Ask Me Anything dietitian question: What every day eating habits may be bad for your health?

There are many eating habits that we may think are healthy, but in actuality may not be as healthy as we thought.  One of those habits is snacking. Some call it grazing, nibbling, noshing or picking. These words describe a way of eating where we are grabbing a handful of this or that throughout the day.  You might think: “I thought we should snack.”, or “I hear snacking keeps your energy levels up.”  The truth is snacking, even on healthy foods, might lead to overeating.

When we snack or graze, we often are not paying attention.  This way of eating is a form of mindless eating.  When we mindlessly munch of various foods throughout the day, it is easy to lose track of what and how much we eat. Also, when we snack, we usually aren’t getting full, so much of what we eat is not registering in our minds.

I recommend to my patients instead of “snacking”, have a planned snack.  Meals and snacks ideally should have a defined beginning and end. If you plan a snack between a meal, it makes it easier to stick to your eating plan and not mindlessly overeat. In addition, it is also important to check in with your level of hunger. Before you have a snack, ask yourself: “How hungry am I?” Am I not hungry, somewhat hungry, hungry or very hungry. If you have any level of hunger, then honor that hunger and have a planned snack.  If you are not hungry, maybe you are thirsty, bored, stressed, etc. and looking for food. It is important to recognize if you are snacking for other reasons besides hunger.  If we eat when we are not really hungry, we are putting food into our body that it may not need.  Unneeded calories can lead to weight gain.

On the other hand, if you are very hungry, you may not be eating enough at the previous meal, delaying a meal or skipping meals. It is important to try to be consistent with when you eat your meals and snacks to help manage hunger more effectively. Planning ahead to have regular meals/snacks is important. Below are some tips to manage hunger:

Plan your meals and snacks:

  • Pack your lunch and snacks ahead of time so when hunger hits you are ready
  • Keep individual servings of snack foods around for a quick grab and go
  • Meal prep when you have days off. This allows you to have home cooked meals prepped when you don’t have time to cook.

Some snack ideas are:

  • Small fresh fruit (apple, pear, orange, a cup of fresh berries)
  • Low fat string cheese
  • 100 calorie pack of nuts
  • Single serving container of low or nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 100 calorie bag of pop corn
  • Pair a fruit with nuts or cheese (apple with 100 calorie pack of almonds)
  • Fresh veggies with single serving of hummus
  • Apple slices and 1-2 TB of peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)

Most of the above snacks are quick and easy to prepare and can be taken to work, school or where ever you are going to make sure you are well fueled throughout the day and stay on a healthy plan.  What are some your healthy snacks? How do you prep meals to keep hunger at bay and avoid snacking?