Let’s admit it, we’re a snacking culture. If one takes a cruise through any typical American grocery store, s/he will no doubt find aisle upon aisle of various nibbles and treats. Chips, cookies, granola bars, crackers, basically anything sweet, salty, and crunchy seems to constitute a good stand-in for a meal.  But, is a diet consisting of a small breakfast, a snack, lunch, snack, dinner, followed by another snack a sensible way to eat? According to Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India, the answer is simple: no.

Let’s say you are having some friends over for dinner and you opt to serve some basmati rice along with a whole slew of other delicious items. Imagine this, the pot represents your stomach, the rice represents any food you have put into the system, the water the fluids of digestion such as acids and enzymes and the gas flame represents your digestive fire. So, you place the pot of rice and water on the stove, turn on the flame and the rice begins to cook. Ten minutes later, a friend calls and wants to know if they can join in on the festivities. Being a generous person, you quickly agree, hang up the phone and throw another handful of rice into the already bubbling pot. How do you think this rice will turn out? Pretty nasty, right? Some will be over cooked and mushy while the rest of the pot is speckled with pieces of al dente or uncooked rice. This is what happens when you are constantly snacking and adding food to your digestive system.

The entire process of digestion takes roughly 3-4 hours and if we interrupt this process by adding more rice to the pot the end result will be a dreadful mess.  If snacking is a habit, over time the digestive fire will surely weaken and there will be multiple repercussions, such as malabsorption, fatigue, loss of strength and vigor. As the digestive fire weakens and food is not allowed to be properly digested, toxins begin to build up called ama. According to Ayurveda, ama is basically the cause of all disease. It is sticky and heavy and clogs up the system. It can make joints achy, the mind thick and foggy, and interferes with cellular communication.

What to do? Eat three meals a day! Find a breakfast that fills you up enough that you can last 4 hours without feeling faint and make it to lunch. This is a process of trial and error, so be patient. Maybe it works for you to have a grapefruit with honey and cinnamon. Or if that leaves you ravenous, perhaps a plate of eggs and toast is your ticket to a smooth transition to lunch. Regardless, be patient and know that in the end you will feel better for this switch. Make lunch your biggest meal, this is when the digestive fire is at its peak. Try to eat a warm, cooked meal with some healthy fats such as soaked nuts, coconut oil, avocado or ghee.  Slow down long enough to eat in a mindful manner. By eating a larger lunch one will eventually be able to avoid that dip in energy around 3 or 4 pm when the blood sugar starts to crash and one yearns for coffee, chocolate, or chips. Finally, by eating a substantial lunch, hopefully you will find that making it to dinner sans snacks is no problem. Eat a lighter dinner; after all, you are just going to go lie down for 8 hours. By eating a light meal, this will be easier on your digestive system and allow your body to work on detoxifying the body while you slumber, rather than processing a gut full of mashed potatoes, steak, and buttered biscuits. Tend towards simpler fare such as soup and crackers, or rice with some steamed veggies.

Once you have mastered the art of not snacking you may notice that your weight begins to fall into balance. I struggled with my weight for the past decade, always going up and down (I even had the whole range of sizes in my closet to accommodate this roller coaster). However, now that I stick almost exclusively to a no-snacking policy, my weight has stayed in balance. This is because my body has time to actually process what is being put in and then resort to burning any stored fat. If you keep adding fuel to the fire in the form of a snack, the body has no reason to tap into the reserve of fat, thus never burning that slow steady

Writer Lauren Sauer is a graduate from the Kripalu School of Ayurveda and a certified 500 hour Kripalu Ayurvedic Yoga Teacher. As an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, she is passionate about educating others to become their own health advocate, to live with the rhythms of nature and to simply slow down and breathe. She currently resides in the beautiful Berkshires as the intern with the Kripalu School of Ayurveda.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.