by Dr. Tina Marcantel

When you think about weight control, do you automatically think “dieting”—as in severe calorie restrictions? The truth is that for most of us maintaining or even losing weight is not about starving ourselves; it’s about eating the right foods at the right times. But before we talk about what the right foods are, let’s take a look at why our daily doses of stress—both the physical and emotional kinds—can contribute to unwanted weight gain.

We all have stressors in our lives, and when physical or emotional stress is present it causes our adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is considered a fat-storing hormone because its presence in our systems starts a cascade of biochemical events. Here’s a typical cycle:

Stress —> release of cortisol from adrenals —> need for energy —> stored sugars released from liver —> insulin released from pancreas to bring sugars into cells for energy —> drop in blood sugars (hypoglycemia) —> craving for sugars and carbohydrates (“Eat! You need to replace the sugars!”). Snacking on sugars or carbs (that turn into sugars) causes a new glucose spike that starts the insulin/hypoglycemia/craving process all over again. At the same time, all that extra sugar gets stored as fat.

Eating enough proteins is really the key to maintaining a healthy weight because proteins still provide the energy you need without causing those glucose spikes that lead to weight gain. Time your protein snacks between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, and one or two hours before bedtime. Eating small snacks throughout the day will also help to cut down on the amount you consume during your “main” meals.

One hindrance to this plan for some people is that they don’t think of proteins as “snacks.” Here are some suggestions I give to my patients to help them get started on the “protein trail.” And remember, preparation is the key to success! If you work outside the home, set aside some time each weekend to prepare enough snacks to take with you to work during the week.

*Pre-cooked chicken strips (not fried!)

*Turkey or buffalo jerky

*Boiled eggs

*Lettuce roll-ups with deli meat and a pickle or cucumber strip

*Kale chips

*Smoked salmon

*Raw or dry-roasted almonds, cashews, or pistachios are also good in moderate amounts

Try these ideas for a few weeks as your between-meal snacks. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel!


turkey jerky

Buffalo and turkey jerky are good, satisfying protein snacks that are easy to carry with you. I like Trader Joe’s brand because there are no preservatives. Kale chips are another very portable snack that contain about 6 grams of protein per ounce (the store-bought ones contain nuts).

smoked salmon

Wild sockeye salmon is delicious and contains no mercury. The Foster Farms chicken strips are already cooked and contain no added hormones or steroids. Good deli meats are another great protein snack, and a boiled egg taken between meals is a quick and easy way to control your cravings.

protein wrapprotein wrap 2

You can prepare a number of protein wraps for the coming week. Just use a large leaf of Romain lettuce for the wrap and insert your choice of meats, spices, pickles or cucumbers. Roll the lettuce lengthwise and then wrap it in paper towel to keep it together and keep it from getting soggy. Load several into a Ziploc bag and you’re ready for healthy protein treats for several days!


Want more ideas for healthful meals? Visit our Recipes Pages!