Snacking. It’s just what we do, right? Well, at least that’s what the food industry wants us to believe. And while it is true that at the end of the day energy balance is pretty much the only thing that matters for fat loss and yes, you can fit in those junky snacks and still lose weight, doing so comes with a boatload of problems. So let me explain why snacking is probably the number one habit that is holding you back from attaining your body composition goals.
A history of snacks
Snacks are an invention of the food industry of recent years. Traditionally we had three meals, with the exception of the five o’clock tea and similar occasions, but pretty much it were those 3-4 main meals a day.
Even if there were snacks, they were homemade. Sure, a shortbread always is a shortbread, baking it yourself doesn’t reduce it’s calories, but homemade foods are more valuable than manufactured junk food. You’ve put the work in researching recipes, shopping ingredients and baking/cooking them, instead of mindlessly tossing them into your cart in the grocery store. Probably you’ll also consume them with more attention and satisfaction.
You can find snacks everywhere in grocery stores and they are not here to nourish you, they are there for entertainment, also a trend of the last 30-40 years, where food manufacturing turned from “feeding the masses” to “making profit by entertaining the masses”.
All this causes snacks to make staying in shape difficult and these are my main reasons why you should ditch snacking:
the distraction trap
Think of your favourite snacks. When do you consume them? Usually when you are distracted. This is a huge problem, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Being distracted while eating makes it more likely to overeat. This is even worse with snacks as they are generally very energy dense, so overeating on your candy bars is a bigger problem than overeating on a nice, healthy main dish.
Most of the snack we like are also not very inviting on their own, they are only there to keep you busy. Don’t believe me? Imagine eating snacks with maximum mindfulness: you with your beloved gummy bears alone on a completely silent room. No distractions allowed. Would you really eat as many as when, e.g. watching a movie? And are they even good? Like, really good?
When I finish a meal, I want to be satisfied. This is difficult when snacking, as snack usually aren’t satiating and take calories away from your main meals, making them less satisfying as you have less calories to spend on them.
Food volume is an important factor in satiety and because for most people hunger is the main culprit for lacking diet adherence, keeping food volume high is key. So, IF you snack, try to snack on high volume foods like fruits.
where’s the protein?
Snacks are usually devoid of protein because they are constructed to be cheap and induce craving for more. Pretty much the opposite of protein, as protein is usually quite expensive, satiating and nothing that triggers you to overeat on it.
Yes, your beloved snacks are engineered by the food industry to trigger your brain’s reward system. They make you feel good for a short period of time, but this also is a strong habit forming mechanism that conditions you to equate “feeling bad/tired” with “get me snacks, they make me feel good”. More on the topic of snacking as a habit down below.
Because their low protein content, low satiety and high energy content, snacks make hitting your macros a nightmare (at least when you are dieting down). Fitting snacks into a diet can be done, and if you really feel you need that cookie to go with your afternoon tea, please fit it into your macros. But be aware that squeezing too many treats into your macros sets you up for failure. Hunger pangs and unappealing main dishes (steamed chicken breast and broccoli) make your dieting life much more miserable than it needs to be.
Be also aware that if your goal is to build muscles a meal should hit something called “the leucine (a branched-chain essential amino acid) threshold”. This is achieved by consuming around 20-30g of protein, an amount that you surely won’t find in most commercialy available snacks.
once you have started …
Serving sizes (and therefore calories shown on the product) are ridiculously small. Who eats only 30g of potato crisps when the package contains 100g? Or the hilarious suggested serving size of 10g peanut butter. Have you ever measured this? It’s something like half a teaspoon.
As snacks are made to be tasty and something you graze on while being distracted, it is very easy to go overboard on them, especially given their small serving sizes. You want more than that. Also who wants to distribute an open pack of crisps over three days, when you know that they are stale the next day? This makes it easy to talk yourself into binging on them, so it is often better to not even start.
the inner menu
The more snacks and processed food you fit in your diet, the more you want of them. Those foods are now “on the menu”, your brain knows that it can “order” them and guess what, it will do so. Cravings are bound to happen!
Our brain craves for food entertainment and caloric dense, palatable food. If you look at the macros of most snacks you will find out that the majority of them are high fat and high carb. It’s a combination that our brain loves but it is a nightmare for fat loss. If your goal is to lose fat, I would urge to keep your inner menu –your food variety– as simple as possible with as less snacks as you can sustain.
It’s just a bad habit
I think snacking is a bad habit and you should get rid of it as soon as possible or at least limit it as much as possible. This won’t be easy, as lay media likes to paint a picture that snacking is just what we are made to do. It is normal to grab something from your fridge as soon as you come home. Or to munch on a bag of candies in front of the TV. No, that’s not normal and even if you manage to fit your snacks into your macros, it sets you up for a hard time and potential failure. Get rid of it, you can do it and it will make maintaining or achieving a better body composition much easier.
Also consider that there will be a time after tracking and weighing your food. At least it should be. If you start snacking on junk food without tracking, it is so easy to overeat on them. Not on your first day, but over time your serving sizes will creep up without you noticing it, pushing you more and more into a surplus.
Contemplate why you are snacking. Is it boredom? Is it to relieve stress? Try to identify the root problem, work on it and meanwhile fall in love with real food.
Keep in mind that there are occasions where snacking is okay. Social occasions like a wedding, holidays and other festivities. On those special days it is okay to snack. Just do it mindfully. Embrace the occasion, don’t go overboard and relax.
For most people snacking is a problematic habit. Common snacks are often confused with “taste bud entertainment” and not proper food. Protein is lacking, calories are abundant, satiety signals are low, overeating and hunger pangs are bound to happen even if they fit your macros.
That said, snacking is okay for people who really nail their diet and also manage to snack on good, nourishing, proper foods. Snacking is also okay if reserved for special occasions and is mindfully consumed. Everybody else probably has an easier time to reach body composition goals by ditching the habit of snacking.
Are you struggling with a boring diet or are you not enjoying your training anymore? Contact us and let us talk how we can reach your body composition or strength goals and let training and eating be fun again!