Nowadays, you can't walk into a grocery store without having a flurry of protein balls, granola bars, and dried fruit lined up near the checkout counters, waiting for you to grab a bunch on the go. And rightfully so if you're doing a lot of physical work, have health problems, take medications, exercise or are pregnant – healthy snacking on the reg can be key to keeping you feeling your best.
However, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that everyone is different. Some people really find that they can't get through the day without a snack in the afternoon, but have your snacking habits become too much?
Is snacking good or bad for you?
The body is designed to have periods of time where it isn't having to deal with food – processing, digesting and constantly working to break down what's in your tummy. That's where excessive snacking can be a crutch. Having breaks throughout the day when you aren't eating and simply drinking water or herbal tea, which is technically known as 'fasting', is actually very beneficial for the body.
Intermittent fasting (IF) may sound scary, but this isn’t about being deprived or starving all the time. The 5:2 or 16:8 trends we've all heard are just about leaving time for the body to do important tasks between meals.
Health benefits of intermittent fasting
Science has shown that fasting can help with all sorts of everyday issues like uncomfortable bloating, insomnia, weight loss, energy and brain power. What's more, it can help to slow down the ageing process in the skin, brain and musculoskeletal systems, and also lowers the risk of more serious health issues like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Some research also points towards less chance of developing neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s (1).
How to do intermittent fasting
Though there are different types of fasting, one of the biggest things to understand about it is that it doesn’t mean you can’t eat during the day or have to eat less overall. Yes, IF can be tricky as it involves cutting out time in your day when you can't eat – for example with the 5:2 diet, where you significantly cut back calories for 2 days a week and then resume normal calories on 5 days. But it's important to remember that you don’t have to do go this far to benefit from fasting, you just have to limit your snacking!
Guide: Intermittent fasting meal plan
To give you a better idea of how this all works, let's look at a study from 2013. Research was conducted on two different groups of mice. All the mice had exactly the same amounts and types of food, but one group had the opportunity to eat whenever they liked and could graze all day, while the other group could only eat at three set intervals. The mice that had more regimented eating patterns burnt more fat than the grazer rats, and even though human physiology is different to mice, these kinds of results seem to be replicated in humans (2). The simplest way to incorporate this safely into your life is to try and stick to the following:
• Have three meals per day, and try not to eat anything in between.
• 4-5 hours is the ideal amount of time and you can go longer if needed. If you feel unwell then you may want to leave less time – just listen to your body and start slow if you need to.
• You don’t need to cut back on calories, in fact, this may hinder the whole process as you’ll crave more and have lower energy.
• Eat meals that contain protein, wholegrain or slow release carbs and healthy fats.
• Expect to be hungry as you near meal times. Whilst we aren’t suggesting you should go until you faint, but being hungry before a meal and anticipating food may help you digest better and focus more on the food you’re about to eat rather than mindless eating.
• Don’t confuse stomach rumbling for hunger – the two are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes our tummies rumble because processes are happening to break down food and keep digestion healthy. It’s not because you need to eat!
Remember, when it comes to trying new nutritional regime, start slow. No one diet or health regime works for everyone and you should always seek help from a GP and registered health expert before making changes to your diet, or before introducing any supplements. If you're a regular snacker then this process can take time to get used to. If you do need to snack, especially in the afternoon slumps, then do, and give your body time to get used to the adjustment. It's all about getting in touch with your body and understanding the signs.
1. Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095528630400261X
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3680567/