A lot of people I talk to automatically associate snacking with some sort of “bad habit.” But is it really? Should anyone who considers themselves a “snacker” immediately stop what they’re doing and try to change their ways? Well, not necessarily. Snacking is neither inherently bad nor good. There is definitely unhealthy snacking, but there is also healthy snacking. So what’s the difference?
What Does Unhealthy Snacking Look Like?
While all snacking isn’t necessarily unhealthy, there is definitely such a thing as unhealthy snacking. And this is probably what everyone is thinking of when they assume that snacking is such a bad habit. Unhealthy snacking is done mindlessly. Meaning the person snacking isn’t paying attention to their food or how much of it they’re eating. This can easily lead to overeating. If you aren’t paying attention to your food while you’re eating, not only do you lose track of portion sizes, but you also miss the enjoyment of eating. This may leave you feeling full, but not satisfied, which can lead to more overeating.
Unhealthy snacking also stems from the unhealthy snacks themselves. Most “convenience” foods that are easily accessible to us are anything but nutritious. Things you will find in gas stations or convenience stores are usually high in saturated fat, added sugar, sodium, preservatives, and empty calories. They also tend to be lacking in micronutrients. Even a lot of household snacks nowadays are full of like this. Which is why it’s super important to be vigilant when grocery shopping.
Something I’m sure all of us have been guilty of at one point or another is snacking because we’re bored. While this isn’t the end of the world every once in a while, if it becomes a habit, it could cause weight gain and get your hunger cues out of whack. This can be detrimental to your health and make it difficult to know when you’re full and when you’re hungry. So make sure you’re listening to your body and snacking because your body needs energy, not simply because you are bored.
What Does Healthy Snacking Look Like?
Fun fact: I recently got Invisalign. (This is related, I promise.) With Invisalign, you have to take your trays out every single time you eat. Then after you’re done eating, you have to brush your teeth and brush your trays before you put them back in. This is seriously annoying. Especially if you snack literally all the time like I do. When I tell people that it’s difficult to snack as much as I used to, they act like that’s such a great thing! “Yay! You can get rid of that bad habit!” they say. Ha! If only it was a habit I wanted to get rid of! It has taken me a while to figure out my hunger cues and find an eating schedule that works. And for me, that’s snacking consistently rather than eating 3 larger meals each day. This is personally because I have hypoglycemia, and can’t let me blood sugar get too low. But there are many other reasons why someone might have to snack more often.
In short, snacking is not always a bad thing; sometimes it’s just what your body needs.
I can best describe healthy snacking with these bullet points:
- Eating to satisfy hunger
- Stopping when you are sufficiently full and satisfied
- Consists of nutrient dense foods
I think these 4 bullet points accurately describe healthy snacking (though I’m sure there are more out there). Again, there isn’t necessarily just one healthy way to snack. But if you’re following those four bullet points as a guide, you’re probably snacking in a healthy way.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Snacking?
My point is that snacking is not inherently good or bad. If you need it, you need it. But how should you differentiate when you need it versus when you don’t? Here is a quick list of questions to refer back to when you’re snacking:
- Is my snacking mindless?
- Am I actually hungry?
- Am I just eating because I’m bored?
- Are my snacks providing my body with micronutrients or are they empty calories?
- Are my snacks high in things like saturated fat, preservatives, sodium, and added sugar?
Using these questions, and the rest of this post, hopefully you will be able to develop a healthy snacking schedule that works for you. Thanks for reading!