Thursday, February 14, 2013

Snacking, Downton Abbey, and Diabetes:

Downton Abbey has become a personal obsession for a handful of reasons; 1920's couture, news making its way by paper and ink and the art of conversation revisited.
I was struck a few episodes ago, not only by the absence of iphones and careless "status updates", but by the lack of snacking. During this time period, snacking virtually did not exist, with exception of a sit-down tea. There were no cliff bars, or bottles of coconut water tucked into every person's lapel. Mealtime was a sacred time, where one dressed in their finest before gathering around the table. (Perhaps not the peasants, but surely they washed up prior).

We have come so very far from this standard in merely a handful of decades. The reasons are obvious, and still mounting. Today, food has been belittled to little more than what will make us the most or least fat, broken down into calories and ingredients lists.  Why would we dress up for supper when most often it comes frozen from a box, and makes us feel like crap?
The fanfare is long gone. Doubtful many of us actually enjoy eating anymore, since so much of it is overshadowed by guilt and fear.

While waiting in line at my favorite local coffee shop, I overheard the barista telling his co-worker about a diet which consisted of eating small meals every two hours to ward off hunger. He said it worked well for his friend except when it came time to sleep, when the eating schedule posed issues. This is not only a highly dangerous way to eat (I will explain below) but it made me think of how silly such a concept would look 100 years ago. How would anyone get anything done if they had to stop and eat every two hours?
Or try explaining to your tribe leader that you prefer to eat continuously throughout the day rather than help hunt and gather because it just makes you feel better and keeps you from getting too hungry? Do you think the tribe would be happy to oblige? Most likely you would be offered to a pack of wolves.

Here is the science behind what's happening with our desire to graze rather than sit down to proper meals. As food has become less nutritive, and generally centered around simple carbs, it has indeed lost staying power between meals. The core issue concerns the very important role of the pancreas. It's job is to crank out insulin after consuming a meal or snack to balance blood sugar levels. This is a normal and crucial function. But, the pancreas can easily become overburdened if what we eat not only carries a hefty glycemic-load, but if we are causing it to regulate our blood-sugars each time we snack. A hunter-gather pancreas would be called upon a fraction of what it is today.

Look at it this way: We wake up, eat breakfast (the pancreas goes to work). Mid-morning our pop-tart has been completely burned up, so we succumb to the break-room doughnut box (another call on our pancreas). Lunch break rolls around and we have a sandwich (pancreas, again please). Mid-day we are feeling burnt-out and grab a double mocha from Starbucks (pancreas, could you give us a hand here). By the time we get home from work and crack open a beer or grab a handful of jelly-beans (you know the drill) our precious insulin-regulating organ has literally put in a full days work, and then some. This is even before dinner and dessert, minus the midnight snack.

This type of assault on insulin production is what makes us depend on each bite as fuel instead of burning stored fat, which burns cleaner and longer than what we get from continual snacking. This is also what sets us up for insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and then diabetes. If you feel desperately hungry just 2 hours after eating a meal, your pancreas has been working too hard. This means your body has already used up the meal you gave it 2 hours ago and is not functioning off of body fat.

The good news is that you can turn the ship around (if you don't wait) by resiting the urge to eat something in between meals by eating meals with a lower glycemic-load, and snacking on low-glycemic foods until you don't feel the need to snack between meals any longer. This will stabilize the peaking and crashing associated with modern day eating, and give your pancreas a much needed break. It will also help you maintain a healthy weight (excess insulin goes straight to the mid-section as stored fat), balance your energy (once you are burning body fat instead of sugar, you will feel calm and stable), and make you a much healthier individual.

The migration away from designated mealtime is not only a lost piece of our culture, it is deconstructing  our society's health. Snacking should not be treated so casually if we are concerned about such issues. Snacking is so prevalent because convenience foods are highly profitable and promoted heavily by the food industry. Who knew devaluing sacred habits would be such a money maker? Yes, even the health food industry gains. I guarantee you, you do not need that Kind bar in your purse.

The bottom line is, three meals a day is plenty of food for an adult human. We are of the intelligence caliber to eat food with high nutritive density. Grazers such as cows and sheep must eat grass all day long to gain the quantity of nutrition they need for proper function (mainly to maintain body-mass, not reach neurological heights). Most of us would function poorly on grass without a few more stomachs to help improve it's quality and with less of a demand for advanced neurological fitness specific to the human species.
In summation, enjoy your food and resist the urge to eat like cows and sheep by resuming the tradition of sitting down for a real meal (with our without your jewels and silks). The table is a place of divine happenings.


  1. I have been on a "paleo-like" diet for 7 days now, and I eat alllll day. Nuts, seeds, fresh veggies, berries, etc., mainly because my "meals" consist of a protein, and more of the above. I haven't had any grains, dairy, or table sugar products. I am going to start reintroducing grains and dairy, but I am going to continue with no sugar for at least another week. I feel really good, mostly because I have started to break my addiction to these foods. I started this because, despite working out hard 4-5 days a week for 3 months, I had not lost one pound as of last Thursday. Hopefully I will see some results now that I am more conscious of eating fresh foods. I love your blog, Rachel.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Laura! Rooting for you with your new routine!

  3. Thank you for putting this so clearly and concisely. This is something I've argued with various friends and family over the years, but not in such a to-the-point way... now I'll just point them to this post!

    ...and I also loooove Downton Abbey.

  4. Great information! I will share with others. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for the comments! Always appreciated!

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  7. Another great post, Rachel! This is such wise advice. I was wondering, would you be willing to do a post on your favorite low-glycemic meal options sometime?