stressed. Perhaps your primary source of income is now in question. What is the natural reaction to this financial stress? We save more. When finances are uncertain, the planned family vacation is now put on hold and all discretionary spending is either held or closely scrutinized. Well, this is exactly how your body approaches spending calories when it is feeling stressed. It’s estimated that about 10% of the calories from each meal you consume will be held in reserve in the form of adipose tissue. An equilibrium is reached once the body feels that it has reached the minimum threshold for caloric savings and the energy amount coming in matches that of the energy amount going out. Now if you add stressors to the equation, this equilibrium will be adjusted. Our minds immediately think of mental stressors when we hear the word “Stress”. Rightly so, as many of our stressors are mental in origin. Work, finances, relationships, the health of loved ones and so on are all examples of mental stressors that affect us daily. However, there are multiple other stressors that are not mental in origin. Lack of sleep, too much sugar, illness, injury, intense workouts, dehydration and hunger are all examples of stressors that do not have a mental origin, yet they are perceived by the body as a stressor in the exact same way. One of the ways the body responds to stress is to produce Cortisol and other stress hormones. These hormones have multiple effects on the body’s metabolism and metabolic priorities. A major effect is the increasing of the percent from each meal that is now being saved for adipose tissue. Just like with the analogy of your finances, when stressed the body spends less and saves more. Now think in terms of stress when considering a typical diet imagine either cutting out a food group or forcing your body to go extended periods of time without food. How does your body interpret this stress? It assumes that you live in an area that either has poor nutritional options to eat (leaving a food group out) or that this area does not have enough food to sustain you well and you never know when you may have to go a long time without food. Either of these options increases stress hormones that in time will not only undermine your weight-loss goals but eventually undermine your overall health.
A much better way to modify your diet and even lose weight is to increase your snacking. Yes, you heard me right. You need to increase your snacking. Of course, what we snack on is very important. It is very common that when you are feeling stressed to choose high calorie, sweet or high salt content foods to snack on. Again, this goes back to survival techniques that are deep within our genetics. Instead what you need to snack on are either fruits or vegetables. Snacking does several good things for your body. It reduces stress hormone production. It satiates your appetite prior to a meal and means that you can eat a much smaller portion size and still feel satisfied. Also, it determines what you will end up craving over time. What you snack on now, is what you will crave in the future. This is the best way to modify your diet in time. The best way to do this is to make the fruits and vegetables very visible in your kitchen by using bowls out on the counters and tables. What is this doing for your body? Fruits and vegetables are in general low in calorie and high in fiber along with vitamins and nutrients. This means that they are very filling (satiating) and require a high amount of energy spent in the process of digestion compared to the energy received as a result of their digestion. The high fiber is also the healthiest for your intestines and bacterial flora. The vitamins and nutrients are a bonus that removes the need for you to be supplementing with expensive multi-vitamins or other vitamin/nutrient supplements. Picture yourself going to eat somewhere like a local sub sandwich shop. Standing in line, you realize you are very hungry. So now when looking at the menu you find yourself drawn to the higher calorie sandwiches and you are going to need a full foot long sandwich as well. Now consider having eaten an apple an hour prior to standing in line. You no longer have the strong urge to go to the higher calorie sandwiches (so keeping to a diet is much easier) and you now feel a 6-inch sandwich is more appropriate. This is the key to long term dietary health and over time you will find yourself craving fruits and vegetables more often.
My goal in this blog is to educate and encourage you. Weight management affects all of us. Your body has been designed for survival. Weight gain is how our ancestors survived tremendously stressful conditions that are now completely foreign to us. Understanding that you can reduce your body’s perceived stress through a healthy diet and that this is done very organically by you choosing to snack more often but on fresh fruits and vegetables. A strict diet that stresses your body will only work in the short term and will have a worsening effect in the long term. Meals were meant to be enjoyed. Do not cut out whole food groups. Do not starve yourself. Instead explore the fresh produce area of the grocery store and fresh farm markets. Your snacks are what drive your future cravings. Enjoy your meals and the fact that a snack of fresh produce is steering your diet into a much healthier you.