Picking – One of the biggest causes of Weight-Gain

Are you a picker? A mindless snacker? Picking mindlessly at food in the office and home is one of the top reasons for gaining weight even if you are active

When I meet clients for the first time, I have a chat and what I am trying to uncover is the reason/s they have gained weight. There is always an underlying reason. The most common one is stress.  Stress can be due to a variety of things, relationships, finances, work etc.

 I am constantly surprised by new clients who tell me they are not stressed. They typically tend to be quite driven individuals who appear to handle all aspects of their life very well. As our relationship develops it becomes very clear to me that are stressed but they don’t recognise it as stress. It is normal for them to feel this way. 

Getting them to acknowledge it can take a long time. They tend to be ‘Copers’. They get on with things. They rarely complain but they wear their stress as excess body fat. They pick at food without being aware of it when they are stressed. Other people may grind their teeth, have angry outbursts, drink alcohol to excess but my clients pick.

Picking at foods does not satisfy you. It can leave you wanting more food. You might even end up feeling deprived because you cut back on your main meals to make up for the picking between meals.

Here is how you gain weight steadily…..

AT HOME: Kids leftovers at evening meal – end of a sausage, bite of a waffle, few spoons of baked beans, a few chips, few spoons of lasagne or spaghetti bolognese.

WITH FRIENDS: Corner of a scone……the teensiest bit of a brownie….just a nibble of a square of chocolate….a bite of my friend’s croissant…….

WITH PARTNER: A few chips off my partner’s plate….a few spoons of my partner’s dessert…..just a slither of a cake for the taste…..

AT WORK:  a plain biscuit at a meeting, a small triangular sandwich left over after the meeting, a small handful of M&M’s from the office kitchen, a slither of carrot cake from the staff canteen, a finger of cake…..

The Science

Many impulsive and addictive behaviours involve anxiety.

GABA, a brain chemical,  blocks stress and anxiety-related messages from reaching the message centres of the brain. GABA works the same way as Valium, and other tranquilizers and barbiturates but without the side-effects.

When you get anxious, worried, or stressed, your GABA levels drop as cortisol and adrenaline rise. So let’s look at food sources of the raw material that the body uses to make more GABA and at the same time, try to become more aware of how you respond to stressors.

Food Sources of GABA

Glutamic Acid (GA) is found abundantly in all protein foods – Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Dairy. A boiled egg is a portable snack for work.

B6 and Manganese increase the amount of GABA.

B6 – Best sources -Fish, poultry, beef, sunflower seeds, spinach, sweet potato, banana. Toasted sunflower seeds are a great snack to have by your desk.

Manganese –Best sources –  pineapple, oats, brown rice, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, rye.


I am not going to recommend replacement snacks, I am just going to ask that you become aware of ‘picking’ and stop. Become aware of how you react to stress.

Eat well at meal times. Avoid bring rubbish snacks into the homes as they are not good for kids or adults. If the office place is unhealthy, bring in your healthy options.

If you are very stressed, you will burn through more nutrients than usual, especially B vitamins and magnesium. For these stressful times, I recommend short-term supplementation of a B Complex and Magnesium Citrate/Malate.

Stress can be emotional, (divorce, business failure, deadlines to meet on projects) physical (muscular ache, hard physical work, lack of sleep, many hours spent at a desk to meet a work deadline), chemical (hormonal imbalance e.g. perimenopause or depression).

Recognise the signs of stress. Notice how you tense your muscles, tighten your jaw, breath more rapidly and the breaths become shallow not going down into your belly. Your belly might flutter, tighten and your bowel movements may alter. Your heart beat may quicken, check your sports watch. Your mind may race more when you try to sleep at night or you may wake up sharply with a racing mind.

When you feel yourself getting stressed, stand up and move. Take a short break. Get fresh air if possible. Take deep slow breaths. Monitor your pulse until it slows. Take your mind to happy thoughts, something that is coming up that you are looking forward to. Try to soften your face and smile. Just notice how your muscles will begin to relax. This will adjust your internal hormones as you are signalling to them to ‘Chill out’.

Sometimes a stressor can be prolonged. In these cases consider taking up a practice such as yoga or meditation alongside your normal exercise. Meditation or Yin yoga before bedtime is very effective.

Supplementing Amino Acids

As GA is so plentiful in food, one could ask why there is a need to supplement this amino acid if you are eating a good diet. One has to be very careful supplementing amino acids as we all have a very different neurochemical balance.  If a person is predisposed to anxiety, adding in more supplemental L-glutamine may add to anxiety levels. For  example the amino acid Aspartic acid (aspartame) in diet coke, can trigger a migraine in susceptible people.

L-Glutamine is the supplement used by nutritionist to help with glucose metabolism and cravings. Dr Eric Braverman suggests GABA has the most therapeutic potential to reduce appetite. I suggest trying it and see how you get on.

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