To snack or not to snack… An Ayurvedic perspective

cookieOver two decades ago, as an enthusiastic exercise physiology student and an eager rookie triathlete, I was introduced to the concept of “amazing graze” by well meaning professors and other specialized publications. Inspired and impressed, I promptly gave up my “French habits” of three meals a day, main meal at lunchtime, no snacking. Small frequent meals were the way to go and I embraced the concept wholeheartedly. I quickly became conditioned to carrying snacks with me at all times, and my stomach started grumbling whenever I went without food for more than two hour… So I’d reach for a “healthy snack”… My stomach complained again two hours later… Repeat cycle… Sounds familiar?

I started questioning that logic as I began my studies of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic cooking and eating is « person specific », but some of its principles apply to all. One of them is best described in the words of one of my favorite teachers, Dr Jay Apte: “Three balanced meals a day and zip up your lips in between”. Consider this simple fact: a normal meal takes 4 to 6 hours to digest. Adding more food in before that process is over is similar to adding dirty clothes and detergent to a washing machine in the middle of the cycle. You end up with a gunky load of clothes.

Our digestive systems are sophisticated and meant to take in a balanced, medium size meal, and completely digest it before taking in another. The human body is designed to burn fat for its base energy, with stored sugar to fuel stressful situations (think running away from the saber tooth tiger). By constantly snacking, we end up permanently stressing our digestive system and never giving it a much needed rest. Our bodies lose their ability to digest a large meal and slowly release a level amount of energy for the next few hours. We get used to a quick sugar fix every two hours and start needed it. Now when we miss a meal or a snack, our blood sugar levels drop, as do our energy levels. We need another fix, quick! The highs and lows hence created bring about a situation of permanent stress in the body. The reaction: burning primarily sugar and storing more fat to face the emergency state hence created.

No worries. Retraining the body to burn fat (in a small amount of stored carbohydrates) and store carbohydrates for emergencies is possible. All it takes is a few weeks of “Three balanced meals a day, zip up your lips in between”. Make your lunch your biggest meal, as noon is when our digestive strength is at its peak. You will find that you are not quite as ravenous around dinnertime.

Ah, I hear you say, what if I have to put in long hours at the office -or reside in France where dinnertime is often at 8pm :-(? Good point: seven hours between lunch and dinner can be challenging. In that case, eat a piece of fruit at about 4/5pm (you got it, your lunch is now digested). As a matter of fact, since fruits are best digested when eaten alone, this is a very optimal way to add them to your diet. Eaten alone, fruit gets digested quickly and leaves the stomach ready for the next full meal. At this time of the year, examples of seasonal fruits include clementines, persimmons, or oranges.

This way of eating may seem challenging at first, especially since snack food is readily available around the clock. In the long run though, the rewards are immense. You will notice improvements such as adequate energy throughout the day, optimal digestion, and a more balanced weight.

Oh and in case you are wondering… I have come full circle. Turns out, Mom was right all along! No snacking is still tough at times though, especially when I walk by a bakery around 4pm! 😉

Florence Debout
Sports Physiotherapist
Yoga Teacher
Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor

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