>’s the thing: I’m a serial snacker. I could graze all day long. I don’t like big meals, plus I’ve always heard the health mantra that you should eat six smaller meals rather than three big meals a day. But then I started keeping a food journal and realized just how much I was eating throughout the day. Sure, I was eating healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, and cheese, but I was eating too much of them. I wondered, was my snacking habit a bad one?
Nutrition experts disagree on whether snacking is smart or not, but one thing they all agree on is that you should be careful which foods you reach for, and avoid eating mindlessly. (These 7 ways to prevent a junk food binge are a huge help.) For many, snacks account for up to 25% of our total daily caloric intake, so smart snack choices are essential, advises Morton Tavel, MD, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine.
“I don’t think snacking is inherently bad for you,” says Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Lake Forest, California. “I am a believer that if you are physically hungry you should eat, but snacking can easily get out of control when we’re eating for reasons other than hunger, like boredom or fatigue.”
With these warnings in mind, I decided to go snack-free for a month. I would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner only (trying not to alter my meals much from my usual ones), and stick to healthy, fiber-filled meals with lots of fruits and veggies. No mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks, and especially no late-night munching. >’s what I learned from my month without any snacks—and where experts said I went wrong.
I UNCOVERED HIDDEN CALORIES.
I have to admit, the first day was pretty hard, going from a day full of snacks to no snacks at all. Plus, what exactly constitutes a snack? Is a coffee break a snack? Coffee itself is not a . of a lot of calories, carbs, or sugar (I drink instant coffee, yes I will actually admit that), but I put quite a bit of skim milk in there. I realized that ¼ cup of milk has 3 grams of carbs, 23 calories, and 3 grams of sugar. So I felt like I was drinking a morning snack whenever I had my coffee. I decided to scale back on the skim milk, but still have my coffee. It didn’t taste as good, but I figured it was in keeping with my new schedule. (Hit the reset .—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
Expert’s take: A little skim milk in your coffee is no big deal, assures Lisa Cohn, RD, registered dietitian consultant for miVIP Surgery Centers. As long as you’re not adding heaps of sugar or flavorings, you can sip away.
I ATE LUNCH MUCH EARLIER.
Mid-morning, I usually have a Weight Watchers cheese stick and some nuts (on a good day) or whatever was left over from last night’s dinner (on a not-so-good day). Since I cut this mid-morning snack, I was starving . the time lunch came. Normally I eat at 1 PM, but with this new no-snacking thing, I ate my lunch . noon—OK, sometimes . 11. Then the long afternoon spread out in front of me. (Don’t deprive yourself. Stock up on these 14 best weight loss-friendly snacks you can buy on Amazon.) In hindsight, I definitely should’ve consulted a dietitian to devise a better eating plan before making a sudden change like this.
Expert’s take: “If you’re not going to snack, your meals should provide balanced energy and have about 5-10 grams of healthy fats,” says Cohn. (Oops.) She recommends a meal consisting of around 30 grams of complex carbs and 10 grams of fiber. >’s her suggestion for a full meal:
A drizzle olive oil on ¼ avocado
3-5 oz. lean (20 grams) protein such as fish, poultry chest, egg, or tofu
Complex carbohydrates such as beans, multigrain sprouted bread, or oats
A serving of fruit with less than 10 grams of sugar, like berries or grapefruit
NOTHING SEEMED TO SATISFY MY HUNGER.
Instead of a healthy mid-afternoon snack of fruit (usually a banana or apple, or if it’s been a tough day, maybe a cookie), I had a cup of tea, hoping it would satiate my grumbling stomach. It did not. I kept drinking water hoping it might do the same. Instead, I felt light-headed and even a little punch-drunk in the afternoons. Even though I don’t drink (alcohol), my brain felt fuzzy. (Sound familiar? You’re not eating enough for breakfast—and 3 more morning-meal mistakes you’re probably making.)
Usually I eat around 6ish, but since I was so hungry from the no-snack rule, I was starving . 5. I also ate three pieces of chicken for dinner the first day of the experiment instead of my usual one—I felt like I couldn’t get full. My typical dinner is a big salad (lots of veggies), protein (about 4 ounces of chicken or turkey), and fruit. During my no-snacking month, I stuck to this, but suddenly found myself eating way too much of everything. Yes, fruit is good, but one dinner I ate two bananas, plus an orange.
And this, really, was the problem the whole month I did away with snacking: I was always hungry and lacking energy. I found myself becoming obsessed with food and couldn’t wait until mealtime, constantly thinking about what I would eat next.
Expert’s take: Turns out, I wasn’t eating the right food combo for dinner; I was skimping on fiber-filled whole grains that would actually help me stave off my hunger. “Whole grain foods and fruits and vegetables containing fiber help to keep you fuller, longer and also slow the breakdown of sugar, preventing blood sugar spikes,” says Laura Campbell, RD, a registered dietitian in Chicago. She suggests eating more blueberries, oats, chia seeds, and lentils, which all pack plenty of fiber.
I NEED MY SNACKS.
Truth be told, I did cheat a few times and snack on the weekends if I was at a party, or if I was just too hungry during the week. I tried to make it healthy, but I did cave for the occasional Kit Kat. (Hey, it’s OK. > are 2 reasons you can feel really good about your chocolate habit, from Prevention Premium.) Plus, going to bed without a little snack was tough. No snacking may work for some people, but it didn’t for me. And even though I only loosely tracked my calories, I’m pretty sure I more than made up for my usual snack calories . overeating at mealtime.
Expert’s take: Snacking can be bad for you if you’re eating high-carb cookies and treats all the time, but generally healthy snacks are nothing to worry about. “Your best bet is to take small portions of nutrient-packed, unprocessed foods,” stresses Tavel. “Each snack should include food groups that possess no more that 100 to . calories.” He recommends a high-protein snack like unsweetened yogurt or fruit and nuts that will keep you full for longer.
Adina Pearson, RD, a registered dietitian in Walla Walla Valley, Washington, also suggests edamame, cottage cheese, or eggs. “Fat is helpful as it slows digestion down a bit and helps a meal stick a bit longer,” she says.
When my experiment was (finally) over, I decided to go back to snacking, but to watch portion sizes and limit myself to a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Reisdorf told me it’s the nighttime snacking that gets you into trouble: “We are not active in the evening and are generally tired and maybe a little bored, so you are really prone to reach for something less than healthy,” she says. “A mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack can be a part of any healthy diet, but no one should be eating after dinner.”