25 April 2016

To snack or not to snack, that is the question

To snack or not to snack, that is the question. 

Whether 'tis nobler in the tummy to suffer

The slings and arrows of snacking regularly,

Or to take arms against a sea of temptations,

And, by opposing, end them. 

In loving awe of the Bard
 – 400 years dead this year - RIP

Do you eat regularly through the day, or stay with 3 main meals? 
With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, strong new evidence indicates which is the better choice for everyone, and even to how overnight “fasting” for long enough can reduce breast cancer recurrences.

This week, a guest blog from Greg Fitzgerald explains what to do and why, but first

              Thought for the day

I am perfectly happy with all the people 
Who are walking around and just staring at the clouds. 
But I am looking at the ground, 
And I want to fix the pothole 

That is right in front of me before I fall in.

       Linus Torvalds – who transformed technology twice by developing Linux and Git

People today eat more food than ever and eat more frequently than ever
Despite (or because of) this, the problems of metabolism, overweight and blood sugar irregularities are worse than ever. The rates of obesity are climbing, diabetes is epidemic and chronic tiredness is universal.

It is no exaggeration to say that western society is eating itself into a stupor, chronic illness and an early grave, in that order.

Understanding Metabolism: Anabolism and Catabolism
Metabolism is the balance between two biological processes within the body called anabolism and catabolism.

On the one hand the body has to be continually renewed. New tissues, including the skin, the gut, bones and so on are continually rebuilding. This process is called anabolism. Bodybuilders are notorious for taking anabolic steroids to build bigger muscles. Well this is where the word finds its context.

Anabolism means building up and as part of this building up process, the body stores energy. Through anabolism, when food is plentiful, energy is stored in fatty tissues in a way that means it can be drawn upon later if food becomes scarce.

The second process is called catabolism. This is where the body breaks down old tissue, removes waste products and excretes them, a process closely linked to detoxification. Also, during catabolism, the body can release stored energy from those fatty tissues; a vital function when food is scarce.

For example, let us examine the metabolism of healthy bones. One type of bone cell, the osteoclast, clears away old, mottled bone - catabolism. This process is then followed by the second type of bone cell called an osteoblast, which builds new bone - anabolism. All body tissues undergo these processes, some more quickly than others. Thus the entire body replaces itself every few years.

The Importance of Catabolism
If our catabolic processes are compromised or inefficient, the cellular wastes and old, used tissue and materials are not efficiently removed, they accumulate in different parts of the body and we become toxic. What is called toxaemia results. This is where these waste products accumulate within the body tissues, fat and blood.

Toxaemia was officially accepted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the United States in 2001. It is linked to inflammation, to premature ageing and to many chronic, degenerative diseases. It is an important thing to avoid if we wish to live a healthier, more energetic, disease-free, and of course, long life.

So what Does Snacking Have to Do with Catabolism?

When we eat, and this includes snacking, we promote anabolism, or building up, and we temporarily inhibit the process of catabolism. We divert energy away from the catabolic or clearing processes of the body and focus the body’s energy on building up.

When we do not eat, we rest our digestive system and promote detoxification and catabolism. This helps keep our bodies cleaner and less toxic, allowing our bodies to remove wastes and detoxify materials which otherwise could cause unwanted health issues.

To further illustrate this, catabolism explains why we often might notice a slightly off breath upon arising in the morning. This is because we have spent a number of hours not eating while asleep, and this has allowed the body the necessary rest to initiate its catabolic and detoxification processes. Not only is our breath stronger, but our urine is also a little darker in colour, a result of the kidneys having extra energy to help detoxify our blood.

It is also why we lose our appetite when sick, feverish, very stressed or exhausted. This is called anorexia, meaning lack of appetite. It has important survival value. Animals and young children automatically do it, but many adults and doctors encourage the opposite, which is to eat “to keep your strength up”.

Eat, fast and be merry
It is best to eat and then go without for a while. No snacking. The few hours away from all food allows our bodies to detoxify or clean the system. The body becomes less toxic, cleaner and lighter. Our normal and healthy weight is more easily attained.

Toxic hunger
Many people are on an “eat-all-day” diet. They are forever eating and drinking. Snacking is engaged in frequently. The problem is that rather than being truly hungry, they are governed by what Dr Joel Fuhrman calls “toxic hunger” in his books Eat to Live and Fasting and Eating for Health.

Toxic hunger is not true hunger, but is characterised by feelings of weakness or discomfort, headaches, light-headedness, tummy rumblings and emptiness, which the person mistakenly interprets as hunger. Toxic hunger is really a symphony of withdrawal symptoms from food addiction. Eating relieves the discomfort only briefly, but then toxic hunger reasserts itself shortly after, and more eating is engaged in perpetuating a cycle which is ruinous to health.

To eat and snack regularly this way is to invite trouble: indigestion, reflux, overweight, headaches, fatigue, nausea and later on more serious problems.

True Hunger

True hunger is felt in the mouth and throat, not in the stomach. It is associated with salivation. It is not accompanied by any form of pain or discomfort.

Those in excellent health can miss a meal completely and still feel neutral - not incapacitated by discomfort or weakness. They just feel “hungry”. They go to their meal feeling energetic but “ready to eat”.

In fact, the Native American Indians had a saying: “the hungry dog hunts best!” When hungry, it had great energy and alertness, necessary for its continued survival.

The message? 
Wait until the next meal and enjoy that meal with a genuine hunger. Then you will relish the food.

Science Proves Snacking Shortens Life (at least in Rats):
The National Institutes on Ageing conducted a study published in Science Magazine in 2002, where they fed 2 groups of rats 7,500 calories of the same each per week. One group was fed regularly throughout the day (snacking), while the other was fed only 3 times per day (non-snacking).

At the end of the study, the non-snacking rats significantly outlived the snacking ones.

If Not Hungry, Do Not Eat
When we are not hungry, it simply means our body has no need for food. Pretty obvious really! To eat because of someone else’s opinion that we need to eat a particular amount, at a particular time, or with a particular frequency, is to risk overburdening the body and increasing toxaemia.
There is no adverse consequence to missing a meal when not hungry. The opposite is true. There is great benefit. You will set in motion catabolism, thereby enhancing detoxification.

One Exception
Elite athletes engaging in high-intensity or ultra-endurance sports and training might need to modify this principle, as their routines may require the judicious use of high-nutrient snacks. However, such athletes represent only a fraction of the population.

For the average person not engaged in ultra-endurance sport, it is best to eat and then go without eating. Your health will only improve. Of course, the occasional transgression is not a problem; the problems come when snacking is a routine, habitual part of our lifestyle.

Prolonged Nightly Fasting Reduces Breast Cancer Recurrence
A new study has found that for women with early-stage breast cancer, fasting less than 13 hours per night was associated with a 36% higher risk for disease recurrence as compared with fasting 13 or more hours per night.

A nonsignificant 22% higher risk for mortality from any cause was also observed among women who fasted for shorter periods in comparison with those who fasted for 13 hours or more overnight.

"Prolonging the overnight fasting interval may be a simple, non-pharmacological strategy for reducing a person's risk of breast cancer recurrence and even other cancers," said author Catherine Marinac.

Reference: Marinac CR et al, JAMA Oncol. Published online March 31, 2016.

My Comments
While the usual cautions are being expressed given this breast cancer study is the first of its type (maybe it is not correct???), eating this way has no known risks. Given what Greg has offered above, it seems to make good sense and it is relatively easily to do.

Additional evidence suggests this pattern of night fasting might also help some people with sleep, metabolic health, weight management, or chronic disease risks – it could also be a significant part of a prevention or a wellness plan.

Night fasting does seem to be a relatively simple and useful thing women with breast cancer could do, and it does also seem to make sense for people with other cancers – no risk, quite possibly a good gain.

What to do?

Early dinner, late breakfast. For example, finish eating at 7pm, nothing to eat before 8am; or 6pm and
7am. You need a 13 hour break from food overnight. Most nights. Be gentle with yourself, but do what is ideal mostly. Or all the time if you can manage full on diligent

Early dinner, late breakfast and the job is done. An easy win for the body and good health generally.

Greg Fitzgerald is a highly qualified dual registered osteopath and chiropractor, as well as naturopath working in Southern Sydney. Greg has many years experience supervising fasting.

Link to his website; his phone number is (02) 95440445.




A unique opportunity to experience 
the deep natural peace and clarity of profound meditation

5 Day Meditation Immersion with Ian and Ruth Gawler

JUNE 2016 – Monday 6th to Friday the 10th

While this retreat will include ample instruction, the focus will be upon direct experience; finding and immersing ourselves in the deep inner peace, the regenerative power and the clarity of our own stillness.

For details CLICK HERE


  1. Very interesting article Ian. Where does that leave those of us who are on a fairly steady juicing regime? Does the body interpret the continuous string of juices in the same way as it does a solid food snack?

  2. Hi Adrian, my sense of this is that the juices are more valuable than going without as in not snacking, but that it would make good sense to have 13 hours at night without food or juices.
    Good luck with it all.