Are You Snacking Too Much?

In this podcast, Dr Sandra Cabot and nutritionist Louise Belle explore the different reasons that cause people to snack too much – such as missing meals, lack of protein, hunger hormones, nutrient deficiencies and parasites. They provide ideas for healthy snacks and talk about the importance of mindful eating.

Listen to this podcast and leave a comment below if you have any questions.

DR CABOT: Hello. My name is Dr Sandra Cabot. And today I’m joined by nutritionist and Weight Loss Detective, Louise Belle.

LOUISE: Hi everyone!

DR CABOT: And we’re talking to you about snacking, which is something most people love to do, especially if they have some delicious treats with them. We’re always tempted, but many of us snack too much, and we’re trying to fight the temptation a lot. So, we thought we’d look at what could be the reasons you are snacking too much and find it hard to control. And if you really do need a snack, what are the healthy snacks?

So, I’ll start by some of the causes, and then Louise will add a few more. Cause it’s quite a few.

LOUISE: That’s right.

DR CABOT: No wonder we’re tempted. But one of them can be that you’re so busy, you’ve missed meals and your body is releasing a hormone called ghrelin. That’s G-H-R-E-L-I-N. And ghrelin is something that will stimulate the appetites in your brain and make you ravenous.

So, some people can miss meals, but others can’t. So, you have to know what type you are. So, it is good to have at least 2, but some people need 3 really satisfying meals a day with good quality protein. So, you’re getting all the amino acids for your brain to make neurotransmitters and healthy fats. And that’s going to stabilize your blood sugar. Gonna fill your stomach up, so you don’t produce as much ghrelin and it’s going to stabilize your blood sugar.

So, you could say that excessive snacking means your last meal was inadequate because it didn’t have enough protein or healthy fat.

LOUISE: Yes. That’s very common. People eat high carb meals and then a couple of hours later, they’re hungry again.

DR CABOT: That’s right! Because carbohydrates don’t satisfy you.


DR CABOT: They satisfy you mentally, but physiologically they don’t. I remember one morning I had a naughty breakfast. We were in a shopping center and we had a half of these cakes, delicious cakes. And then half an hour later, I thought “I don’t even feel like I’ve eaten anything”. My body was telling me “You don’t have enough nutrients” and you just have this empty feeling.

So, it’s true. A lot of people will snack on biscuits or crackers or popcorn. Or even worse, candy!

LOUISE: Or they have a soft drink to pick them up because they haven’t had a satisfying meal. A classic example is having toast for breakfast with Vegemite on it, or something that’s not very satisfying. Or a sandwich for lunch. Bread is just very high in simple carbohydrates. There’s not really any protein in there, so that’s not going to fill you up. And if you aren’t having your source of protein with it, like some tuna or chicken, then it’s definitely not going to keep you full for long.

DR CABOT: Yes. Some people will just have one slice of ham and two big slices of bread and maybe a bit of lettuce. And that’s not enough protein.

So, protein and fat, eating it regularly will definitely help to balance your hunger hormones.

LOUISE: That’s right!

DR CABOT: Your hunger hormones are insulin and leptin. And if you don’t eat enough protein and fat, you are going to be resistant to insulin and leptin. So, your body will make too much of those hormones and they will make you hungry.

People who have been overweight for a long time, you know several years, who have been snacking a lot, they don’t really know if they’re hungry or not.

LOUISE: It’s more habitual, really. People are just getting in the habit of snacking, so they might not even be hungry and they’re just snacking. They’re like “Oh, it’s 3 o’clock or it’s after dinner. I’ll just have a snack”, because they’re in the habit of it. Then they might not even be hungry. A lot of people aren’t really in touch with their hunger hormones, I would say. It’s out of habit or boredom.

DR CABOT: Yes. Or stress, because if you’re stressed, you’re producing more cortisol. And cortisol is a hormone that comes from the adrenal glands and it makes you hungry. So, hormones have got a big effect on your propensity to snack too much.

What about dehydration?

LOUISE: That’s a big one. So, a lot of people get thirst mixed up with hunger. So, that’s something that we see a lot in our clinic. People are overeating and they’re not drinking enough water. So ideally, you’ll be drinking at least 2 liters of fluids a day, from either water or herbal teas. That’s sort of the best source. And then you can have things like coffee and fresh fruit…

DR CABOT: Thank God!

LOUISE: …on top. But you want to aim for about 2 liters of water. But the thing is, if you’re not drinking enough water, that can make your body think that it’s hungry. So, you’ll have a snack when in actual fact, if you just had a big glass of water, that hunger or what you think is hunger, could go away. So, what I suggest to people, if they do feel hungry and they’ve not long eaten, or they’ve had a meal, or they’re craving a snack. I suggest that they have a cup of tea or a big glass of water and wait 15, 20 minutes. And quite often that hunger will go away because it was just thirst.

DR CABOT: That’s right! We get confused because the receptors for thirst and food or hunger is in the same part of the brain. And if you’re tired, particularly if you’ve got muscle cramps, add a little bit of magnesium powder or a little bit of sea salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon to the water and that’s going to rejuvenate your adrenal glands. So, you won’t be so tired and you won’t think “Oh, I need sugar.”

LOUISE: That’s a very good tip.

DR CABOT: Yeah, it is. Magnesium and salt. I see a lot of people, Louise, who are low in salt. You see it in their blood tests, their sodium level is really low.

LOUISE: Cause people are scared of salt, because they think that it’s really bad for them. So, they’re avoiding it.

DR CABOT: They do. It’s old fashion.

LOUISE: I love salt.

DR CABOT: It’s helped me!

LOUISE: Maybe too much.

DR CABOT: Salt’s good for you. And one of the symptoms of being low in sodium is dizziness. People get lightheaded and dizzy and they think: “Oh, it’s my blood sugar. I better eat something sweet.” But often it’s salt that they’re lacking.

LOUISE: I didn’t realize.

DR CABOT: And hey! Guess what? Salt doesn’t put weight on. And it won’t cause fluid retention, if you’ve got a normal kidney function.

LOUISE: Well, that’s good to know. Because I think a lot of people would avoid it for that reason.

DR CABOT: There’s a lot of myths out there. But us Weight Loss Detectives are here to clear it up for you.

LOUISE: That we are.

DR CABOT: And so, salt can be one mineral that you’re deficient in. But other minerals can lead to cravings, if you’re low in them, such as low iron and low zinc. So, without those minerals, you’ll feel tired. And we see a lot of people who are low in iron, particularly young women with heavy menstruation, or low in zinc. So, you can check those things with a blood test. And if they’re low, supplement and you’ll probably find you don’t snack as much.

LOUISE: That’s a very good point, because when people are tired, that’s when they’re likely to reach for a snack that’s high in carbs. So, they might have biscuits or some chocolate, because they want that pick me up. And really, they’re just lacking in a nutrient or perhaps not sleeping properly. So, if sleep is an issue, that’s something else that you need to address, because poor sleep quite often messes with your hunger hormones and also causes low energy. So, that’s when you’re more likely to be snacking. So, resolving sleep is a really big part of it.

DR CABOT: Very important. Try to get to bed by 10 30. If you have trouble falling asleep, you can take melatonin, the wonderful, natural sleep hormone and boost your magnesium levels. They call magnesium “the great relaxer”.

The other thing we should mention, Louise, is parasites.

LOUISE: Yes, that’s a good one!

DR CABOT: It’s very common. We see a lot of people who have bacteria in their stomach called Helicobacter. Or they have a general overgrowth of bacteria in their small intestine. So, these bacteria should be in the colon, but they migrate up into the small intestine. They’re too high there and they want to be fed. And bacteria and yeast only thrive on carbohydrate. Protein and fat doesn’t really interest them.

LOUISE: Yeah, they love sugar.

DR CABOT: They do, more than you even! And they will release substances into your gut, which go into your blood and then to your brain and make you crave carbohydrates. So, it’s not your fault, you see.

LOUISE: That’s something we say. “Yeah, it’s not your fault!” And that’s something we do see a lot in our patients. And something that we look at if they are craving sugar, there’s obviously multiple reasons. But an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast could be one of them. So that’s something we try to get to the bottom of.

DR CABOT: And you can have a breath test at your pathology, and that will tell you if you’ve got Helicobacter. But the symptoms of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth are bloating in the abdomen and a bit of discomfort and hunger – excessive hunger.

So, there’s ways to get rid of those parasites. One of them is to avoid snacking on carbohydrates. So, if we are going to have a healthy snack, what would you recommend, Louise?

LOUISE: So, I like protein as a snack. Because if you are hungry, it’s probably because you haven’t had a substantial meal and protein will fill you up and won’t put weight on. So, if you are someone who is looking to control your weight, then snacking on a protein source is really good. So, you can have a protein shake. We’ve got the Synd X and the Superfood shakes. They’re really good! You can just mix it with water. So that’s a really quick and easy snack. Things like nuts, boiled eggs, they’re really good. Or other sources of fat, like you could have half an avocado or some fresh coconut. And also, snacking on vegetables. So, vegetables are low calorie, they’re high in minerals, they’re high in fiber, and fiber does fill you up as well. So, vegetables like carrot, cucumber, celery – I like capsicum personally – they’re really good to snack on. You can just cut them up and take them in a little container to work. And that’s a really good snack because they won’t put weight on and it’s very healthy. And it’s a good way to get in extra vegetables, because a lot of people aren’t reaching their five-a-day. And ideally, you’d have even more vegetables than that. So, they’re some of my favorite. If you prefer, a warm snack, miso soup is a really good one. You can actually buy the little sachets just in the supermarkets…

DR CABOT: …and salty, which is good for you!

LOUISE: Yeah, it’s salty, it’s fermented. So, it’s good for your gut and it’s very warming. So, especially in winter when vegetable sticks don’t seem so appealing. Having a miso soup is very comforting, which you might be chasing that comfort. And I also really like, a tin of tuna as a snack, cause they’re obviously so portable and easy to carry around. So, you can just pop that in your handbag or in your drawer at work. And then you’ve got a really good, quick and easy snack. And also chia puddings. If you prefer something a bit sweeter, you could prepare some chia puddings. And all you do is add some chia seeds, coconut milk and a fruit. I personally like raspberries but you can use any fruit. Just mix them together in a little container and that acts as a really nice dessert/snack. And it’s high in good fats, and it’s high in protein and fiber. So, it will fill you up and it will satisfy those sweet cravings – which a lot of you want.

DR CABOT: In your vegetable sticks, you can put naturally made peanut butter.


DR CABOT: Or tahini.

LOUISE: Yeah! Peanut butter, tahini, some hummus. You can have some guacamole. There’s lots of things you can do to flavor it, if you don’t like eating vegetables by themselves – like I do.

DR CABOT: So, they’re healthy snacks. So, you gotta be prepared to fight off the cravings for the sugary things. And be careful of energy bars, cause a lot of them have hidden sugar and lots of gluten. And they’re really quite fattening.

LOUISE: Yeah, they can be! So, I was just with some friends yesterday, and one of them was eating a protein bar, a muesli bar. And I was looking at the label and it had all these different types of sugars in it disguised under different words, like glucose, golden syrup and sugar. And it had like four different forms of sugar in it and eating it and thinking it’s healthy. So that’s something to look out for, as well.

And one more thing I just want to mention is mindful eating. So, mindful eating is really important. So, a lot of people are snacking while they’re on their phones or watching TV or they’re driving. So, you’re eating much more than you would usually, if you were paying attention. Because your brain doesn’t register how much you’re eating. So, this is something that a lot of people do. They’re eating while they’re in the middle of doing something. So, they’re snacking on more than they should. And we see this a lot with our patients. So, I think just something to be mindful of is to pay attention when you’re eating. If you are hungry and you need a snack, definitely have a snack. But just pay attention while you’re doing it and focus on what you’re doing, so you’re not eating more than you should or more than you need.

DR CABOT: And you’ll enjoy it more because your taste buds will be more primed.

LOUISE: That’s right!

DR CABOT: It won’t be distracted by thoughts.

LOUISE: You’ll enjoy it. You won’t have to beat yourself up about eating too many snacks. You can enjoy it and really appreciate it.

DR CABOT: And another thing. If you feel that you can’t get satisfaction, as we said before, it’s probably cause your last meal was deficient in protein and fat. But also, tyrosine powder is very good and you can just stir some of that into water. It doesn’t have any flavor and it helps your brain to make the neurotransmitter dopamine and also adrenaline. And that’s a neurotransmitter that makes you feel satisfied and stimulated. So, tyrosine is definitely a good aide for people who feel they’re a bit addicted to snacking.

LOUISE: And a lot of people are addicted to snacking and they just need that extra assistance to reduce those cravings, because it can be hard to ignore them. It’s all well and good for someone who doesn’t have intense cravings to say “Just don’t snack”, but that’s not always practical. So, a little bit of support, like tyrosine, can go a long way.

DR CABOT: So, there you go! Snacking! Do you do it too much? And how to improve it? That’s inside tips from the Weight Loss Detectives. Thanks for listening.

LOUISE: Thank you. Bye.