For women whose most recent experience with hopscotch has been hopping from one failed diet to the next, snacking (or having anything to eat outside of a designated three-meals-a-day) can be a scary, off-limits notion. Avoiding snack time, however, can do more harm than good when it comes to healthy weights.
According to a recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, that looked at the relationship of eating patterns to weight, those who consumed four or more meals and snacks a day were 45% less likely to be obese. In addition, skipping breakfast was definitively associated with a higher risk of obesity.
Why Snack—and How?
Physiologically, eating multiple, smaller meals may help suppress hunger and overall insulin concentration. This is potentially beneficial to healthy weight management because insulin is one factor in fat storage. Smaller meals regularly spaced throughout the day also metabolize better than larger meals eaten at the point of extreme hunger.
It often takes practice to start seeing a snack as an integral part of feeding yourself well rather than an indulgence.
- Start by tuning into internal cues. At Green Mountain at Fox Run, participants eat on a regular schedule so it becomes easier to accurately gauge their “stopping point” — a place of comfortable satisfaction — during a meal.
- Remind yourself you can eat when you’re hungry again. Knowing you can have a snack later helps ensure that each meal is enjoyable and not over-filling. For example, many women say they are not hungry at breakfast and, consequently, eat very little first thing in the morning. But by lunchtime, they’re ravenous and end up eating too fast and too much. A midmorning snack can help short-circuit that pattern, to make lunchtime eating more in line with energy needs.
Hearing Hunger Cues
Confused about hunger cues? If you’re like many women who come to Green Mountain, you don’t quite know when you’re hungry…or when you’re satisfied.
- A good place to start is by eating balanced meals that include protein, vegetables/fruits and starchy foods like grains or starchy vegetables every 3-5 hours.
- Use the Plate Model to help you determine how much to eat.
- Don’t snack in between (e.g., any sooner than about 3 hours after a meal or snack).
- Explore how you feel before and after meals. A journal can help you keep track and begin to understand how your body tells you when it’s time to eat and time to stop.
Get What’s Missing
Snacking serves another purpose, too. A slice of toast with a nut butter or a cup of yogurt might help round out the food groups you miss at other meals.
Snacking is especially a good time to catch up on your calcium intake. Try a Fruit Smoothie, a Yogurt and Fruit Sundae or Yogurt Dip with veggies, all recipes found in Green Mountain’s cookbook Recipes for Living. Or a couple of old standbys, such as an oatmeal cookie and a glass of milk or a wedge of cheese and a few crackers and some grapes, are some other yummy options. These snacks also provide protein, which may help manage your hunger between meals.
If dairy products are not your thing, in addition to nut butters with crackers and/or a piece of fruit, try a hummus dip (again, found in Recipes for Living) with pita crisps or black bean salsa and some baked chips.
The science of how food is metabolized certainly supports snacking, but deciding how much to eat and when is far from scientific. Rather, the art of snacking takes practice and a commitment to listening to your body’s hunger cues.