The Obstacle Meter – 17: Snacking

17: Snacking

Snacking on junk food is part of my daily routine.

There are a multitude of reasons why we snack: stress, boredom, fatigue, convenience, a lack of sleep or because it is just part of a routine that you have fallen into.  Regardless of why you have chosen to snack we feel that the reasons for snacking can all fit into just two categories:

1) Snacking for Pleasure.

2) Snacking Because You are Legitimately Hungry.

If you are snacking for pleasure, chances are that you are eating foods that are loaded with sugar, salt and/or fat (that is why they taste so good and are so pleasurable to eat).  One option to reduce the calories you are getting from snacking is to choose a lower calorie and less palatable alternative.  Here are some traditional high calorie snacks and their healthier alternatives.

Insert snack substitutions list

Only you can decide what foods you want to replace with a healthier alternative.  And although it is recommended that you still consider the amount of the alternative that you eat, chances are that you will not consume nearly as many calories of the healthier alternative because the healthier alternatives offer a much lower food reward.  You will become satisfied and/or tired of eating the healthier alternative foods because they have a moderate palatability, and you can only eat so much of them before you grow tired of eating that food.

On the other hand, your body’s food reward system has trouble telling you to stop eating the highly palatable (high sugar, fat, and/or salt) foods as we have been evolutionarily designed to seek out these types of foods and eat as much as we can of them for our survival.  With all that being said, you have to decide what alternatives you are willing to substitute and whether they will satisfy your cravings.  I, for one, would rather die than trade chips for pretzels, whole grain crackers or veggie chips.  There is no comparison there.  However, I am willing to eat nuts, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, cottage cheese, salsa, and so on and so forth as they all meet my satisfaction and/or hit my pleasure centers to a great enough degree.

If you just have to have those chips, candy or ice cream you must come up with a system for limiting their frequency and/or portions in your diet.  We recommend you come up with your own NUTRITION RULES stating the who, what, when, where, how and why you can eat those higher calorie snacks.  Your NUTRITION RULES can be completely arbitrary, who cares as long as they are specific to you and they work for you.  For example, maybe your NUTRITION RULE is that you can only eat potato chips on Fridays and Sundays during a specific sporting event from a specific bowl.  You will not eat potato chips with your Jimmy Johns sandwich, from the vending machine or at work.  This may seem like a silly rule to some, but hey, if it works for you, it works for you.

In terms of portions, you can buy small chip packages, only eat from a small to medium sized bowl or portion the chips out of the bag to approximate serving sizes.  If you cannot control your frequency or portion sizes, then you will have to change your environment to limit your access to these foods.

Yet another option in the pleasure category is replacing the act of eating altogether with a distraction or something else that brings you pleasure.  This could mean going for a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, taking a bubble bath, listening to a podcast, gardening, you name it, whatever floats your boat by taking the emphasis off from food (healthy or unhealthy) and towards another activity.

Finally, if you are legitimately hungry, your focus should be on consuming protein and/or fiber as these foods will help you get to your next meal without overdoing it on snacks that are high in sugar, fat and/or salt.  Many of these same substitutions apply here.  However, the nuance of –snacking because you are hungry– changes your mindset away from eating for pleasure and more towards eating a –mini-meal– to get you to your next real meal.  Eating a bag of chips will do virtually nothing to your hunger whereas eating an apple (fiber) and string cheese (protein) may help while also saving you calories and giving you some nutrition.