Q & A: What’s the better snack for weight loss: nuts, dried fruit, apple and peanut butter, or protein bars?
A: The answer is none of the above. The Oxford dictionary defines snacks as “small amounts of food eaten between meals” and “a sexually attractive person.” Let’s use the first definition, and highlight that snacks are extra extra food. Meals are your intended or planned eating, and snacks are bonus eating.
Now I can restate this question more clearly: what source of extra calories will help me consume fewer calories? Hopefully, when you read it like this, the answer is clear: the snack with the least number of calories will help with weight loss the most. Since negative calorie foods do not exist, the best snack is water.
What about when I am hungry between meals?
Losing weight nearly always requires hunger. Losing weight means being in a calorie deficit, and when our bodies are in a deficit (turning to fat stores for energy), then we will feel hungry. Selling people the lie that they should not be hungry in particular, nor uncomfortable in general is great for boosting consumption and sales, but it’s not good for the people.
We also experience cravings when we haven’t had our high-reward foods. This is both similar and different than when a smoker has gone too long between cigarettes. High-reward foods are things like chips, cookies, breaded chicken (meat or vegetarian version), etc. Combinations of sugar, fat and salt light up our brains and create an compounding desire for more.
All of this is to say that you will be hungry and/or have cravings between meals for very good reasons: one is that you are actually burning your body fat, and the other is that you’re not giving in to cravings, which is how you weaken it’s hold on you. Between meal cravings and hunger are not problems to eradicate, but uncomfortable side effects of progress that you can learn to cope with.
As you already know, discomfort is an unavoidable part of life. The greater your urgency to “get rid of it” the more it rules your life, and the more intense & frustrating it becomes.
Coping and Things to Do
Here are the most effective strategies I am aware of to help deal with cravings and hunger.
1. Keep busy. Not with the intent of pretending your feelings don’t exist, but to not dwell or ruminate on them. When I had my kidney stones I showed up to work as a coach because having other people to pay attention to kept me from blowing my own excruciating pain out of proportion. When I was at home resting was when my pain was the absolute worst.
2. Limit temptation. I repeat “if it’s in your house it’s in your mouth” every month because there’s no getting around it. If it’s Girl Scout cookie season, and if I keep them on the counter, or at eye level in the pantry then I’m going to have one each time I pass the box.
a. Instead of beating yourself up for being “weak willed” or “undisciplined,” try putting your willpower and discipline to work on reducing the amount of temptation.
b. Motivational speakers are wrong, our bodies are precisely the product of our environments and you can adjust your environment.
3. Movement breaks. Movement stimulates the release of catecholamines. Catecholamines stimulate the reward centers of your brain which makes it easier to deal with cravings. They also mobilize stored energy and turn down hunger.
a. Doing something that is difficult enough to get you at least a little out of breath helps to get the catecholamines going faster.
b. Walking up and down the stairs, or jogging in place (in socks, not heels) for 5-10 min is something that most people can do in work clothes. These are not the only options, but they don’t require wardrobe changes or equipment, so they’re easily accessible.
4. Drink up. All liquids take up space in your stomach, and that can be really helpful for coping with craving or temptation.
a. Plain water is great, and carbonated water seems to be more helpful for some people.
b. If there’s enough time before your bedtime, a zero calorie, caffeinated beverage can also help take the edge off you hunger and cravings.
5. Gum. Sugar-free gum isn’t no calorie, but it is low calorie, and the chewing and flavor can be really helpful for some people. Minty seems to be the most helpful part of the flavor pallet.
If you still insist on something to eat, then try raw fruits or veggies with no toppings or accompaniments. Does this sound lame, and unexciting? That’s because it is. The more interesting or exciting you make your snacks the more calories they will contain, and the more of them you will eat. If you think you need a snack and you wouldn’t eat plain old carrots, then you are not hungry, you are craving stimulation, and I’d suggest a movement break.