Snacking: The Catch-22 of Weight Loss

Over the past (almost) two years and 60 pounds of losses and gains, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I honestly feel like I’ve grown more in the past 18 months than I have in the 18 years prior. (“Grown” being used in the figurative way, of course, since I stopped growing literally when I was about 16. Well, stopped growing taller, at any rate. Heh.) I’ve learned a lot about my relationship with food, my relationship with my body, and my relationship with myself.

21st birthday 2 IMG_4794
Birthdays: 21 vs. 24, haha.

I’ve learned that I don’t do so well when I cut off certain food groups completely (see: Lent 2011), that eating fat doesn’t make you fat, that being well-hydrated is more important than I ever could have thought, that I can gain weight back REALLY easily… oh the list goes on. I’ve learned that my body (and my self-control) runs most efficiently when I’m eating smaller amounts throughout the day, rather than waiting for two or three huge square meals, where there is a huge likelihood of overeating.

IMG_1403.jpg Edamame
IMG_1025.jpg Forbidden Fruit

The latest lesson that I’m learning is closely related to that last point. See, I used to be a two-meal-a-day kind of person. You know, PWL (pre-weight-loss), I would wake up every day, skip breakfast (too time consuming! Must sleep!) and go until about noon or 1 PM without eating. Then, I would gorge myself at lunch, be full until late in the evening, and gorge myself at dinner, too. Of course, on days when I was feeling a little more emotionally-fragile than others, that mealplan might have been supplemented with a late-night binge too.

Since successfully revamping my toxic relationship with food (for the most part), a lot of that has changed. I come to work every morning with a bag packed to the brim with all manner of healthy (er, sometimes healthy-ish) snacks to keep me sated throughout the day. There’s instant oatmeal at my desk for the times I forget to eat something before I leave the house. I have savory and sweet things to satisfy whichever tooth is particularly aching at any given moment. Bringing these sorts of libations has become crucial for me, because on the days when I have either forgotten or been too lazy to pack snacks, my old habits have reared their ugly heads. I’m so ravenous by lunchtime that I generally end up hoovering all manner of unhealthy things. (And of course, those days usually coincide with the ones where I haven’t brought my lunch either, so the damage is even worse.) So, you see, I’ve learned. I bring snacks. I don’t let myself get too hungry. Even as I type this, I’m nomming on a package of dried apricots and a little bit of mango.

The only thing is, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m starting to lean a little bit too far in the other direction now. My entire day from breakfast until dinner (which still tends to be a stand-alone meal) is pretty much nothing but constant, continuous snacking. Even my lunch is usually made up of a variety of snacks: a tiny portion of whatever leftovers I might have, a BabyBel cheese, some fruit, some hummus and chips… all things that end up being eaten separately and throughout the course of a few hours rather than as an actual, cohesive “lunch”. I’m rarely ever truly HUNGRY throughout the day, even though I continue to snack, from fear of knowing what might happen to my self-control whenever I DO get hungry. I feel like I’m starting to realize that I’m probably eating a lot more than I really NEED to be, because I haven’t really been allowing my hunger cues to dictate when or what I’m eating. It’s more like, I eat because I think I should be, because I don’t want to let myself get too hungry, because I don’t want to falter.

Me Gusta

On the weekends, when my schedule is significantly different, a really different way of eating comes out. Because I will often be out doing things that don’t allow me to reach over and grab a handful of granola every 15 minutes, I get HANGRY. And as I’m sure my family, friends, and boyfriend will attest, I’m less tolerant of being hungry now than I used to be. My snack-food safety net is usually gone, and I have to — gasp! — wait to eat. By the time I actually get around to being able to eat, it’s usually from a restaurant and it’s usually not the best choice ever. My weekends tend to be much unhealthier than my weekdays because of this, and I often fall back into the 2-meals-a-day thing on Saturdays and Sundays. I wake up late, so breakfast is usually tiny (if it’s anything), and then I have a big lunch and dinner. On the other hand, however, I feel like I’m actually eating less overall, because I’m not just constantly shoveling things into my mouth.

It feels like a Catch-22 to me. I know that I need to have snacks so as to prevent myself from getting so hungry that I make really bad choices, but I also feel like it’s gotten to the point where I’m snacking too much. I need to find a middle ground, but I’m not really sure how to do it. I’m scared of falling back into habits that have the potential to cause my to backslide… but I also still need to lose some weight (and that hasn’t really been happening in quiiiiiite a while, haha). I think that the answer lies somewhere in forcing myself to experiment with my intake, allowing myself to be hungry, and having faith that doing so won’t automatically cause me to binge. Here’s hoping, eh?

What’s your snacking philosophy?

26 Comments

  1. Sarasays:

    I can totally relate! I rely heavily on snacks, too, and find if I don’t have at least an apple in my purse for emergencies I can get too hungry if I’m not home for a meal on time. I found that I do need to watch how many snacks I eat, too. What I like to do is eat breakfast (make it an actual item as a meal like oatmeal, eggs, or yogurt) then wait a few hours until I feel hungry again to have a small (i.e. apple/fruit) snack before I hit the gym or before I wait another hour or 2 for lunch. While I still snack, I notice that when I choose the right snacks I don’t need as many and I can stop after 1 or 2 to listen to my body cues for full vs hungry. I still battle a few false hunger cues in the afternoon when work gets kind of slow/boring but for the most part this has helped me understand that snacking is ok and to keep snacks smaller so as not to out do my slightly larger meals. I hope that makes sense.

  2. Girl I relate 50000%. It’s so hard to find a balance between when and how much to eat! When i was working corporate, I actually gained 10 pounds because all I did was snack throughout the day. I thought I was being healthy because it was almonds or health bars. But those weren’t things I were eating a ton of before. So without realizing it, I was adding a ton more calories to my daily diet.

    Weight loss is dumb. Why can’t we just wake up with perfect bodies!

  3. While I do get the hunger pangs, I remind myself, “I don’t need it”. It usually passes after an hour or so.

  4. Athena Rsays:

    During the work week, I usually stay on a schedule of breakfast around 7:30 or 8:00am, a snack at 11:00am (usually an apple and some Greek yogurt), lunch at 1:00pm, and if I am hungry later, then another snack around 3 ish, but I don’t normally have one because my lunch usually sustains me until dinner which is usually around 6 ish. I only get snacky on the weekends if I’m home doing nothing and get bored…so that is really my struggle.

  5. I have 3 complete meals and then have snacks readily available in the daytime when I feel like I need something. This way, if I am hungry, I will grab a piece of fruit or cheese or pita chips with hummus instead of chips/cookies/candy.

  6. my day usually goes like this:

    7:30am – breakfast
    10:30am – snack
    12:00pm – lunch
    2:30pm – snack
    5:30pm – dinner
    somewhere between 8 and 11 pm – post workout smoothie or bowl of cereal

    i feel like i’m eating a lot throughout the day but I try to keep everything on schedule.

    should I still feel hungry in between those meals I’ll make sure to drink extra water.

    that’s what works for me so far anyways. 🙂

    • Jamiesays:

      I definitely agree that making sure you are hydrated is very important. Sometimes people eat when they are really just thirsty.

  7. Sarah W.says:

    my general guideline is this 3 small meals, 2 small snacks:

    8am breakfast = fruit Plus cereal/milk, or oatmeal, eggs/toast, etc.

    10:30/11 snack #1 = fruit/chobani, or string cheese/boiled egg, or 200cal think thin/pure protein bar, triscuits/laughing cow wedges, carrots/hummus

    12/1 lunch = sammich or soup/triscuits or salad w/ protein or leftovers (protein/grain/veg)

    2/3 snack #2 – choice of same for snack #1

    5/6/7 dinner time – 4oz lean protein, 1/2C serving starch, 1C green veg

    slowly losing about 1lb a week 🙂

  8. I eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks with the occasional after dinner snack. It doesn’t seem to matter how filling my lunch or breakfast is, I always feel hunger pangs in between meals. I know if I wait it out, I’ll end up binging on junk food (which happens on the weekend).

  9. I need 3 solid meals plus a few snacks in between. If I just snack on thing without a real meal, I feel really off and dissatisfied so it’s important for me to plan real meals. I would suggest to have snack available (and I like that you have both sweet and savory ones on hand during the week – do that on weekends too, our purses are meant for that! kinda, lol) but don’t mindlessly snack. There are many shades of hungry. Watch how your hunger develops. You don’t go from zero to 100 (on a hunger scale) if you really pay attention (and it takes time to learn that) so start experimenting with at what point a snack is appropriate (getting hungry but not starving could be the time) and see how that affects your body. Good luck!! 🙂

  10. Amysays:

    I relate. I think the key here is, like you said, not letting yourself get TOO hungry. Note that that doesn’t mean “never get hungry at all”. I’m also learning to live with some healthy hunger — not letting myself get to a point where I’m starving, but not running to the fridge as soon as I start to feel the desire to eat. Just making myself wait a little while. And it’s helping! My post-baby weight loss had plateaued but we’re moving forward again! Good luck.

  11. Lisasays:

    I am on weight watchers, and fruit/vegetables are 0 points. So, all of those foods are like they never even happened! However, dried fruit is very “pointy” because of the sugar. (i don’t get it either)Also, granola is a danger food for me since I do not have self control to prevent me from eating the entire box..also it is laden in sugar:(

    I feel like I’m constantly eating and if I’m not eating I am thinking of what I am about to eat. I thought that I was over eating too, but I am losing weight (down 15 lbs). So,I think that’s all that matters. RobFiasco’s comment above is correct…which is supposedly the magic formula.

    Snacks are good..as long as they are fruit/veggies and low in sugar. Normally, I settle on blueberries, apples, or weight watchers string cheese.

    • Re dried fruit: yes, lots of dried fruits have added sugar in them, so you need to be careful about that. But even if your dried fruit DOESN’T have added sugar, you should still be careful–dried fruit dehydrates and therefore looks a lot smaller (one dried plum for example, is tiny), but it still has a lot of natural sugars and calories. This means that you could eat the equivalent of three-four pieces of fresh fruit (which you probably would never do in one sitting) by eating just a little bit of dried fruit. Hope that clears it up a little.

  12. Aileensays:

    As a hardcore snacks-over-meals girl, I love this. As someone who’s beginning a journey toward raising a future family, I love it even more. I find that I have more energy when I’m grazing, and when I’m never truly hungry, but I also struggle with portion controlling the snacks. And, realistically, grazing isn’t always an option. And for kids, it’s even less so. Kids have to go to school. I remember one year in high school when my lunch block was at 10:30am, then I would go straight to rehearsal after school, and straight to band practice after that with maybe time for a string cheese in between, and I wouldn’t get another chance for anything substantive until dinner at 8 or 9.

    So how do we learn (and in turn help our children learn) to not overeat, and to stay healthy despite a schedule that makes it less convenient for us to?

  13. I think snacking can be great! Of course, a lot of it comes down to what your snack is made up of, but with proper planning, snacking can be a great way to make sure you get all the nutrients you need! A few of my favorite snacks right now are Greek yogurt with almonds and berries, homemade trail mix, and Kellogg’s FiberPlus cereal. All help me keep hunger at bay so that I’m less likely to overindulge later on.

  14. I can totally relate to this as well. The fear of getting hungry keeps me eating small snacks here and there and I feel like I don’t have time to put together cohesive meals. Frustrating! Interesting to read through the other comments though…thanks for posting this! 😉

  15. I hear you, Sister. Tracking what I eat has been so important on my weight loss hustle. Great idea about the oatmeal at the office! I’m going to make some DIY bags tonight.

  16. Cindy D.says:

    I would eat solidly all day every day if I could. I love to snack! For me, the importance lies in what I’m eating and the HOW MUCH more than how often. The girls in my office frequently comment (mostly harmlessly) about how often I “snack”, but I make sure to bring healthy items that offer nutrition as much as possible. Fruits and veg, I try to eat as much as I can. Low fat dairy, portion-controlled nuts and granola, 100-calorie bags of low-fat popcorn (fiber!)are my go-to’s. There is something to be said about allowing yourself to feel a bit hungry, however. If I’m busy and don’t get my 10:30-ish snack, I usually just make myself wait it out until lunchtime and make sure I get another glass or two of water in that time. I don’t time it down to the minute, but I generally plan on my 3 squares, a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack and a little something sweet for after dinner and that seems to be working keeping HANGRY at bay and also allowing for slow, steady weight loss.

  17. My job doesn’t allow me to eat in between meals, so I’ve adjusted to the three-square-meals because… I can’t have anything in between. If I do, it will be a piece of fruit or veggie to tide me over if I’m having a late dinner. I’ve found that this means I don’t snack at all even on my days off, it’s more that if I eat something, I count that as my meal. But I have learned my hunger cues a lot better, but I’ve had to push them away sometimes. For me, it was learning what balanced my meals best to keep my full and not OMGI’MGONNADIESOHUNGRY before my next meal slot.

    Also, the book “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat” has some interesting philosophies on intuitive eating that helped me start to control my nomming and munching, and when I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t need those, because then I was over eating, since it subdued my cues for hunger for my next meal. Snacking throws off my schedule now.

  18. Girl, we are so much alike! I am a total snacker now- but was definitely like the “former you” when I was younger. On work days, my schedule was breakfast at 7 am, snack at 10:30 (which was the first chance I got), lunch at 12:15, snack at 3 or 4, dinner around 7, and then some little dessert or snack right after dinner. On weekends, or now- when I’m home- I have to really fight the urge to constantly snack. Sure, everything is “healthy”- but you can have too much of a good thing.
    The fitmixer plan that I’m doing calls for 3 meals and 3 snacks. And get this- it really resonated with me: It’s important to eat every 3 hours, because it takes 3 hours for your body to fully digest food. After that, your metabolism slows down, so that it can hold onto what’s on reserve. When you feed it again, it speeds back up. So, “constant” snacking can be a good thing- just as long as your overall calorie count is where it should be!

  19. OMG I seriously could have written this blog myself. I’m down 30 pounds now(ugh such a looong journey), and “before” I had the exact same routine as you too- skip bfast, eat a giant lunch, giant dinner, a bunch of empty junk, and maybe a binge later. Tbell drive-thru, anyone? Ick.

    Anyway, I feel like I face the same dilemma everyday. I get nervous that I am going to run out of snacks and be starving by late afternoon. Ha. Ugh. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way about being too snacky, as long as we are staying within our ranges and feeling satisfied! Let me know if you come up with any other things that work for you!

    Tori

  20. Gramemawsays:

    Hey! Feel like I could be your mama (cause turning 50 does that to me with young’uns)! No offense to your mama, whom I am sure is adequately your…mama. Where was I? Oh yeah. Here’s my ‘olderly’ advice:

    Change the mindset. Snacks become ‘refueling’. I began WW at home (not online, have the stuff) 3 weeks ago. In all, I’ve about 27 lbs. to lose. A small woman (5′ 1″), my big bones were…BIG FAT CELLS. Whodathunkit? So. I’m down 10!!! Well…

    I eat all my allowed points and hit the target everyday. However, sick of bearing too much weight, the hysterical realization that alot of me would be headed south (not FLORIDA)… and for now have decided not to replace my exercise points. Not that they’re bad. Cuz they’re good.

    However…

    FOOD should be tasty. Should be fun! Can be social!! However, seriously. Try to remove the word ‘SNACK’ from your vocabulary and mentality.

    Think of ‘re-fueling’. It may help.

    You are so cute! Remind me of my Bethany. She turned 25 this past April.

    Ah…memories.

    Good luck, honey.

  21. You are so gosh darn cute 🙂

  22. Oh lord I relate SO much. I’ve been reading health blogs for the past year now and so many of them encourage snacking… But my personality being what it is, I take it way too far. They just don’t have the same issues as me. And half of them are hardcore runners with awesome metabolisms who can eat whatever they want anyway. I’ve learned that recording when I’m hungry and what I eat I can figure out what snacks I need and which ones I don’t. Hope that helps! Btw thanks for your blog, I have a hard time relating to a lot of blogs out there 🙂

  23. I definitely struggle with the same idea of snacking. I can’t seem to figure out what the right amount is. I either have too much or not enough!

  24. I’ve struggled with this for a long time and think intuitive eating can really help. I always thought I was exercising my willpower by denying myself a snack, but just like you said, I would end up totally overeating later. But I didn’t want to go too far the other way and develop a snack schedule either. I think it’s really important to tell yourself that you don’t need to eat out of fear of getting hungry later (and boy, is that hard) because like you acknowledge–you usually have access to snacks, and you could always eat one when you’re hungry. It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to stick to a strict snack schedule either, because a lot of times you’ll realize you don’t even really need the snack. Then you need to just pay very close attention, especially at the beginning, to figuring out when and if you’re hungry and snack/have a meal accordingly. It’s also totally okay to have a bigger snack sometimes and make that more your meal and then have a couple of small snacks instead later. Maybe you want half a sandwich as your mid-morning snack, but then your actual lunch ends up only being a smoothie. Totally okay and it’s all based on how hungry you actually are and what you’re in the mood for.

    A couple of things I’ve discovered in the process:
    1. Being bored at work can often cause me to think I’m hungry when I’m not. It’s a distraction and not actual hunger. I usually make a cup of tea or something when this happens to see if I’m truly hungry or if I just feel like going to the break room.
    2. Your body is kind of weird and sometimes when you think you might get hungry and need a snack, you don’t. I can eat scrambled eggs with an english muffin one day and be totally fine without a snack until 1PM. Then I can eat the same meal the next day and need a snack at 11:00. So just be careful of getting in the mindset of, “Oh, I’ll definitely need a snack later” and just sort of see where your body takes you instead.
    3. When things are more unpredictable (like you’re out all day or you’re staying with relatives or something), just chill a little and realize that no matter what, you’re not going to starve. I used to stuff myself at breakfast whenever we were staying with in-laws because they’re notorious lunch-skippers and I was always afraid I wouldn’t make it until dinner. Just try to plan ahead and take snacks if you can, or speak up and say, “hey, could we grab a quick bite?” And if it ends up being not-so-healthy, just be okay with it since the rest of your good eats will more than make up for it.

    Sorry to go on forever, hope that helps a little. Seems we definitely struggle with the same stuff!

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