How Snacking Disrupts Digestion

Years ago, we were told to eat frequently (“grazing” or “snacking”) to improve our metabolism. Do you remember this advice?

“Eat frequently so your body doesn’t go into starvation mode.”

Well, it turns out, that for most people, this isn’t the most sound advice.  Turns out that your body needs a break from digestion, so eating here-and-there all the time is often counterproductive.

Migrating Motor Complex

The gastrointestinal tract has cleansing waves called peristalsis. This occurs from a distinct pattern of electromechanical activity observed in gastrointestinal smooth muscle during the periods between meals and is called Migrating Motor Complex. It is thought to serve a “housekeeping” role and sweep residual undigested material through the digestive tube. These cleansing waves do not occur while we are eating and digesting food.

Migrating motor complexes (or “MMC”) facilitate transportation of indigestible substances such as bone, fiber, and foreign bodies from the stomach, through the small intestine, past the ileocecal sphincter, and into the colon. The MMC occurs every 45–180 minutes between meals and is responsible for the rumbling experienced when hungry. It also serves to transport bacteria from the small intestine to the large intestine and to inhibit the migration of colonic bacteria into the terminal ileum.

If we interrupt MMC, bacteria don’t get transferred to the large bacteria. So all the good guys start hanging around in all the wrong places.

Cleansing waves should occur every 90 minutes or so and don’t happen while we are eating and which is why “grazing” as a way of eating is not a good idea.  Grazing can often contribute to indigestion, bloating, impairs nutrient absorption – and contribute to the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Migrating Motor Complex

Migrating Motor Complex (Ref; Science Direct)

Grazing & Snacking

Grazing, or snacking, also inhibits hunger. Hunger is a sign that we should all feel, right before meals. Knowing what hunger feels like, knowing how much food satisfied hunger (but not too much) and knowing how much of a break your body needs before feeling hungry again – are all healthy (and good!) signs of digestion.

What do you think? Do you graze? Do you wait until you are hungry to eat?

(Special thanks to The School of Applied Functional Medicine for contributions to this article and information!)

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