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Stomach Tiger Lullaby

By Craig T. Hunt RD

After being deprived of sunlight for several months, much awaited long spring days beckon outdoor activities like barbequing, lawn mowing, and if you’re lucky – a few minutes in the hammock.  If you like outdoor grilling, chances are by early spring you’ve dusted winter off your grill and changed out a fuel tank or two. Outdoor barbequing provides a rare pause in the day, because you can’t just set the flame and walk away for 20 minutes. You’ve got to hang around, look under the hood, and pay attention to temperature, color, smell and texture.  There’s also meal timing - you want that freshly grilled steak, chicken, pork, or kebob to land on your plate while it’s warm.  Another important aspect of meal timing that deserves consideration, and dramatically affects the amount of food you consume at dinner, is how long you’ve gone during the day without eating. 

Long spring days can keep us out in the yard, field and farm considerably longer than cold and dark winter days. Why head in for supper at 5:30pm when you could spend 2 more hours on the tractor, plant another row of pole beans or play catch with the kids? When the dinner bell finally rings, we often arrive at the dinner table famished and uttering phrases like “Oh, my gosh, I’m starving!”  Those extra early evening hours turbo-boost our appetite to a near famished state. To quickly quell the growling tiger in your stomach, you might grab a bag of chips and ingest an entire meals worth of calories before sitting down at the table. 

Once you’ve reached the famish point – it’s nearly impossible to think rationally about your food intake. The tiger in your stomach has sunk its claws into the primitive part of your brain and is not going to release the chips, nuts, cookies, and/or chocolate to the dictates of your rational brain.  After a few bites, somewhere in the recesses of your mind you might hear Dr. Oz correctly stating that eating big calories later in the evening is not good for metabolism, reflux, obesity or diabetes. But how can you conceivably “banish the famish” without giving up time outside in the precious evening light?  The tradeoff is too great. 

The trick to keeping your stomach tiger sleeping and avoid devouring that plate of oatmeal cookies a few minutes before dinner is to give your tiger a snack or two in the afternoon. This might grate against your grandmother’s pre-dinner chant of “don’t-spoil-your-dinner.” But the reasoning and science behind including an afternoon snack, especially when dinner is really late, is keeping your blood sugars steady.  Waiting seven to nine hours from lunch to dinner drops your blood sugar to “famish” levels well before dinner and awakens the appetite tiger, contributing to voracious eating before, during and after the evening meal. 

Here are some early afternoon and early evening snack options that will turn the growl into a purr. Many people consume little to no fruit during the day, and eating a piece of fresh fruit provides bulk, fiber, vitamins and minerals – but on its own it doesn’t keep the tiger asleep for very long. To boost its sustainability, try adding a protein like a piece of string cheese, or a mini-Tupperware (3 tablespoons) serving of nuts. Even easier is an energy bar that combines a fast burning fuel like fruit with slower burning fuels like nuts and/or protein. Good choices include: Kind, Balance, Bumble (made in Spokane Valley), Nature Valley with Protein, and Clif Mojo. In our family, we also like the chocolate-peanut butter Stabilyze bar sold at Costco. Even a regular-sized Snickers or Payday bar is better than not eating. If you’re not into energy bars, how about a high protein Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit. If it’s salt you must have, then snack-size potato or tortilla chips with a side of salsa, hummus or guacamole are good choices.  Finally, stomach tigers need hydration, so wash down your snack with a cup or two of water, and sing your stomach tiger a snacking lullaby.