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All about snacking

All about snacking
Do you find it difficult to stop snacking? is it bad to snack or can there be any benefit to it? This ‘all about snacking’ article will hopefully help answer those and other questions and help you either stop or make snacking work for you.

What is snacking?

In simple terms, snacking is where you eat or drink between your regular meals and can be both planned and non planned. The word snack also implies the food you eat between meals is small in portion. However the term snack can mean different things to different people and in different circumstances and the type of food you eat could also determine whether it’s a snack or not.

Why do we snack?

There could be a number of reasons and science hasn’t got an answer as to why some of us do and some don’t.

However here are some reasons that may lead us to snack:

Hunger – some of us get hungry quite often, sometimes this is down to actually feeling physically hungry or because our hormones make us believe we are hungry.

Boredom – when your brain has nothing to do or you aren’t really concentrating on anything interesting or important, you can start thinking you are hungry or feel like a treat to stimulate your senses.

Emotions / comfort – many people will snack because they are feeling low or stressed and looking for comfort. You then crave something pleasurable and decide that you want something that tastes nice to get pleasure from eating.

Social occasions – well everyone else is eating, the food is provided, which are often tasty nibbles and it’s just there easily available at arm’s length.

Convenience – quite often the mere fact that the food is there and easily available can just be enough to make you  eat it. Modern processes, packaging and storage of food means we are more likely to have food at hand. Often the food we eat for convenience doesn’t require cooking or preparation and are therefore quick unhealthy snacks.

Habit – It’s become a habit that we simply just do.

Health – to provide even energy or energy for a workout and/or keep a positive nitrogen balance.

Is snacking bad for you?

The question of whether snacking is bad for you is a hotly debated question and I’m afraid that the answer isn’t a black or white one. The biggest issue of providing pros and cons for snacking is that some research has shown that it is good and some that has shown it to be bad.

Some people in research trials have been shown to gain weight while others have been shown to lose weight. Some feel it provides constant energy, while others feel a roller coaster ride with their energy levels. It appears that different people react differently. So with that…….

When is snacking bad for you?

What you eat and what your energy requirements are rather than when you eat can have the biggest impact on your health. The problem for many is the way in which they snack. If you eat high energy foods and you are a sedentary person sitting on the couch or behind a desk then you are likely to gain unhealthy weight and also affect your health in general with the wrong type of foods.

For some people eating between meals doesn’t reduce what they eat for their main meals by much, despite snacking often reducing hunger. Many people will go over the top with their snacks and it doesn’t help that these bad foods don’t fill you up and only reduce hunger for short periods of time, which is a big issue for those looking to lose weight.

Also if you have any digestive issues then it may be best not to snack and to just eat three meals a day to maintain a healthy gut. This will allow your digestive system a rest from having to digest food and reduce the acid and digestive juices in your gut. You should ideally have periods of 4 hours plus between meals in this case (Please however seek medical advice if you have any issues with your gut/digestion).

To keep it simple here is a list of unhealthy snacking habits:

  • Eating processed foods in general is bad for your health, plus filling yourself with bad foods leaves less room for the healthy foods.
  • Eating while you are doing something else like watching TV or on the computer can lead to you over eating, where you eat constantly and not notice you have just finished a whole packet of biscuits for example.
  • Over eating. Snacking can be a problem for some as it takes time for your brain to recognise when you have eaten. This leads to over eating as you haven’t had the signal to say stop long before you have consumed too much.
  • Many people eat for emotional and boredom reasons and will go for food just because it tastes nice. This often leads to a vicious circle as you then feel guilty and emotional again.
  • You don’t eat enough healthy foods during the day, especially breakfast and end up searching for convenient foods at night.
  • You scoff your food down too quickly.
  • Purely eating out of greed and when you’re not hungry.

How to stop snacking

If snacking is causing you issues or you simply want to eat just regular meals try the following:

  • Brush your teeth between your regular meals.
  • Don’t shop when hungry, as you are likely to buy convenient snack type foods. Shop only for what you need, not want, if it isn’t in the house you won’t be able to eat it.
  • Drink more water
  • Get more quality sleep
  • Eat more fibre and protein with your meals to fill you up and suppress hunger for longer.
  • Get busy between meals
  • Don’t skip your regular meals
  • Eat slower
  • Use plain old strength and willpower
  • When you eat three square meals a day, view your meal time as a time to sit down, digest it and chew it and not eat while driving or on the move, which can give you heart burn and stomach aches. Use these meal times to stop to eat and sit down at a table. Better still if you have a family, sit together.

If you want to snack

There can be many reasons for you to want to snack.

People visiting this blog for example who are likely working out and want to time their nutrition around their workout session. In this instance you will want specific foods/drinks to have before or after your workout and may not necessarily want to have something too big 30 mins – 1 hr before you workout.

Some people can suffer from low blood sugar and energy if they don’t eat at regular intervals spread throughout the day. For these types of people snacking may be required to keep them from getting hungry and moody. Those that have active jobs may also need to replace lost energy and find waiting for a meal 3-4 hours away too long to maintain their energy levels.

This isn’t and shouldn’t be however an excuse to eat a candy bar or junk food. It is more important that you stick to higher protein and fibre foods, which will help keep you satiated and your blood sugar levels more even much better than high energy sugary and fatty foods.

If you workout and are looking to maintain or gain muscle you will want to keep a positive nitrogen balance. This is where your body has a good supply of protein (amino acids) to help the body repair and recover from your workout, rather than having a negative nitrogen balance which can breakdown muscle and tissue instead. Ingesting protein every 2-3 hours can help maintain a positive nitrogen balance without trying to eat/ingest enough protein with just three large protein intakes a day.

In fact regardless of whether you are looking to gain or maintain muscle or not, you should still be looking to eat more protein and high fibre foods. This could also be a good time to use snaking to increase your fruit and vegetable intake as well.

How to snack healthily

Well firstly….. you need to eat healthy foods and not empty calorie foods that don’t actually do a good job of suppressing your appetite. If you feel having a snack is required then what you snack on is the biggest issue. Most people will grab the most convenient foods around them. Sugary and bad fat foods are easy for you to just keep eating, those include surprise, surprise….foods like ice cream / cakes / biscuits / sweets / milk chocolate, salty foods like crisps, crackers and of course soft and hot sugary drinks. But also most processed food, junk foods and fast foods, which are generally high in saturated fats and salt. You should also watch out for so called healthy snacks, that include cereal bars, white bread sandwiches and man-made so called low fat/sugar/calorie concoctions.

For many people snacking on the right foods can  keep hunger at bay and provide the potential for lowering bad cholesterol, improve lipid concentrations and blood pressure.

Two choices

You can either have snacks between your regular meals or change the mindset and split your meals into smaller portions.

Choice 1. Snacks between your regular meals

Useful tips for healthy snacking include:

  • Choose healthy options only.
  • Plan and prepare your food so you know what you’re going to eat, rather than just grabbing what is convenient.
  • Plan your meal times. Knowing when you are going to eat can often help stop random snacking habits.
  • Keep general snacks to 2 times per day (not including any specific pre and post workout nutrition). For example: breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner, evening/pre bed snack.
  • When eating away from home it is always better to take prepared and packed snacks.
  • Watch those calories and portion sizes.
  • Don’t drink a snack, whole foods will be better for filling you up.
  • Make your snack a meal instead (see choice 2).

Good snack choices include:

  • Plain popcorn
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Plain yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Dark chocolate
  • Jerky
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Fish, like Salmon

Choice 2. Spread your nutrition out and change the wording and your mindset

Spread out your main meals into equal portions and ditch the word ‘snack’.

For many it may be better to split your nutrition into 5-6 meals per day.

I like to think of my daily food intake as a total. I eat for a purpose to satisfy my energy and health requirements. Therefore I split my ‘meals’ around my daily activities. i.e. I don’t look at my meals as breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in-between. I simply split my meals into breakfast, early lunch, lunch or pre workout nutrition, post workout nutrition, dinner, evening meal and pre bed time meal. At no stage is there the word snack. My meals are planned and spread out instead. I often will take my dinner and remove 1/3 of it and have that for a late evening meal to stop me looking for an easy to grab food I shouldn’t be eating. I also like to eat more protein foods in the evening. If I feel extra hungry, I’ll add more vegetables on my plate.


Whether you decide to eat snacks between your regular meals or split your nutrition into smaller portions spread throughout the day or eat three square meals a day, be sure to eat the large majority of your food from healthy sources. And while science and research continue to argue about the pros and cons of snacking, what works best for you may come down to what you can fit into your daily life and activities.

If you’re eating whether snacking or binge eating and it is becoming or is an issue, please seek medical advice.