I’ve studied a lot of people’s eating behaviors and I’ve seen most of those people struggle in some form with the same thing: snacking. It might be that one behavior you can change today that will finally get you on the road to where you want to be. But it isn’t easy. Snacking is just what we do as humans. It’s what we’re sold, it’s a form of entertainment, and most of the time it’s pretty damn delicious. It gives us something to do between one of the three traditional meals we were trained to eat. But if it’s making this whole eating thing more difficult why do we keep exposing ourselves to the challenge? Because we don’t realize it’s that bad. After all, we do say it doesn’t really matter when you eat if you work it into your total calories/macros right? It actually sounds like an invitation to do what you want and while that is true, and I encourage autonomy, I’d like to take a moment to convince you not to do what you want. Instead, try my suggestion of eliminating the snacks and reflect on the reasons I lay down. It just might get you in a better place.
A Brief History on Snacking
Snack culture is a relatively new thing. Up until the last 30-40 years or so, we pretty much only ate the 3 meals a day and maybe some fruit here and there. Today there are thousands of options that didn’t exist when many of us were kids and definitely not when most of our parents were kids. In the course of a generation, our chances of eating healthy were flipped upside down. In most grocery stores there are hundreds of different types of cookies, chips, candies, and baked goods. The opportunity to indulge exists like never before and this isn’t something people of the past had to deal with. As we know, obesity is on the rise and it’s no surprise snacking is too. There is no denying that the act of snacking is part of the problem. Let’s just say things can’t catch fire without a spark. Snacks coming into our world made staying in shape a very difficult task and it’s one I think you might want to eliminate.
1. The Mind Trap
Think of some of your favorite snacks. For me, it would be gummy candies, chips, and even fruit. These foods are rarely eaten when I’m paying attention and I’d bet most of your favorite snacks are eaten in a similar way. Snack foods are often consumed when we’re distracted from some form of entertainment. Whether it be tv, phone, computer, or magazine, we’re consuming these foods in a daze. We’re splitting our time between whatever we’re watching and whatever we’re eating, giving neither of them our full attention. This act is the complete opposite of what we hope to encourage: mindful eating. One of my big “rules” for people is to eliminate eating in front of entertainment. If you do that you can no longer accidentally hit the bottom of a bag of candy. A good test is to ask yourself if you’d sit a table alone and eat it. Most of the time you’ll say no because it would be ridiculous to sit quietly with a little plate or candy. Picturing it is pretty funny though.
2. Hunger Tease
After I eat I like to be satisfied. Not overly stuffed but enough where I’m no longer hungry. Planning snack time prevents that and usually results in me being kind of hungry all day long until I get to put something more substantial in my mouth. The reason being is that when you split a day’s calories/macros into 6-7 mini-meals we don’t allow ourselves to be satiated. I know everyone is a bit different but when we eat mini-meals the likelihood of hunger coming back sooner is much higher than if we had a larger, more filling meal. Surprise hunger often encourages us to stuff a hand in a bag and so the cycle continues.
3. Where’s the Protein?
Spend any time in our Stronger U Community and you’ll see this common question. “Anyone know of snacks that have protein?” And you’ll see 3 suggestions. Beef jerky, yogurt, or a candy bar (otherwise known as a protein bar) that might have 10-20 grams of protein in it and probably double the carbs. There aren’t many snacks that have protein and there’s a reason for it. First, it’s expensive, and second, it’s filling. If I’m a snack seller I’m going to make them cheap and I’m going to make you want more of them. Protein is pretty much the opposite of that. Sure there are some exceptions but snack foods are typically sweet, salty, crunchy, and trigger all the reward centers in the brain. If we’re snacking more it might mean hitting the right amount of protein is more difficult during the day and missing out on protein isn’t a good idea.
4. Sunken Costs
Many times when someone starts at Stronger U they realize how fun it might be to work in all those foods other diets banned. They buy the Oreos, and the chips and work in a few servings here and there. No big deal, right? Well, we don’t like to let things go to waste and when we realize a whole package or whole bag doesn’t fit in our plan we’re met with two options: Eat the issue away or throw the issue away. Most people choose the former because after all we spent good money on this, right? But is that a good reason to add to our waistline or should we just add it to the waste line? I never suggest tossing food that can be donated but if that’s not an option I will always suggest getting rid of it. Your body isn’t a dumpster.
5. The Unhealthy Habit
Any time I suggest reducing snacking someone says “But Mike, you said if it fits in the plan we can have it. What gives?” You’re right if most of your food is nutrient-dense and you’re living an overall healthy lifestyle I’m not too concerned about some snack foods but I am concerned with the snack habits. You see, most people who track will take a specific serving size of the snack food, but what about the person who isn’t tracking? Currently, that’s me. If I am used to 28g of chips and I “graduate” from tracking am I still going to eat 28g? Or will that go to 36g? 48g? Half a bag? Based on the success rate of the snack industry, it’s likely we’ll all go from the right size serving to the wrong one. And it will happen fast. Eliminating the habit of snacking is why this advice is important. It’s not about the food. That goes with anything we do, really. It’s always about the actions and the reasons behind them. Sure you’re making the right decision now, but I’m more concerned with you making the right decision now, tomorrow, and into the future.
Snacking is a part of life and my goal is never to set unrealistic expectations. You will snack, you will indulge, and you still will see success. But if you’re not on a smooth path and you’re looking for something to improve it might be a good idea to join team No Snack. Whether you’re a food tracker or not, eliminating the opportunity to overeat is a huge win for long term success.
Please don’t hate me for this, Nabisco & Frito Lay. I have a job to do and people to take care of.