Eat five small meals a day!
Eat three meals with a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack!
Eat when you’re hungry!
Just like confusing food packaging, the messages we receive about when and how to eat are also wildly variable and unhelpful. But there is one food trend that is evident in the United States—snacking.
We have become a nation of snackers.
Studies show that we are snacking not only more often, but we’re also snacking on less-healthy foods than we were 30 years ago. In this blog post from the Cooper Institute, we can see that our overall consumption of calories from snacks has increased. Even worse, our physical activity levels have stagnated (or dropped) over the same time period. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic in this country!
There are lifestyle implications at play here. It’s more than just families with two adults who work out of the house. It’s also the availability of snack foods everywhere. Not only have food marketers become very clever about packaging foods in portable containers but we’re also bombarded with snacking ‘opportunities’ at every turn. Soccer practice? Snacks. The drive home from piano lessons? Snacks. Stopping at to the gas station? Snacks. The New York Times has had several good articles about the history of snacking over the last few years– this one is especially interesting.
So what should we do? As with anything goal-related, having a plan is your best bet for success. Knowing what you’re going to eat and when will help keep you on track. Knowing that you’re going to have foods that you enjoy each day can help you from eating impulsively. If you have kids, teaching them about calorie balance is a valuable lesson—sure, you ran around during soccer practice, but did you really burn enough energy to need 150 calories of potato chips afterwards? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong. Snacking is a tough habit to break. Give yourself some guidelines, keep a record of your snacking, and then see where you can make changes. It’s still important to honor your body’s hunger cues, but I think you’ll find that you (like me and most other people) often snack out of habit rather than hunger.
Do you eat according to a plan? Are there snack rules at your house?
Good health and great happiness to you!