To snack or not to snack, that is the question.
Experts are divided. Some recommend eating 6 meals a day (every 3 to 4 hours). Eating more frequent smaller meals, they argue, fires up your metabolism, prevents you from getting too hungry, and regulates your blood sugar level.[i]
Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition says that’s not true. According to Gunnars, eating more frequently does NOT increase metabolism and it does NOT help with balancing sugar levels.[ii]
It’s time to settle this once and for all.
Here’s the verdict:
If the goal is to lose weight, it doesn’t matter if you eat 3 or 6 meals a day as long as you stick with your calorie budget.[iii]
Sounds boring, right?
It may be anticlimactic but this is actually good. It means that you can choose your eating style and still maintain a healthy weight.
Should you decide to go with the snacking route, follow these simple tips to make sure you don’t take in too many calories.
1. Snack slowly.
It takes around 20 minutes before you feel that you’re full. Eating quickly, especially when you’re late for a meeting, has become a habit for millions of people.
Eating slowly will help you consume fewer calories and stay full longer.[iv] Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, recommends the following to help you eat slower:
- Don’t postpone eating until you’re famished. You tend to eat more when you’re really hungry.
- Drink water between bites. You’ll feel fuller and you’ll slow down eating.
2. When snacking, focus on just snacking.
Focusing on eating sounds easy but it’s not. We are surrounded by distractions. Maybe you’re snacking in front of the computer while multi-tasking.
Food tastes bland when you’re multi-tasking while eating. If you often snack while doing other things, you’ll soon tend to choose sugary or salty food.
Walter Glenn recommends mindful eating. By eating mindfully, you’ll be able to choose healthier food and eat slower too.[v]
3. Switch up your routine.
Forming a new habit can take as little as 27 days. Figure out which of your habits cause you to snack excessively and then break them by forming newer, healthier ones.
If you normally grab a bite to eat at a certain hour, even if you don’t need to, train yourself to do something else to keep your mind off of food. Try a relaxation technique or a new hobby such as journaling or crafting instead. You can even take a short walk around the block to squeeze some exercise into your day.[vi]
4. Small portion sizes can work wonders.
Ever wondered how much chocolate you need to be satisfied? The folks over at Cornell University did a study to find out. What they discovered was quite amazing.
One group was given 1,370 calories from foods such as chocolate, apple pie, and potato chips. Another group was given 195 calories of the same foods. Results showed that both groups reported more or less the same satisfaction from the snacks.[vii]
There’s just one big difference. One group consumed 77% more calories than the other.
Key takeaway: you don’t need large portions to be satiated.
5. Distract yourself from snacking.
Keep away from distractions while you are actually eating to prevent yourself from unintentionally consuming too much. At the same time, the best way to prevent yourself from eating in the first place is not to think about food, or to do something else that will discourage you from eating.
For example, something as simple as brushing your teeth immediately after meals can prevent you from popping more snacks into your mouth because of the minty flavor. Plus, eating after that will mean that you will need to brush your teeth again, which will take more effort. Chewing gum can also help squelch the desire to snack on something.
You can also do other simple activities that will take your mind off of your stomach. Use your phone, surf the internet, paint your nails, watch television, or take a walk – the possibilities are endless. The idea is to stop yourself from going back into the kitchen to reach for another snack.[viii]
6. Make the environment work for you.
This psychological trick can help you eat less: studies have suggested that creating a soothing ambiance can cause you to eat as much as 18 percent less food than you normally would – that’s equivalent to just under 200 calories. Dimming the lights and playing soft music can help you relax more, helping you to enjoy your food and savor each bite, which in turn causes you to eat less.[ix]
Another trick is to get rid of all the unhealthy snacks in your house. After all, out of sight, out of mind. If self-control seems to be a serious issue for you, stop buying the food items that you know you will end up bingeing on later. It may not be nice to deprive yourself of your favorite food, but unless you’re really sure you can eat them in moderation, it’s not going to be worth it if they end up destroying your diet anyway.[x]
Meanwhile, keep any snacks you do buy in non-transparent containers so you can’t easily see what’s inside them. Google experimented with opaque containers and found that employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories within 7 days.[xi]
Lessening your exposure and temptation to food doesn’t stop at home. If you’re at a party, for example, avoid standing near the snack table or refreshments bar so that you’re less likely to unconsciously reach for something while chatting with your friends. If you’re eating out, sit as far away from the kitchen or bar as possible, and resist the temptation to buy something from any vending machines you see.
7. Bring your own snacks.
A pre-packed lunch will help you keep the food and calories you eat in check. Buying food from stores takes away the control you have over what exactly goes into your food, as well as the portion size for each serving. Making and preparing your own lunch and snacks, on the other hand, not only allows you to put your health into your own hands, but also ensures that your food is prepared just the way you like it. As an added bonus, you get to spend less money too.[xii]
8. Build your meals with protein.
If you are calorie-conscious, you may be intentionally skipping protein because you think it has a high calorie content. However, you might actually be eating to your disadvantage. Protein makes you feel fuller more quickly and also provides your body with more energy which decreases your tendencies to snack on other items outside of your meals.[xiii]
9. Keep yourself hydrated.
Most of the time, you may think you are hungry when you are actually just in need of some liquid. The next time you feel the need to snack on something, have a glass of water instead and wait for about ten minutes. If you still feel dissatisfied afterwards, only then should you consider eating something light as a snack. Otherwise, just keep on drinking up. Keeping hydrated with cold water throughout your day not only keeps your hunger pangs at bay, but also benefits your metabolism.[xiv]
10. Stay away from sugar.
Decreasing your daily sugar intake by as little as two teaspoons can add up to five whole pounds in a single year. Switching sweet cereals to unsweetened varieties and watering down fruit juices are some easy ways to cut down sugar consumption.
Keep away from candies and cookies and instead find healthier substitutes, such as dried fruits, whole grain cereals, and even peanut M&M’s, which contain protein and can help keep your energy levels up. Be wary of items like bread, yogurt, and cereal, as they can contain sneaky sugar. Make sure to read nutrition labels and seek out varieties with less overall sugar content.
11. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
As much as possible, try to make fruits and vegetables comprise half of your meals. They contain lots of water, fiber, and air, which all consume a lot of space in your stomach and send signals to your small intestine and brain that you are full. Eating these foods at the beginning of your meal will help you feel satiated much earlier without causing you to compensate later on in the day by snacking on other foods. If you’re eating out and fruits are not an option, start off your meal with a salad, which works in the same way.[xv]
12. Cut down your options.
Limiting your choices is one of the most obvious steps you can take to ditch your snacking habit. Instead of buying a lot of junk food at the store, start picking healthier snacks in smaller portions. This way, there will be fewer items for you to choose from when you’re at home and you start feeling the urge to munch on something. Resist the urge to stock up on different types and varieties of the same items just because you want to try out new flavors. A more limited selection will help you keep yourself and your diet on track.[xvi]
Another trick would be to check the label of processed food items before buying them. If there are more than five ingredients, don’t buy them. Keeping aware of this red flag can help you stop making unhealthy impulse buys.[xvii]
13. Snack only when you’re hungry.
Being more aware of yourself can help you keep your figure in check. Whenever you feel like eating, take a moment to assess whether you really are hungry, or just bored, stressed, tired, or thirsty. Try placing your fists on top of your stomach and check for symptoms such as growling, pangs, and emptiness. This indicates hunger, but if the area feels full, you’re probably just missing something else aside from food.[xviii]
Try to think about what’s really bothering you the next time you reach for something to munch on. If you’re experiencing emotional problems, walk it off or distract yourself by doing other activities.
Keeping yourself from snacking excessively isn’t as difficult as it sounds. All it takes is a little preparation and the right mindset so you can fully achieve your goals of becoming fit and healthy.
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[ii] Optimal Meal Frequency – How Many Meals Should You Eat Per Day?, Kris Gunnars, Authority Nutrition, Retrieved May 21, 2015.
[iii] How Often Should You Eat? A New Study Clears Up the Dieting Confusion, Kelsey Cannon, Men’s Health, Published January 15, 2015, Retrieved May 21, 2015.
[iv] Why Eating a Little Slower Could Help You Lose Weight, Lisa Moskovitz, Greatist, Published January 17, 2014, Retrieved May 22, 2015.
[xv] The CDC Guide to Strategies to Increase the Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables, CDC, Retrieved May 28, 2015.
[xvi] 5 Powerful Calorie Control Tricks To Help You Eat Less Food, Ben Greenfield, Ben Greenfield Fitness, Retrieved May 28, 2015.
[xviii] 4 Steps That’ll Prevent You From Eating When You’re Not Actually Hungry, Jenna Birch, Women’s Health, Published July 11, 2014, Retrieved May 28, 2015.