Solving Snack Attacks – Part One: Snack, it’s almost a four letter word.

Snack.  It’s almost a four letter word.  You want to lose weight and you know sugary snacks and crunchy carbs should be avoided.  And yet, you find yourself at the bottom of a tub of ice cream or licking salty crumbs off your fingers more often than you care to admit.  It seems like you snack against your own will and your own better judgement?  Why?

It’s our physiology, working against us.  As involuntary snackers we are sugar adapted not fat adapted.

Huh?  What does that even mean?  Simply put, sugar adapted means our body preferentially burns carbohydrate (glucose) for fuel and fat adapted means our body preferentially burns fat for fuel.

Those of us who seem to snack against our own will, are sugar burners.  And as sugar burners, our body demands a steady, incoming supply of sugar to burn for fuel.  Incoming because our body stores a very limited amount of easily available sugar, known as glycogen, that needs constant replenishing.  Some glycogen is stored in our muscles for fuel, just in case we need to sprint away from a hungry predator.  Only our muscles can use the glycogen stored in our muscles – they don’t share.

A small emergency supply of glycogen is also stored in the liver. When a sugar shortage is detected – the liver shares!  The liver converts its emergency glycogen supply to glucose (our blood sugar) which in turn, is released into the bloodstream and thus available to any cells of the body in need of fuel.  But once the liver’s emergency supply is depleted, in need of more energy, a carb craving is triggered and KaBOOM, snack attack!

We snack and our blood sugar level spikes rapidly.  Insulin levels spike in response, and doing it’s jobs, insulin replenishes the emergency energy supply in the liver, provides all the cells of our body with the energy they need to function and then stores any excess energy as fat.  It’s a beautiful thing! 

Unfortunately, after a rapid increase in blood sugar, the insulin mop-up often ‘over-shoots’ and we experience a sugar low, triggering yet another sugar craving, snack attack.  The cycle repeats and we never break free from the sugar burner snack attack cycle.  We snack against our own will.

As a sugar burner our body i) constantly demands incoming carbs; ii) keeps our insulin levels high throughout the day; iii) is always in fat storage mode; and iv) is unable to access our body fat stores for fuel.  We feel hungry for sweets, cave to our cravings and gain weight.

This makes no sense from a survival standpoint.  Centuries ago we did not have access to a constant supply of carbohydrate laden foods.  As hunter-gatherers were in fact, starving most of the time and had to put a lot of effort into the occasional feast.  During those occasional feasts, our body would store excess fuel as fat, for the inevitable famine.  During those times of famine, our body was fat adapted.  It could easily access our body fat stores for fuel, keeping us alive until our next successful hunt.  We would feast again, store excess energy as body fat and the cycle continued.  We survived, even thrived.

This is where the confusion arises.  While it is true our body will preferentially burn excess sugar, our body is designed to burn fat.  We are actually meant to be fat burners.  Our body only burns sugar preferentially because, high blood sugar levels are toxic to our cells and organ systems.  Our red blood cells (RBCs) become sticky as glucose clings to them.  And sticky RBCs clump together and get stuck clogging up the tiny little blood vessels called capillaries, that supply all of our organ systems, causing widespread damage.   In an attempt to mitigate this damage, our body will release more insulin, push sugar into cells to burn for fuel and store more body fat.  It’s a protective mechanism.

Brilliantly smart body huh?  For sure.

But with time, over decades, the system fails.  We develop insulin resistance and a host of chronic metabolic disorders – obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.

If we wish to avoid this scenario, we must break this snack attack cycle.  We must significantly decrease our carbohydrate intake and teach our body to use its stored body fat for fuel.  We must become fat burners, or fat adapted.

More on that in part 2…

Have a fantastic week,
Dr Karen