A major cause of weight gain or the solution to creating and maintaining the lean physique and healthy body you desire?
This is a question I often get asked by my clients when I'm working with them to help shift some excess body fat and look a little more toned. Is snacking good for me? Or is the reason I'm gaining weight? Well the answer is, as many of those who've been on one of the course I've taught will tell you..........it depends.
It depends on a whole host of factors. What was it that you snacked on? How many snacks did you have? Were you eating because you were hungry? Or were you tired, angry, upset, bored or just doing it because it's part of a routine? How much did you eat across the rest of the day? How much exercise are you doing at the moment and how active are you in your everyday life?
This is why the science on the subject shows such varied results. Some studies suggest that snacking regularly helps people to lose weight. Other studies show that those who eat more often gain more weight. Some research has shown no difference between three square meals a day or grazing regularly on smaller meals, as long as the calorie intake is equal. Some studies suggest that eating small and often can have a beneficial effect on health measures like choleste4rol and blood sugar levels. But guess what? Others have not.
Finding your balance
When I work with my clients we look at three key areas:
1) What are you eating? In the balance approach, there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, just better or worse ones depending on the personal, the situation and the goals. Ask yourself ‘is there something better I could choose most of the time that would help me achieve what I want?’ There often is.
2) How much are you eating? Alongside food quality, we also consider food quantity. It may simply be that we don’t need that much energy given how active we are across the week. In which case we can look at lower calorie foods that are still filling (we’ll come to that later).
3) Why are you eating? Was it because of hunger, is there an emotional trigger or is it a habit/routine that has been developed over time and is just ‘the way it is’ at the moment. This helps us to develop solutions; these may be other things that can be done to cope with emotions, changes to the daily routine, or better snack options to choose, so let’s have a look at that now.
This next section is based on options that are often better for most people with goals of improving their weight, reducing their body fat and generally improving their physical and mental health. That doesn’t mean that they’re right for everyone. You may have an allergy, the food may not easily be accessible to you or you may simply not like it. That’s ok; the key thing is just to get you thinking ‘what could I change?’ If you’re stuck answering this question, get in touch and I’ll happily offer some support and advice.
Here’s some snack ideas my clients have found useful over the years:
· Portion things out - let’s start realistically. If you are going to have some chocolate, crisps or cake, can you take the one portion you have and break it into smaller bits so that you have it over time rather than in one go? Tupperware can be a great solution to this, or feel free to share it with others, as less is in this case, less. If you can’t bear to give it away, go back to the portioning idea.
· Fruit and vegetables – most of us need more and this is a great time to get them. They’re packed full of good stuff to keep us healthy but also have a high fibre and water content that can help increase feelings of fullness too.
· Carrot or celery sticks and houmous - staying with the veg theme, why chop them into little sticks and dip them in some houmous. This adds some healthy fats and more importantly, some protein, which is known to keep hunger locked up for longer.
· Natural yoghurt – less calories than the flavoured sugary counterparts, a good source of calcium and vitamin D and some research to show it may help aid effective fat burning. Yoghurt is again a decent source of protein and you can keep it varied by adding different things to it; nuts and seeds, dried or fresh fruit, a little honey, grated dark chocolate or oats.
· Boiled eggs – easy to prepare to take with you, boil them up the night before and then pop them in some Tupperware. They’re a complete protein, which means they contain all the amino acids your body needs and again they’re great at keeping hunger controlled for longer.
· Dark chocolate (70% +) - Still high in calories so don’t go mad here, although you’ll find it hard to eat too much as it’s quite rich. This is a good choice for those who have a sweet tooth as it can curb the craving and it’s pretty rich in antioxidants that act to keep you healthy.
· Unprocessed nuts or seeds – often avoided because of their high fat content, these should form part of a truly balanced diet. The fats are the healthier type and there’s protein too, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Portion control is important again though, as too many calories are too many calories. Portion big bags out into small Tupperware containers for each day.
· Oatcakes, rye crackers or rice cakes – there’s a few reasons why these are helpful additions to your day. They’re fairly low calorie compared to less healthy choices and they’re a good source of fibre, strongly linked to increased feelings of fullness. Of course adding toppings is fine like oatcakes with a little peanut butter on top, but find a balance that works for you. If you’re not losing body fat and you know it’s definitely not because you’re under-eating, where can you make small and gradual reductions to your food intake?
· Unprocessed meats – another food source rich in protein to help leave you feeling full and less likely to reach for the biscuit barrel. Only small quantities of meats are needed as they’re often high in fat and calories too and it’s easy to over-consume protein.
· Protein shakes – whilst many don’t need to turn to supplements, for some life is busy and using a protein shake mixed with water or milk is an easier solution than preparing other foods. If it’s used instead of a Chunky KitKat there’s no arguing that it’s a better choice and those of you who exercise regularly may find it a great snack choice post-training to help your recovery in a quick, simple, easily digested way. You can of course, get a good quantity of protein from just drinking milk; so if sports shakes aren’t your thing and you’re not lactose intolerant, give it a try.
A bite-size summary
I hope you’ve found this little blog useful and if nothing else, it’s given you some ideas. I’ve been regularly snacking for years on some of the above foods and I find it works for me because I lead an active lifestyle and I know that if I let myself get hungry, that’s when I reach for worse choices. If you know this is the same for you or you’re just stuck in a rut of unhealthy snacks, try making one or two simple changes to help you find your way to balance.