The Great Snack Debate. Which Team Are You On?

snacks

I receive a few emails every week from readers asking: “What are some healthy snacks you can recommend?”

These concerned Rebels are doing their best to shift their dietary habits, and are interested in adjusting their snack foods as well.

I wanted to set the record straight on snacks today, and do what I do best:

TOTALLY NERD OUT and go overboard on a seemingly simple topic.

If I can do it with Sesame Street and The Goonies, then an article on snacking should be a…piece of cake?…easy as pie?

Probably not the BEST expressions to use here :)

Anyways!  Let’s go down the rabbit hole, learn about snacks, and make healthier decisions moving forward.

It turns out, the truth about the snacking question might not be as simple as you think…

Snacking: a brief history

pretzel

I’m not quite sure what the first recorded history of a snack was, but we know we can go back hundreds of years to find the first pretzel. So, snacking is not necessarily a NEW thing.  

Regardless of where it began, it’s obvious where snacks reign supreme these days: the potato chip was invented in 1853, the vending machine was invented in 1888, and it’s been downhill ever since.  

According to PackagedFacts.com,  sales of snack foods in the United States reached $64 billion in 2010…up from $56 billion in 2006. And projected sales are expected to reach $77 billion by 2015!  That’s a rendonkulous amount of money spent on meals between meals.

Not surprisingly, this increased amount of money spent on snacking has coincided with America getting fatter and fatter.  Although correlation does not prove causation, I think it’s fair to assume that snacking on processed foods isn’t helping.

Especially when we’re eating things like Lay’s Chicken & Waffles Chips.

No, I didn’t make that up. Those chips actually exist.

So, what gives?  Is snacking to blame?

Let’s see: over the past 30 years, snacking has taken a greater and greater role in our daily routines, accounting for roughly 480 extra calories per day on average. One study found that Americans went from eating an average 3.8 meals and snacks a day to 4.9 over the last three decades — a 29% increase. The average American now consumes about 2,375 calories per day, about a third more than in the ’70s.

So, if we do a bit of dot connecting (and who doesn’t love that!?), it’s clear we have an overeating problem, an unhealthy eating problem, and a problem with eating the wrong stuff.

That’s a Triforce of Suck working against us and our waistlines!

Why all the snacking?

chewy chips

It’s probably weird to think about, but snacking never used to be a big part of our lives and culture.

Go back a number of years, and you’d see three square meals a day with an occasional snack.  Go back even further to the caveman days, and you might only be eating one big meal a day while hunting and gathering for your other meals.

Compare that to today in America: we have ready access to food ALL DAY.  

Look in your office right now – I bet you can make a quick trip to the break room or vending machine and come back with 5,000 calories worth of food in about five minutes.  Snack food is EVERYWHERE, companies have created snacks with addictive properties, and we get hit with advertisements for snacks, candy, and high calorie beverages every time we click on a web page or turn on the TV.

Especially here in America, we are set up to fail.  

On my epic journey around the world, I noticed that not many other countries snack like Americans do: most famous of the non-snackers would probably be the French and their “paradox” of eating unhealthy foods and staying thin and trim. One thing I did notice, snacking opportunities and packaged “snacks” were popped up in other countries as they became more westernized.

So, what can we do about it?

Is snacking good or bad for you?

pringles man

Now, there are differing schools of thought on snacking:

1) You should snack in between meals, or break up your eating into many smaller meals so you don’t overeat.  Conventional wisdom tells us that by eating smaller meals, your metabolism is always firing and thus working faster.

This theory says that by allowing yourself SMALL snacks in between meals, you will not be tempted to overeat for your regular meals.  It has nothing to do with metabolism speeds throughout the day, but rather total calories consumed compared just eating three meals. Obviously the goal here is to eat healthy snacks instead of donuts and chips and Goldfish crackers.  If you get so hungry between meals, you might be tempted to eat unhealthy lunches and dinners, so snacking can potentially help curb your appetite so you eat a normal meal for lunch.

2) You should NOT snack between meals  People tend to eat unhealthy snacks, and then eat a normal sized breakfasts lunches and dinners, which results in overconsumption and weight gain.  Rather than eating snacks between meals, put your focus on eating filling, healthy meals. Eat until you’re full, and then don’t eat again until your next meal.  Because you’re not eating between meals, it’s more of a challenge to over consume for the day since you can only eat so much in a single sitting (compared to when you mix in extra calories in between each meal).

Let’s address both sides of the argument before presenting my opinion.

What are some healthy snacks?

Carrot Sticks

If you are firmly planted on Team Snacking, I want to provide you with my favorite healthy snacks and options:

  • Vegetables - Boring, I know.  But veggies are so nutrient dense and calorie-light that they make the best snack possible.  I sometimes fire up a tray full of asparagus and chow down.  Carrots? Celery?  Boom.
  • Apples and almond butter -  This is probably my favorite “snack” of all time, though I load up on this snack when I’m trying to GAIN weight.  Cut the apple up into slices, dip in Trader Joe’s almond butter, and enjoy.  Almond butter is better for you than peanut butter, and way more tasty.  TRUST me on this.
  • Fruit - Along with apples, mix in some other fruit like pears, orange slices, or a banana (with almond butter!).  I would avoid dried fruit like raisins, as it’s a LOT of sugar and calories; you can eat a lot of them without realizing it.  Keep an eye on how much fruit you’re eating, if your goal is weight loss.
  • BaconMy second favorite snack.  Bacon is delicious.  And nutritious.  Oink Oink!
  • Protein - If you are really hungry in between meals, there’s no reason you can’t eat normal meal things!  Grilled chicken breast can help cut down your hunger, fill you up with protein, and keep you on target.  In second place would be protein shakes, as they can fill you up and are incredibly quick to prepare.
  • Nuts - Incredibly high in calories, so keep an eye on your total intake, but a small handful of nuts can help curb hunger pangs between meals. Almonds are my go-to. I like pistachios as well, as you have to earn each one :)
  • Dark chocolate - A really high cacao % (75% or greater) dark chocolate bar is a decent sweet-tooth option in a pinch.  Just keep your portion size SMALL!

Long story short – aim for snacks with high fat and/or high protein.  Veggies are always okay.  What you need to avoid are the processed snacks with lots of calories and lots of carbs.  They don’t fill you up, and you can end up eating WAY more than you realized.

Speaking of calories and carbs, don’t get fooled into thinking granola is a healthy snack!  It sounds healthy, it’s marketed as healthy, but it’s really just a bunch of grains and dried fruit stuck together with some sort of sugar concoction.  Unless it’s homemade with just nuts and fruit, granola bars are not healthy snacks!

And don’t even get me started on Rice cakes…stay away!

Tell me about Team No Snacking

cheetah

I used to be firmly in the “lots of smaller meals throughout the day” camp, but I am no longer a pro-snack supporter.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with snacking per se, provided you are eating the right types of snacks and keeping your other meals to a reasonable size.  But your metabolism isn’t as smart as you think it is, and at the end of the day your calorie consumption is going to be the best indicator of whether or not you’re going to gain weight or lose weight.

When people come to me and ask, “What are some healthy snacks? I want to lose weight and need option…”

I try to explain my answer, the thing they don’t want to hear: “stop snacking!”

If that sounds like a ridiculous concept to you, you’ve been brainwashed by the Empire!

You’ve been trained to expect a constant supply of food all day.  You might even be eating between meals simply because your body has been trained, like a Pavlovian dog, to expect food and to get hungry in between meals because you keep feeding it.

A quick personal story: I have always been a breakfast guy – growing up, I would go through boxes and boxes of cereal.  For the past five years I’d have a big smoothie for breakfast in my quest to get big and strong like a superhero.  I’d wake up hungry and have to eat or I’d be cranky for the rest of the morning.

Welp, for the past month I haven’t eaten ANYTHING before noon.

Following the advice of Anthony Mychal and Lean Gains, I’ve cut out my first meal of the day, I’m training in a fasted state, and then eating my food in the afternoon and evenings.  For the first week, I definitely felt hungry in the morning, because I had 28 years of breakfast expectations to break.

However, since then, my body has quickly adjusted, and now I honestly don’t miss breakfast.  My athletic performance has improved, my body fat percentage hovers between 11-12%, and I’m building more muscle.  I’ll occasionally eat breakfast moving forward, but it’s been liberating to simplify my life and meals.

I’m going to cover this (including my results) in an upcoming NF article on Intermittent Fasting, but here is why I’m fully onboard the No-Snack Train:

It’s cheaper.  Snacking can get expensive!  No more trips to the vending machine.  No more scrounging for quarters.  No more runs to Starbucks.  Put that money towards higher quality foods and healthier meals.

You can be more productive.  If you’re at work and you have to go eat and snack every 30 minutes, or you keep food at your desk and you’re constantly eating; you’re not doing your best work, but thinking about food and eating food all the time!

No worrying about meal timing.  Instead of freaking out about eating every three hours, or having to bring four meals with you to work, just focus on the ACTUAL meals and making them the best, most delicious meals they can be.

There’s less risk of overeating.  The problem with snacks is that they’re often high in carbs, calories, and deliciousness…which means we can quickly eat 500 calories of  a snack in a few minutes and not realize it.  Then, when we eat our normal meals, we’re not full from the snack so we end up eating normal sized lunches and dinners…and put on weight from the extra calories.  Put me within reach of a 10 pound tub of Animal Crackers and I’ll eat the entire thing before I realize what’s happening.

It makes me feel like I’m sticking it to the Empire.  We are surrounded all day every day with snacks, and the Empire wants us to get fat, to get hooked on their foods, and to accept that being overweight and snacking is the new norm. I say, screw that!  Not falling victim to their marketing tactics, and that means +1 for the Rebellion.

Tips and tricks about NOT snacking

squirrel and bird

I realize saying “just don’t snack” is like saying “just eat less and move more and you’ll lose weight.”  Clearly there are more factors at play, most important of which is your willpower (a finite resource) and the fact that you probably have decades worth of snacking habits built in.

That being said, if you truly put your mind to it and put a plan in place for how you’ll adjust over time, success is possible!  

When you are hungry between meals, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you REALLY hungry? Or have you conditioned your body to expect food every two hours, whether you’re at the office or watching a movie? This can actually happen: if your body anticipates food is imminent (through conditioning), it makes you feel hungrier than you really are.
  • Did you not eat a big enough breakfast or lunch?  In the future, can you fill up with more protein and healthy fats?
  • Maybe you’re just thirsty.  Some people can mistake being thirsty with feeling hungry.  Get a big glass of water and then decide.
  • Are you bored?  Sometimes we eat or we feel ‘hungry’ when we’re bored.  Keep your brain occupied with an important task and you’ll be less likely to think about the fact that you haven’t eaten in, gasp!, two hours!

The more you can be aware of your body, the more you can seriously analyze why you feel a way you do, the better chance you’ll have at succeeding.  

If you’re down with Team No Snacking, here’s how to dominate.

  • Drink up!  Stay hydrated.  If you get hungry in between meals, get yourself a big glass of water.  Worried about overeating for your first meal of the day?  Drink a lot of water before the meal and you’ll be less likely to overeat. Struggling to make it to lunch? Try black coffee or tea to help you feel satiated.
  • Read the Power of Habit. This book changed my entire perspective on how we function and how we can better ourselves.  The author has a specific section on habit changing for snacks in an office that’s worth the cost of the book.
  • Out of sight, out of mind.  It’s REALLY tough to not think about eating snacks when you see snacks everywhere.  Don’t keep candy on your desk. Don’t keep your shelves stocked with snack foods.  Increase the difficulty and number of steps between you and having an unhealthy snack by getting the junk food out of your house!
  • Slow and steady.  If jumping to Team No Snacking all at once is too big of a change for you, you’ll never stick with it.  Instead, try changing things up: cut back on snacks or switch to healthy snacks, and then slowly but surely, move more and more of your calories into your big meals and away from your in-between snacks.

The No Snack Challenge

pacman photo

For the rest of this week (or even a few days), I challenge you to join Team No Snack.

I don’t care if you switch back to Team Snack right after, but I’d like you to spend a few days being aware of your body and how it reacts when you only eat at meals.

I want you to prove to yourself that you’re not a victim of the Empire, that you’re not conditioned to NEED snacks – that you can decide for yourself to eat GREAT healthy meals instead of eating all day.

When you inevitably get hungry in between meals, go back to that checklist up top.  Are you hungry, thirsty, tired, or just bored?  What can you do differently so you’re not stuck in between meals?

This is just one nerd’s humble opinion.  As stated in the Rules of the Rebellion, question everything and find out what works for you.  I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on snacking: 

Are you a snacker?  If so, what are your favorite HEALTHY snacks?

Gonna try out Team No Snack and stick it to the Empire?  Let me know.

Scared to give up snacks?  Let’s talk about it.  

-Steve

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photo: snack shelf, pretzel, chewy chips, pringles man, carrots, cheetahsquirrel and bird, Pacman fruit

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  • http://twitter.com/UberTumbleweed Becker

    Women really are very exposed to pro-disordered eating messages. I am guessing men aren’t so over-exposed, because they can perform “disordered eating” behaviours without it going haywire in their brains a bit easier.

    I grew up hearing “eat breakfast to have an active, sporty life” and a lot of “Girls shouldn’t play sports. If a girl gets big, she’s not worth anyone’s time. Only eat tiny breakfasts so you don’t use up your daily calories too early.” As a woman, I can’t fast without hearing those messages in my head. It was very subtle, but very pervasive.

  • chacha1

    I am a snacker. I usually have a piece of fruit as a morning snack (I do not drink juice). Most afternoons at work all I want is a cup of decaf with cream, but if I’m at home and more active I’ll have a snack of cottage cheese, nonfat plain Greek yogurt, or a handful of nuts. If it’s a particularly hungry day at the office, a piece of string cheese or a hard-boiled egg generally serves. I try to stay under 150 calories with any snacks between meals.
    Our household answer to avoiding the sweet/salty snack trap is to simply not buy them. We do not buy crackers, chips, or cookies, because if they are not in the house you can’t eat them.
    Most of the people I know who are “trying to lose weight” still fill their houses with plastic bags and bins of edible crap. I don’t care if it comes from Trader Joe’s and is “all natural,” a bin of chips or cookies or trail mix or wasabi peas is simply a waste of calories. I would rather spend those calories on filet mignon or bacon or gorgonzola.

  • chacha1

    Bell pepper with hummus is deeeelicious. :-)

  • chacha1

    don’t eat more calories unless you’re hungry, especially if you are trying to lose body fat.

  • Raincloak

    There are two kinds of snacks in the world: the kind that amuse you, and the kind that provide you with fuel to keep going. (English should really have different words for these things.)

    Swearing off the former might indeed be good for your health. The latter is crucial to daily functioning for many people (including myself).

    If you’re eating it for amusement or taste, it’s probably junk and best saved for special occasions. If you’re eating it because you don’t have time/resources for a meal, but you need fuel, then it’s perfectly legit and I say snack away (though it’s best for your “fuel” snacks to be GOOD fuel of course; pure sugar or starch will not keep you going for long.)

  • Conk

    I am in the same boat, bro! If I snack, I will “snack” until my next actual meal. I recently bought a 20oz tub of mixed nuts, and I ate half of it within 3 hours of purchasing it. That’s like 3,000 calories of “snacking.”

    I have to go big or go home when it comes to eating times.

  • Mike Pass

    Team No Snack! My body has adjusted to wanting meals at Noon, 4:00, and after my workouts around 8:00, and it’s been great. Coffee and water keeps me more than sufficiently satisfied in the morning. The main thing for me is less about the nutrition side of things, and more about a lifestyle choice. I’ve just found it to be so much easier to not have to plan for 3 snacks a day on top of my couple of big meals. Plus, I love being able to feast (healthfully) at night, something I couldn’t do when I ate 5 other times during the day before that :)

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  • PunchOut

    So this has been my intro to Nerd Fitness and I did the No Snack week and LOVED it. As many people have said offices are constantly filled with sugary snacks…since avoiding all the b-day cake and chocolate muffins this week I’m already feeling much better! Being mindful of my eating has been a life long struggle- this was a wonderful reminder. =)

  • kiki

    Of course the french don’t need to snack…. they have 3 hour meals! Which, by the way, basically works out to a bunch of small meals.

    As for the “caveman” comparison, they ate that way because they didn’t have any other choice. Pretty sure if you offered them extra food they’d have jumped on it.

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  • Anthony Hendriks

    Team No Snack FTW!

    I’ve been skipping breakfast for the past month with good results as well. If I have my bulletproof coffee in the morning I can make it to around 2pm without getting hungry. Also I find that if I’m sure to eat the right amounts of proteins and fats with my meals I never have the urge to snack.

    Looking forward to your results and input on intermittent fasting and fasted training.

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  • http://twitter.com/juskeith Justin Keith

    Team Healthy Snacks here. No vending machines, but fruit and stuff between meals has been great for me…

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  • 0olivs

    I actually love snacking, but you make me think about trying out no snacking for a while. I’ve been changing my habits now that I’m in a true weight loss paleo diet, but before the weight loss plan, my favorite snack was nuts and berries… and I most confess, I also aded this dried acai blueberries covered in dark chocolate from a big bag I bought at Cotsco.

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  • Emilie

    I’m a committed snacker. I think it’s because I’m such a foodie – eating healthfully is extremely difficult for me and often makes me feel deprived – no matter how long I do it or how much I still like the healthy foods. It’s just hard for me to love them the way I love highly salted and sugared foods. So when I snack throughout the day (even on healthy snacks), I feel like I’m being really indulgent for some reason, and not so deprived. I alternate really healthy snacks like fruits and veggies with slightly more indulgent snacks like air popped popcorn and string cheese (I know, I know – not paleo. But the day I stop eating cheese is the day I stop breathing – I love it THAT much).

  • Callie

    “Where you purge (don’t eat for a while)”

    Purging is when you empty your stomach, not when you fast. Normally through vomiting.

  • travis

    I just spent two weeks in the Netherlands and Paris. I paid particular attention to the eating habits of my (naturally slim) hosts…. And what do you know, they very rarely snacked. I think two snacks were consumed during the trip, only bc we had an unusually long period between meals. I followed their habits, which means three moderate size meals a day with bread, starch, etc…I had to tighten my belt a notch and now its lose again. Haven’t hopped on a scale yet but I’m certain I lost 5 or more pounds (not due to the walking as I’m an avid exerciser when at home). I wanted to use this trio as a reset for my eating habits, to allow myself meals that are satisfying instead of trying to IF or eat like a bird so I graze and eat s ton while never being full. I’ll keep this habit going. So obviously, team no snack!

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  • Lisa Reynoso

    I grew up being told that snacking is bad because it doesn’t allow the stomach to rest between meals. Kind of like making butter, but adding cream every time it looks like the butter is about to separate. The churner is going to get exhausted.

    I also grew up eating full meals. I would overeat snacks if I ate them, and then I would gain weight faster. My husband can’t eat if he isn’t hungry. We will occasionally have a bit of fruit or a fruit smoothie if the meal is going to be late, but fruit alone digests very quickly in an empty stomach. But that is the exception, not the rule.

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  • http://www.jerseysmarts.com/ Joe

    Big fan of pistachios as snacks for the same reason that Steve noted above – you have to earn each one!

  • European Girl

    I live in Europe, and i used to only eat three meals a day. It was just the way we eat out here. As we got more influenced by America, the snacking came. And concerred. But i’m back to three meals a day, and i eat untill i’m fully satisfied. If you never feel fully satisfied with your meal, it makes you crazy obsessed. That’s my opinion anyway. Team NO SNACKING!!

  • Bekkablair

    I’m on Team Snack! Meals tend to be nice voluptuous salads with protein thrown in or some kind of egg situation (again with protein involved, either meat or fish – #carnivore), so hunger isn’t often the issue. During my short stint as a rower in high school, though, I was on No Snack – snacks were pretty much either water or granola bars those days, with big meals as bookends.

    The bigger problem was with TV eating, which seems to be a very easy trap for a lot of people to fall into. My solution, which I highly recommend to any other health-conscious-yet-TV-friendly people, came by learning how to knit. I replaced nomming during off-time (during an episode, catching up with people, waiting for pages to load) with making things and it was astounding how much I didn’t miss mindless eating. I gain something tangible and insulating that doesn’t require exercising away later, and if it’s a really basic pattern, I can actually walk around the house while I work. (Crafty exercise ftw!)

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  • Bethany

    Due to some of my medical conditions and medications, my appetite is really a mess. I’m often nauseous and have zero appetite. That’s why I stick to the “small meals” theory, not exactly because “science says so.” When I did read that accommodating these types of challenges with eating smaller amounts of healthy things more often is “okay,” I did feel better about it. Now I’m working on replacing unhealthy snacks with the ones that will really help–not empty calories. Since I just started, there have been some setbacks, but I just start again. I began with a kitchen makeover. Okay, so not *all* of the junk food is gone, but the majority of it is. Those changes count, and I’ll get there. So…since I eat smaller amounts when my brain’s hunger signals actually call out, I am going to stick to smaller meals and snacks. The challenge–and what I’m working toward–choosing healthier snacks, like the one I’m after right now–carrot sticks. PS: I got some almond butter, and it was almost $9! Wow! I also decided that I’m going to cut back on liquid calories in two different ways. I’m going to subtract one soda each week, but when I do drink it, I’ll opt for the 12-ounce can instead of a 20-ounce bottle. And I’m definitely drinking more water. I can understand both sides of the snack debate, but I think it’s best for me, personally, to stick with the current plan, but to make changes to switch it up big time.

  • The_FellWind

    I’m new and doing my best to make healthy choices I can stick with before throwing myself too far into it too fast. I’ve been a huge snacker in the past and do feel pretty hungry between meals and, now that I’m cutting grains, pretty soon after my meals. I’ve been filling my snack void with veggies: cucumber slices, carrots, bell peppers, celery, and sugar snap peas mostly. Am I sabotaging my weight loss goals?

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  • Tiffany

    NO SNACK!!! I’ve always been healthy, slender and trim on a normal food schedule….and for me that means dinner at 830 or 9 pm! (I’m cuban and in Miami, different culture)…anyway, I had orthopoeidc surgery so I’ve been taking pain meds which means eating every 4 hours so that I can take my mess….and I realized…snacking SUCKS! I’ve never hated food so much in my life! And to eat so much in 1 day means that my whole life now is suddenly surrounding food! I even hate chocolate now…I mean, with eating every 4 hours it’s hard to get variety. I mean, I really cannot stand to eat any more and I never thought that could ever happen. That being said, I’m team NO SNACKING forever and for always. Because I like meals…snacking sucks.

  • Tiffany

    Lol woah, it’s quite obvious I wrote this while being sleepy :)

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