Babies and little kids have snacks. They need them. But do adults really need snacks? And do you need snacks if you are losing weight? It’s a hot topic and one that often elicits heated discussion when I bring it up during a weight loss clinic or even when discussing weight loss one-on-one with friends. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to add snacks to your weight loss meal plan.
In days past, adults did not snack as much as they do now. If you are old enough to remember back to the 1950s and 1960s, your parents and grandparents probably had few snacks and rarely had regularly scheduled snack times. Back then, fewer adults were overweight or obese. A study in a 2015 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that over the last 40 years, the percentage of calories from snacks for adults increased.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as snacking increased, so did obesity rates–especially considering that the most popular snack foods are chips, cookies, candy, crackers, and frozen desserts: all snacks that pack a tremendous calorie punch, especially for the dieter.
The Case For Snacks
If you are trying to lose weight, obviously you have to eat fewer calories than you usually do. After all, you can’t just wish for weight loss but not take steps to make it happen. When you reduce your calorie intake, you are going to feel hungrier. A snack in between meals can help stave off the hunger and cravings.
If eating a 100-calorie snack (such as a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter on it) helps you skip the vending machine candy bar, then that snack served its purpose. It kept you full enough to wait until your next meal, gave you some excellent nutrients, and didn’t add a lot of calories.
That’s the right way to snack.
The Case Against Snacks
Snacks can be the downfall of a dieter. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. A well thought-out daily meal plan can fall by the wayside when too many snacks enter the picture.
The reasons for this are threefold:
1) Snack calories are hard to control
Snacks for babies tend to be small bits of food. Snacks for adults tend to be large servings of food. You have to make certain you are not burning through half your calories during your 2:00 p.m. snack. Snacks need to be small, low in calories, and planned.
2) Poor snack choices
A piece of fruit or some vegetables are good snack choices. However, many dieters use snack time as an opportunity to have a few cookies, a nibble of candy, or a sliver of cake. To make snacking work, you have to look at snacks as a time to enhance your nutrient intake instead of a way to indulge a sweet craving.
3) Timing of snacks
There is little need for a healthy adult to have a mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and after-dinner snack. Snacking all day long tends to increase the number of calories you consume. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who ate a morning snack tended to lose less weight than people who skipped a morning snack.
Snacking is not necessary for a successful weight loss plan. You don’t have to have two planned snacks in your day if you don’t want to. I challenge you to rethink your snack habits and decide for yourself whether snacks are helping or hurting your weight loss plan.
If they are helping, keep doing what works for you. If they are hurting, eliminate, change, or tweak how you handle snacks.