7 Ways To Improve Your Relationship With Snacking

If you're American, you probably love snacking. It's one of our favorite pastimes, and now we've got the statistics to prove it. A recent Mintel survey shows that 94 percent of the United States population snacks every day, and 50 percent of adults nosh two or three times a day. The numbers get even higher when you reach the 21-38 age group — the "Millennials," as they call us. A quarter of us report grazing four or more times a day.

But with all this extra eating, we run the risk of overconsumption, which throws off the balance of our health. Our blood sugar levels get out of whack and we could potentially be looking at serious weight gain. Plus, there is recent neuroscientific research claiming that mindless late-night snacking could be detrimental to our learning and memory abilities. Those bad midnight eating habits could contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. So, what are we to do? Toss in the towel?

Not so fast. Snacking has its positives, as long as you don't abuse it. Having a little something in between meals can curb your hunger and prevent you from bingeing when dinner comes around; it also increases your productivity. Besides, it just feels good to snack. You just have to be smart about it. Here are seven tips to immediately improve the art of snacking, because it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

1. Don't Get Distracted

Suzanne Higgs led a study at University of Birmingham, proving that distractions while eating, like television or computer games or our iPhones, can result in “greater later intake and poorer meal memory.” Research even found that watching commercials for, say, Pizza Hut's cheesy crust and KFC spicy chicken while we eat only make us devour more later.

The simple solution is to focus on what you're eating. Enjoy it; savor every bite and try to resist flipping on Netflix. Higgs instructed individuals in another study to imagine themselves eating from a third-person perspective — and they all snacked less later. Your body will have a better memory of what you've already eaten, making it less likely for you to think you need more nosh.

2. Have A Special Snack Bowl

Dietitian Carla Rosenbloom recommends you keep your own container or small bowl at work to avoid overeating. If you continuously reach into a communal bowl, you'll have no idea how much you're actually consuming, and pretty soon you've eaten a whole meal's worth of Cape Cod chips. Suddenly, snacking isn't a good thing anymore.

Studies show that portion control can actually lead to "a flatter hunger profile" and less gorging. If you have trouble with this, like I do, gradually cut down your servings; going cold turkey will only make you feel more needy.

3. Don't Deprive Yourself

Say you're craving something sweet, but instead you reach for a bland filler food with fewer calories because you've convinced yourself that all dessert is forbidden. No good can come from that — you'll binge later in an attempt to get what you wanted in the first place.

Listen to what your body wants, and respond accordingly. If you want something salty, you might be low on calcium; if you're dying for chocolate, you might be low on energy. Be savvy about it, though, and have a small amount. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association says indulging in a tiny treat every day won't sabotage your health in the slightest bit.

4. Ask Yourself Why You're Eating

In the Mintel survey, Food Analyst Amanda Topper says the younger generation is snacking more as a means to fulfill emotional needs and combat boredom and stress. This can get us into trouble, because we'll eat based on how we feel at the time, which usually results in pounding processed and packaged foods.

Dr. Suzanne Gelb from Psych Central advises us to ask ourselves if we're physically hungry for food or mentally craving something else, like exercise or even a hug from our partner. The more we tune into why we're waltzing into the kitchen, the less we will mindlessly chew and fill up on unhealthy fare.

5. Eat At The Right Time

When we snack matters. Ravi Allada, chair of the department of neurobiology at Northwestern University, says when we eat late at night, we throw off our circadian clocks and misalign our internal biology with the 24-hour environment. The consequences of this reaches further than weight gain — it could poorly affect how our whole system functions.

Those who nibble in the first half of the day tend to see much better results than those who eat after work or dinner. Midday refreshments are a good way to go, in between breakfast and lunch, because you're giving your body enough calories so that it won't ask for more during the 4-6 p.m. window.

6. Combine Protein and Carbohydrates

When I say carbohydrates, I don't mean a plate of french fries. Instead, think about roasted chickpeas — a perfect mix of protein and good carbs, and a good source of fiber. Or have some almond butter with an apple on the side.

The protein keeps you fuller for longer while ensuring your body breaks down the food a bit slower. Complex carbs boost energy in both the brain and the body. A good time to rustle up this combination is in the later afternoon, when you're feeling rundown, and right before a gym session.

7. Be Prepared

In order to avoid a guilt-ridden trip to the vending machine, do your grocery shopping in advance. Buy ingredients that contain healthy fats, protein, and vitaminsGreek yogurt, dried fruit, organic dark chocolate. If you're stocked up with all these goodies, you won't feel compelled to run to a fast food joint.

The next step is crucial, though: Bring these snacks with you. Hide a few at the bottom of your handbag or under your car seat. If they're all tucked away in the pantry at home, they won't serve you much purpose when you're out and about and starving.

Happy snacking!

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