Many people still hold the idea that having small meals throughout the day (or snacking every few hours) is the best way to lose weight. However, it has come to light that people who snack throughout the day actually end up consuming more calories total, and risk gaining weight or plateauing in their weight loss goals.
It comes down to this: too many calories. When we eat small meals we are more likely to lose track of how much we’ve already consumed, and tend to end up overeating by the end of the day. The truth is we actually are better off sitting down to consume full meals (in smaller portions and making healthier choices), and avoiding snacking in between them.
But what if you usually get peckish during the day, and need some fuel to get you through to dinner? What if you’re craving one of those breakfast pastries in the break room, but you’ve already had your lunch? These tips will help you gain control over your cravings and stop eating too many calories throughout the day.
Tips to Beat Cravings and Stop Overeating
Understand your triggers.
There are a number of reasons why willpower fails, and we end up giving in to a snack or sweet. Some common triggers are:
- Sadness or depression, poor mood
- Lack of sleep (one of many reasons to get plenty of sleep each night)
- Stress or anxiety
- Boredom (like mindless snacking in front of the TV)
- Thirst (dehydration signs are often mistakenly interpreted as hunger)
One way to understand what your main triggers are is to start a simple food journal. For a few days, write down anytime you eat and record your emotional state associated with that meal. Figuring out your personal triggers will help you better understand how to combat them.
Watch out for non-satiating foods.
A small salad with lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, and dressing (no slow burning energy of protein or fat) will hardly satiate you through to dinner. By the time you sit down for a full meal you’ll be ravished, and risk overeating. For example, consider a baked potato in comparison to how long you will feel full after its eaten. The potato goes a long way in relation to fullness when considering the actual amount of calories it contains. When comparing that to your level of fullness after eating a croissant (containing many more calories by volume) there’s no contest.
This is especially important when it comes to beverages. People sometimes think a fresh juice will be enough to carry them through to the next meal, but without fiber from the fruits and vegetables themselves there’s nothing to slow down the absorption of nutrients in your system. A smoothie might be a better option, but as always be aware of sugar content and make sure the ratio of vegetables included is higher than fruit.
Let’s say your lunch salad wasn’t satiating, you’re already hungry, and you’re suddenly slapped with the smell of pizza while on your way home. Your mouth begins to water – pizza is one of your biggest weaknesses. You know you have a healthy oasis of food at home to cook for dinner, but what’s the harm in one little slice? Suddenly you remember: you have a stash of cashews in your bag!
Whew! That was a close one. Having an “emergency” snack of something small and non-perishable on hand at all times (think a small bag of nuts or a stick of natural beef jerky) will ensure that your cravings don’t win over your willpower. Although we’re still preaching the no-snacks-between-meals-rule, this is not for snacking for the sake of snacking at any old time. This snack is when your willpower is at risk and for emergencies only.
Replace your usual snack time with something else.
If you are used to regular snacking between meals, you may notice some pangs of hunger when your typical snack time rolls around. You’ve inadvertently created a Pavlovian response, and trained yourself to expect food at certain times of the day – in between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Instead of trying to plow through that snack craving, replace the habit with something new. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea with True Lemon, go for a short walk around the block, chug an 8-ounce glass of water, or even just stand up and have a good stretch. A new habit in your daily routine will help you to move past the craving more easily.
Changing a normal snack-filled lifestyle will take time so remember to be forgiving of yourself. If you give in to a snack after forgetting your emergency jerky, pick up some more and stash it anywhere you can. End up stopping for that slice of pizza? Have a lighter dinner and move forward with heightened awareness tomorrow.
Small changes like these will help you learn to satiate your hunger, beat unhealthy cravings, and meet your weight loss or weight management goals.
[Credit: Sabin, Brian. “Winning the War on Hunger: Practical Solutions to Overeating.” Born Fitness.]