Snacking also known as a convenient way to eat food quickly or on the go is a major contributor to the rise in obesity. When we think back, not that long ago, a snack would mostly be fruits or vegetables if it was part of our day at all. Do you remember as a child being told by your parents “you can’t eat now you’ll spoil your appetite for dinner”. As we grew up and the convenience world built up the classic three meals per day slowly disappeared. For many it was replaced by all day snacking (also known as grazing) or at least by skipping 1 meal and replacing it with convenience food.
What is the difference between having a meal and a snack? The Oxford dictionary describes a meal as eating a reasonably large amount of food in one sitting and a snack as a small amount of food eaten between meals. Arguably another difference could be the setting in which both are consumed, on the go vs sitting down at a table. We all fall in the trap of thinking “if I replace a meal with a snack and therefor eat less I will be healthier”. We may even replace a meal with a snack without thinking about it, like when we rush out the door and don’t have time to eat breakfast. Why is this a problem?
When we replace a meal with a snack we don’t actually end up eating less calories. Think about the types of snack you eat; a granola bar, chips, nuts, candy, cookies, fruit, vegetable, protein bar, protein shake, etc. Most of the snack item we eat are high in calories and not filling. In other words they can pack as many calories as a meal in a smaller amount and without making us feel full. The lack of fullness will make it harder for us to make it to our next meal without being hungry. At this point one of two scenarios generally plays out.
You rush out the door in the morning, have a protein shake in the car and get to work. While you’re sitting at your desk an hour later you feel hungry, this is normal for you so you’re prepared. Your desk is stashed with all the snacks you can dream of. There might even be an area filled with goodies like chocolate and cookies at work. You might also work in a place where on most days at least one of your co worker will bring in baked goods in the morning. It’s almost impossible to say no, you’re hungry and lunch is so far away, so you have another little something. You might have lunch or you skip lunch altogether and continue to have snacks throughout your shift. Now think back about what you’ve eaten, how many of your snacks were actually fruits and vegetables? How many of them contained good quality protein? How many of them had any nutrients at all other than some that may have been chemically added? We feed our bodies calories with very little nutrients and we expect it to perform at 110% all day, somethings has got to give which is usually our health. Our nutrient starved bodies have a harder time saying no to unhealthy foods, most snack foods also don’t fill us up making us more prone not only to over eat but to make bad decision on what we’re eating throughout our day.
You might be thinking “I don’t snack until later in fact I don’t eat anything until the afternoon”. You are so rushed for time in the morning you don’t even have time to think about eating. When you finally have time to eat you’re starving, you eat a very big meal but you tell yourself it’s okay because you have to make up for the ones you’ve missed. You might even just have a small meal because you don’t want to over eat but you end your meal hungry. When we go long period of time without eating we slow down our metabolism, our brain goes in starvation mode and we tend to not only overeat but eat high fat high calorie foods. If you go on with your day constantly feeling hungry you are more prone to eat unhealthy foods. In the end you will feel like you lack will power because at some point you’ll end up eating foods you know are unhealthy. Remember, this process has nothing to do with will power, it’s how are brain and body evolved to ensure survival.
A trick to avoid unhealthy snacking? Don’t skip meals. Try not to let yourself become too hungry and plan ahead. Wake up earlier in the morning to have time to sit down and eat breakfast. At first you wont be hungry when you wake up, your body is used to your routine but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. You especially won’t feel hungry in the morning if you snack a lot at night, slowly with one change at a time, you can transform your eating habits. A snack can be wonderful and healthy, especially if you’re living with diabetes. Keep to 1 snack and use it to carry you to your next meal not as a meal replacement. Planning ahead can make sure you have healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables or nuts available when you need them.