The Snack Monster

Typical array of snacks for a work day!

Typical array of snacks for a work day!

What to do about snacks? They are always getting the best of me. Either I allow myself unlimited snacks, or none – I don’t do “just enough” very well. You would think I’d have this figured out, but nope, I keep re-visiting the problem over and over!

I know the real answer, which is that planned nutritious snacks are a good strategy. Why is that so hard?

I am conditioned to eat three meals a day, and I never skip meals. As someone who has substantial meals, the best thing to do would be to have “a little something to tide me over until dinner,” maybe an apple at 4:00 p.m. That’s what I imagine normal people do, but I’m not one of them!

The Answers: What and When to Eat

  • I could have even bigger meals and not snack at all, but I can’t manage big portions at one sitting, so that won’t work.
  • I could have smaller meals and have 5 or 6 of them.
  • Two of my coworkers arrive early and eat breakfast at their desks. I wonder if I could last until 9:00 a.m., given that I do an early morning workout.  Another option might be to have just a small bowl of cereal or a slice of toast at home, and have another breakfast when I arrive at work.
  • I could have my main meal at lunch time, in the middle of the work day, although it would mean cooking it the night before.
  • I could have leftovers as snacks – another bowl of soup, an extra baked potato. That would be smart. (Thanks to Lili for that suggestion!)
  • Instead of having an apple, I could choose something that would actually tide me over, like carrots with hummus, or nuts or popcorn. But they are all kind of “moreish” as Rom would say!
  • It does work to bring my own food and avoid what’s available at work.
  • As does drinking lots of coffee (I drink half-caff) and tea – no sugar. Will I ever drink water?
  • I have tried not buying any candy and not making any sweets or desserts, with the proviso that I can go out and buy them if I am desperate. But only one serving. And then I rarely or never do it. So that works!
  • I love Michael Pollan’s suggestion in Food Rules that if you want sweets or treats, you have to make them yourself.  I would never make myself fries or cheesecake! (But I have been known to bake cookies and eat six of them at a go.)
  • Similarly, I am good at eating Real Food / Whole Foods. Eliminating packaged and fake foods is a step in the right direction. No Pop-Tarts or Pepsi!
  • Finally, I have a list of things that are treats for me without being “bad,” like a mango or a bunch of grapes!

The Answers: Habits and How to Eat

  • I don’t stop what I’m doing to have a snack. I just eat while I work at my desk. If I actually stopped working and set aside 15 minutes to eat – and to actually notice what I ate! – that would be a good start.
  • Likewise, if I spent more time having leisurely meals, I might register that I feel full, and not have to snack so much between meals.
  • On the weekends, I don’t snack because I spend more time making and eating meals, and the rest of the time I’m busy doing things I like doing. I am trying to carry that over into the workday by finding projects that demand my full attention. Once I get into the flow, I can stop thinking about food for minutes at a time 🙂
  • If I knew someone were watching me when I ate, I would never eat the way I do. Everyone I know limits what they eat “in public,” but indulges their cravings behind closed doors. It’s a very two-faced culture. “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly order dessert…”and then we go home and finish off the kids’ birthday cake!
  • Sometimes it swings the other way and there’s social pressure to indulge. Either you all trash your diets together, or you’re not a team player! There isn’t much support for making healthy choices. Everyone thinks you’ve gone all Holier Than Thou.
  • Of course I could blog what I eat to hold myself accountable. But one week of that was enough!
  • As you might guess, tracking what I eat (privately) is very motivating for me, and I hate having to record it when I’ve gone off the rails!
  • Strangely, thinking about results isn’t helpful for me. I don’t hesitate before I have a snack and think, “I better not; I want to lose xx pounds before vacation.” I can eat or I can distract myself, but I can’t rationalize my cravings away! I guess it is my reptile brain doing the thinking.
  • Of course I am at my best when I am not tired or rushed or stressed, but how often is that? I hope that proper eating will help me feel less tired, rushed and stressed! And I need habits that I can maintain even when I’m not at my best, i.e. daily.

I will be trying some of these techniques for the rest of February. What works for you?

42 comments

  1. Snacks are a tough one. I’m of the mentality ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I therefore don’t keep unhealthy snacks in our house, and when I don’t want a healthy and boring one, I just go without!

    Emory
    helloscarlettblog.com

  2. jamielredmond

    Snacks are tricky.

    Something I made for our kids this week was apple dip. I mixed Greek yoghurt with peanut butter and some honey. They they dipped their apple slices in it. They were very excited for the treat, and the peanut butter helped to fill them up for longer.

    Also, we love to put grapes in the freezer. So easy to grab one out for a quick, sweet-but-healthy snack. And good to put them in front of the tub of ice cream, so you grab a grape instead!

  3. HollyH

    I really don’t snack. I am a three squares a day kind of eater too. What got me to get over snacking was two things. First, if I did snack I decided it would be something leftover from dinner or another meal. Not something especially noted as a snack. You mentioned this. Second was to take a look at what I was eating at meals and make sure it was substantial enough to keep me satisfied. Not necessarily in size or calories, but in nutrients. If i added a couple cups of cooked broccoli to lunch of split pea soup and fruit, well that made a big difference. And if quantity was too much, I cut back accordingly. Anyway, I am rarely hungry between meals now. This was a several year process. And let’s be clear, I could stand to lose 15-20 lbs., so I do not purport to have all the answers!

  4. My problem is that I never want to eat. I have found myself feeling weak in the middle of the night only to realize I never ate once during the day. I need to use a few of your tips to set regular meal times.

  5. EcoCatLady

    I try really hard to just eat 3 square meals, because once the snacking starts I’m in serious trouble. So I try to time my meals so I can eat when I’m hungry and not need anything to tide me over. I’m not good at moderation, especially where sugar is concerned. But recently I’ve been taking extra B vitamins – I’m mostly doing it to try to deal with some issues with my fingernails (B vitamins are supposed to strengthen them.) And since I started it I noticed that my sugar cravings have almost completely gone away. I’ve since learned that this is supposedly “a thing.”

    • I believe you that vitamin deficiencies can cause cravings! I’m not sure I can imagine a world in which I just eat three meals and no snacks. I have this thing where I crave certain flavours and tastes, and I would find it hard to wait a few days until I could make a meal to satisfy some whim I have. By which time it would have passed. Hey wait…maybe that is the point!

  6. Fiona

    I have really bad snack habits but I’m looking at them one by one. Step 1 was giving up the notion that I ‘needed’ a snack between meals (visiting France put paid to that, as it appeared to be socially frowned upon for adults to eat between meals.) Step 2 has been avoiding snack triggers – not buying a treat with the petrol or shopping! Lastly, we’re eating sugar-free at the moment and that has made a huge difference – no more cravings! But it is a constant battle!

    • Sounds like a plan! I am still trying to have somewhat healthy snacks (shown in the photo) for the morning and afternoon, but none in the evening, and even that has helped. My software shows me that I consistently consume 150-200% of my sugars allowance NONE OF WHICH IS ADDED SUGARS! All from fruit, yogurt and milk. So I am not even thinking about candy and desserts this month (well, except for Valentines Day??)

      • Fiona

        That’s interesting that the sugar load is from fruit, yogurt and milk. My husband has been reading up on this and summarising it all to us, insisting that we abandon our cereal + milk for breakfast etc. I must admit I feel drastically less inclined to snack after eggs for breakfast. I don’t like admitting to my husband that there ‘might be something in it’ (I keep telling him it’s a ‘fad’) but I am feeling SO much less hungry by deleting sugars.

      • My ears are closed 🙂

  7. Megyn

    I maybe eat one big meal a day and snack the rest. I generally don’t start eating for the day until about 1pm. I rarely feel hungry in the morning. Once I start eating though, I generally eat off and on until maybe 8ish pm. I used to mainly eat crappy snack foods, but I’ve gotten better about eating actual meals and healthier snacks (like hummus or salsa). Actually, since I’ve been eating better, I am tolerating fewer sweets and junk food. Today’s my birthday and I had planned on getting donuts plus eating some of my cake, but after waking up I’m feeling more like I’d rather have a bunch of fruit over donuts. It’s crazy how quickly my body has adapted to healthier food lol!

    • Even I have adapted to less sugar (or less added sugar anyway) this month, although I still eat a lot of fruit. I am a serious sugar addict so I think if I can do it, probably anyone can! And now prefer things less sweet. Hope it lasts!

  8. Ha, this is a problem I share and have not ever been able to overcome. I love to snack. In fact, I’ve realised I love to snack more than sit down and eat a balanced meal. I’ve had a very hectic time this past month and have been completely unmoored from any routine and there have been many days where all I have done is snack. Popcorn, cereal, candy, biscuits – morerish and crunchy stuff. 😦

    • Luckily I also crave “real meals” but they don’t make me snack any less (yet, anyway). The only thing that helps me when things get hectic is to bring my own snacks because I feel I have some control. Although I was surprised to find last month that crunching on carrots and celery in mid-afternoon made me feel more alert than munching on cookies!

  9. Good post. I think I eat about six small meals a day trying to snack healthfully, but not always succeeding. I also found water and green tea are good appetizer controls.

  10. Since the first of the year, I’ve been trying to pay attention to what my body REALLY is telling me it wants. I often get confused. I’ll be tired, so think my body NEEDS sugar, but in reality, I need to close my eyes and rest for 15 minutes. Or, the day may be having a slow start, and when I think I need a mid-morning snack, REALLY I need to take a quick 10 minute walk. I tell my kids all the time, sugar, vitamins and caffeine don’t make up for lost sleep, or mitigate stress. And I’m trying to live by this as well. If I’m going through a rough period, I try to fix whatever I’m doing wrong — over-reacting to stress, get more sleep, get more sun, drink more water, get more exercise.

    And with meals, I’m trying to change what I eat to fit my needs. I need more protein and healthy fats, for energy. So, for breakfast now, I always have something high in protein, like an egg. In the afternoon, I have some nuts or avocado or spoonful of peanut butter or small bowl of soup. And I’ve cut back my coffee to just 1 cup in the AM. I was a heavy coffee addict, so this is a huge change for me. I now have either herb tea or black tea when wanting something hot in the afternoon, which limits my caffeine tremendously. I think my blood sugar levels are better.

    For sweet treats, just for one, I keep plain homemade cupcakes in the freezer. I pull one out, and mix up some frosting, enough to cover that cupcake, and have that. Nothing sitting out on the counter to tempt me. Cookies are hard for me to resist. I can easily eat a half dozen, even if they’re frozen. I think maybe cookies, in general, aren’t satisfying, one at a time. Like trying to eat just 10 potato chips.

    I think what you said, about finding “treats” that aren’t sweets, is a good one. I’ve been working at this myself. A really good chunk of cheese would make a great “treat” item. So would a handful of a nut that I don’t usually buy, like pistachios. This all costs money, however. But an occasional treat item like those might work for me.

    As for water, I really like my water flavored. So, I flavor my own, with a few slices of orange or some canned pineapple in a pitcher of water. In summer, even just some sprigs of mint and lemon balm in a pitcher of water make it interesting enough for me to want some. I’ve never been big on drinking water, so I have to work at this. But I do find that the more water I drink, the better I feel. So I’m trying.

    • Thanks, Lili. Good idea about the flavoured water! I’m amazed you’ve cut back on coffee that much! I am adding more protein too. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of what my body needs, but right now I crave sunlight and walking outdoors, so I have rearranged most of my days to make that happen, and it also gets my mind off thinking I need food!

      • lilimounce

        The extra protein and some supplements are what are helping me with this huge cutback in coffee. Basically, I’m following suggestions for treating Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.

    • EcoCatLady

      Lili, your comment reminded me of the time my parents sent me home from a visit with a package of Fig Newtons. For some reason they never want to let me leave empty handed. Anyhow, I LOVE Fig Newtons, so I tried freezing them so I wouldn’t be tempted to scarf them all down at once – but you know what… turns out frozen Fig Newtons are DELICIOUS! Sigh. Maybe I should freeze them in a block of ice next time! 🙂

  11. I am a bad snacker too! I can’t eat bigger meals, preferring to graze. But those moreish snacks! Oh, they just get me every time.

    I just bought a huge amount of fruit today. I plan to take them to work so I am not tempted by bikkies, and chocolate, and all manner of bad things. I know my other weak spot is when I come home. Too early for dinner but I need something. And if it is something salty I crave, even worse. I can’t stop at a few. My waste is thickening again. So I do need to be more aware.

    For this week, I will join you in trying to cut down on the snacking. I will let you know how I go.

    • I look forward to hearing back! This week I had one Clif Bar on a weekday. On Friday Rom brought home a dessert from a work function and we shared it. Last night I finished off the kettle corn I bought for Superbowl. So, the other 4 days I only had fruit and yogurt! And we are out of addictive snacks at home, for now…

  12. My big trigger is coffee. The more coffee I drink, the hungrier I am. This spoke as I am about to go brew a pot!

  13. Lots of good tips here! I second the folks who don’t keep snack foods at home and drink lots of water. I eat breakfast at 6am and my lunch isn’t until 1, so I have to snack in the morning or risk getting very grumpy! I really love the dark chocolate & nuts Kind bars – satisfies all my cravings and if I eat one around 10-10:30, I can last til lunchtime. Glad to hear your fruit and yogurt trick is working! 🙂

    • I’ve heard that Kind bars are good, and good for you, made with real ingredients! I am slowly learning not to keep snacks at home. We’ll see! Or I should say, not to keep junk food snacks at home. I will always have fruit, nuts, cereal, etc.

  14. For me, I have a checklist of what I should eat written on a post it in my planner each day of the week. I tick things off when I eat them, e.g. two portions of fruit, 2 litres of water, 5 soaked almonds etc etc and in that way I focus on what I should be eating, not what I shouldn’t and then, as a happy byproduct, what I should be eating fills me up anyway. This works for me as I am target orientated.

    • On good days I do something similar. I have a meal plan for dinners (now weekly) and I figure out what I “should” have for breakfast and lunch to make it a healthy day. Then I figure out of I have enough wiggle room for snacks, depending on what’s planned for the day (work events, family celebrations, etc.) If There is room for snacks, then I decide what to have and bring them myself. My main problem is unforeseen food available at work or other meetings, which I find hard to refuse, and bringing unhealthy snacks into the house (although I have improved a lot lately).

  15. I think I have meals pretty much figured out, but like you, snacks are my big struggle. Around 3:30-4:00 pm I just feel the need to eat everything in sight. I find that if I combine a little protein with some fiber, that usually helps. So I’ll have an apple with a string cheese or an ounce of block cheese, or a 1/2 slice of bread with some natural peanut butter. Sometimes I will make a fresh cup of black coffee or some green tea and that will be enough to get through till dinner. Other times I might have a handful of walnuts, almonds, pistachios, etc. On the struggle days, I cave and have some chips, a granola bar, or a bowl of cereal, but I’m working really hard on keeping the portion sizes down when I do. It’s a daily struggle for me! Oh yeah, one other habit I’ve adopted in the last year that really helps fill me up is to drink sparkling/seltzer water with ice and lemon, lime, or even just plain. It almost feels like I’m having a soda or a treat, but it’s completely “free”. I would love to get to a place where I’m not snacking at all, but I’m not there yet.

    • Hi Karen, I like your strategies. You have thought about it a lot and you know what works for you. I am not trying to be completely snack-free, because I can’t eat enough at three meals to cover me for a whole day! Like you, I find that making a nice fresh individual cup of coffee or tea does help (plus there is the ritual of it). I like your seltzer trick. I may try that because I don’t like drinking water (except in the summer) but it would feel like a treat with a slice of lime! And I do find that a small handful of nuts can get me through a tough hour 🙂 Thanks for checking in.

  16. I don’t snack at all. I work work work – realize I’m starving and then out goes portion control and restraint. 😦 I’m learning to snack too. Case in point – eating an orange now. 🙂

  17. OMG yes! Ever since I had a pinata or two worth of ‘candy’ I’m ruined!! Even taking it to work doesn’t stop me. i think boredom is part of the reason too – I was in three offices today and not once did I think (even when hungry) man I need some chocolate or candy! So perhaps that’s the key for me.

    I think my best results are planned healthy snacks – like crispbreads/cracker with tsaziki or fruit even. I tend to take a ‘serve’ of fruit into work, and that restrains me. It’s at home, when it’s too accessible, and too much, that it’s more a problem. I have no doubt since my return, my slowed weight loss is due to unhealthy snacking :O

    I’m still meaning to do a week of keeping my eating photographed for blogging – though I might never live down the evidence with detail orientated BF! I’d have to be VERY good!!

    • I thought I’d never survive without bags of candy and snacks in the house but I seem to have weaned myself off them for now! Definitely helping to not have junk food in the house. I do hope you get to enjoy leftovers from your party for a while, though. When I photographed my food for a week, it forced me to be on my best behaviour, so that was good!

  18. Ginger R

    Snacking is my undoing. Especially Sweets. Hubby keeps sugary snacks here for my mother (88). And occasionally he likes having 2 cookies in the middle of the night. I’ve never eaten ONLY 2 cookies in my life. Mama is much more sensible with her snacking. I keep snacks on hand for me – mostly raw almonds, mozzarella string cheese and raw veggies. I’m fine during the day – but late night is a problem. 2am banana with too much peanut butter. So I set a new rule for myself. No eating after 9pm. We eat supper at 6:30pm and I allow myself a snack at 8:30pm. Lately it’s been a protein shake I make with protein powder, almond milk and a frozen banana chunk.

    A few years ago I set a goal to drink more water. I didn’t like the taste of water so I flavored it with cranberry or apple juice. Gradually cutting back the juice until the water began tasting fine by itself. I also used lemon wedges and still do occasionally – but I’m fine with plain ol’ water now. I’ve read we should drink half our weight in ounces of water or fluids. I’ve done that a few times – but gave up. I’m happy with my daily 64-80 ounces of water and I think the other fluids I get through the day in foods are enough.

    • HI Ginger, I eat dinner at 6:30 or 7 and try to be in bed at 10:30. I am usually OK without evening snacks unless I am bored! Daytime is another story, though. I try to stay busy so I don’t constantly think about food! Immediately after lunch is the worst. I find it hard to settle into a task without munching on something. I am slowly getting over it – for now! I can drink about 1/4 juice and 3/4 water, but I really should try lemon or lime. Hate water. Love coffee.

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