Snacking is a double-edged sword when it comes to health and weight loss. Make sure it works for you, not against you.

Snacking: It’s one of the biggest challenges against health and weight loss. Even if you are eating the most nutritious meals, snacking on the wrong foods too often between meals adds to the unwanted bulge and impinges on your health. Why is it that some people find the snacking challenge so hard yet others have no problem? To win the battle of the bulge, you have to know your enemy.

Emotional Triggers
Think about the times you snack irresponsibly: There is usually a pattern. For example, when I’m upset, comfort foods like chocolate become irresistible. When I’m happy, a soft-serve ice cream or other favorite “treat” is a nice reward—which “I deserve.” Other times, a particular circumstance or place can trigger a craving. It may be cooking in the kitchen late at night or relaxing with the family.

It’s important to pinpoint and anticipate our habitual responses, and that is why I suggest taking note of “where,” what “activity” you’re doing, and what “emotion” you’re feeling (using those quoted words as keywords) when you give into a craving. The first step to changing behavior is awareness.

Your Reaction
Think about what is actually happening when you give into a craving. Give an honest self-accounting. Certainly, we can start by avoiding specific circumstances or places. For example, we can spend less time in the kitchen late at night or in the coffee room when we’re at work.

However, an even easier way to deal with the uncontrolled snacking challenge is to find healthier outlets. Who says that chocolate will make you feel better when you are sad or that a full-fat large ice cream with all the toppings is a fitting reward when you are happy? After the chocolate or ice cream, the guilt and the regret make it clear that they don’t help at all. Instead, they keep us stuck in the cyclical trap of giving in to unhealthy cravings. In truth, the response to every experience, thought, or feeling does not need to be a gastro-related one: We don’t have to eat as a response to everything.

But if you’re going to eat at those times, your mind and body will certainly prefer eating healthy fruit, vegetables, and low-fat yogurt and drinking water between meals.

This brings me to possibly the biggest culprit—habit. Habit permeates every second of our existence. But it can work against us. Over the years, we get used to eating and wanting the wrong foods. From a young age, we accustom our taste buds to chips, chocolates, and candy.

But it doesn’t have to stay this way. I know a 65-year-old woman who finally cut out sugar from her diet completely, and now when she eats a food containing sugar, she feels very nauseous.

Smart Snacking
That said, I think snacking is about moderation for most people. I don’t think it’s necessary to forbid foods. This realization itself is liberating because no one wants to feel that there is a long list of “forbidden” snacks. Still, it may be a good idea at first to eliminate certain snacks, in order to realign your taste buds and cravings. Ultimately, the key is to eat snacks at the right time and—perhaps most importantly—in the right quantities.

Yes, it can be difficult to make changes at first, but that’s because you are clashing with your old stubborn subconscious habits. This is why some people find the snacking challenge so hard between meals and others don’t. It’s not a lack of willpower or control. It’s feeling helpless in the powerful clutches of habit.

The good news is that just as bad habits were formed, new habits can be formed. Even if your conscious mind resists the habit change, if you implement new habits at the right pace, you will eventually experience an inner subconscious change and desire. You will want to eat the fruit and drink water instead of the chips and soda. The key is to make small changes at the right pace and be aware of your triggers. At that point of “craving sobriety,” you will once again be able to indulge in any snacks responsibly.

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