6 Snacking Mistakes That Make You Gain
These noshing habits could be the reason your scale is stalled.
We do it in the car, on the train, in front of the TV, on the phone, and even in bed. For too many of us, snacking has become so automatic that our brains barely register the hand-to-mouth motion. And it’s not as if we’re all reaching for diet-friendly apples: A 2010 study from the University of North Carolina found that most of us eat nearly 600 calories a day—roughly a third of our food—in snacks rather than meals.
“The business plan of the modern food company has been to put their foods on every street corner, making it socially acceptable to eat 24-7,” says David Kessler, MD, former commissioner of the FDA and the author of The End of Overeating (Rodale, 2009).
The result has been a nutritional disaster. In their natural state, whole foods may be high in fat or sugar, but they’re rarely high in both. Today we have man-made snack foods with a tantalizing combination of fat and sugar rolled into one. “Foods have become so ‘hyperpalatable’ that they’re now capable of hijacking our brains the same way that nicotine and alcohol do,” says Ashley Gearhardt, the lead author of a Yale University study on food addiction.
With all these forces arrayed against you, how can you resist? We identified some of women’s biggest weaknesses—and surveyed the experts for help. See six eating mistakes to break and learn healthy snacking strategies.
1. You’re Good All Day But Pig Out At Night
You’re the Jekyll and Hyde of snacking—restricting calories so much by day that by night you’re ravenous. After dinner, you trek back and forth to the fridge. Before you know it, you’re cuddled up on the couch with a sleeve of Oreos. FIX IT! Start with a breakfast that’s really satisfying—like steel-cut oats, eggs, or Greek-style yogurt. Then at lunch, combine healthy carbs, protein, and fat. And truly savor your treats. Dean Ornish, MD, the author of The Spectrum, does a “chocolate meditation.” Take a single piece of the best chocolate you can find and let it dissolve slowly in your mouth, paying attention to the complex flavors. You’ll get more pleasure with fewer calories. Does Eating After 9 p.m. Cause Weight Gain?
2. You Stuff Your Face Before Dinner
You’re ravenous by the time you get home from work (join the club). You inhale whatever you get your hands on, whether it’s healthy or not. FIX IT! “Planning is key,” says Patricia Bannan, RD, the author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. Before you get home, eat something light and nourishing to tide you over. If you’re starving while you cook, munch on raw veggies such as sugar snap peas. Set yourself up for success by knowing meals you can cook quickly, such as frozen veggies with a rotisserie chicken and microwaveable brown rice. Get dinner on the table fast with these 5-minute meals.
3. You Can’t Stop Eating In The Car
If you feel like you live in your car, you probably consume a lot of calories there too. Maybe you wolf down snacks straight out of the bag, with little idea of how much you’ve inhaled, or you pull into the nearest drive-thru for a shake. FIX IT! Preempt unrestrained noshing by packing portable snacks that are calorie-controlled such as small bags of cashews or an apple. Even half of a PB&J on whole wheat will do the trick. And if those fries are still calling out to you, “drive home via another route so you won’t pass your favorite fast-food restaurants,” says Janna L. Fikkan, PhD, a health psychologist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, NC. “It doesn’t have to be the shortest way home, as long as you avoid the drive-thru.”
4. You Work At Home
It’s just you and the fridge—and nobody watching. Because you have no meetings or structured activities, you can check the mail, toss in a load of laundry, play with the dog—and grab a snack (or two or four). FIX IT! Keep a log of your daily activities, including every time you get up to eat. Chances are, once you see how often you’re indulging, you’ll be shamed into cutting back. If you still feel the need to snack, eat at the kitchen table—and don’t do anything else. Without the distraction of the computer, TV, or newspaper, you’ll be much more aware of how often you eat out of habit rather than hunger.
5. You Graze At The Office
Between the office candy bowl, the vending machine, and a coworker’s homemade brownies, your office probably stocks more snacks than a 7-Eleven. And since you’re only nibbling, the calories don’t count, right? FIX IT! Launch a counteroffensive by bringing in healthy snacks—say, tamari-roasted almonds or dark chocolate—that you actually prefer over the junk. Knowing that these treats are tucked away will give you the strength to resist the disastrous jelly doughnuts. If you know ahead of time that you won’t be able to leave your desk at noon, brown-bag it for lunch. With healthy fare within arm’s reach, you won’t need to raid your colleague’s candy jar.
6. Your Kids’ Snack Habits Are Contagious
It’s the diet dilemma of nearly every mom. The kids badger you into buying them sugary snacks—then you eat them. Before you know it, you’re helping with homework and munching on a Pop-Tart or a snack-size package of cookies. FIX IT! Ditch the kiddie foods, says Barbara Rolls, PhD, the author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. These highly processed foods are digested in no time, leaving you wanting more. “Family-friendly snacks should include low-calorie foods that are high in water or fiber and aren’t loaded with fat,” she says. Try no-fuss fruits like grapes or berries—or fix some air-popped popcorn sprinkled with a bit of Parmesan.