Hello all and welcome back to the Get Constructive blog.
It is clear from the headline that today’s post will be a bit of a generalisation. Women love snacks. While it doesn’t apply to just women, and of course doesn’t apply to all women, today we are looking at the impact of ‘snacking’ or snack meals on our health and fitness goals, particularly in regards to the fairer sex. Where last week took the form of a business plan, today is a scientific report. You already have the hypothesis, now lets get into the study.
Like any study, we first need to define key terms. Snacking in this context refers to our meals between meals. They are (intended to be) smaller than our main meals and generally incorporate food items of a different nature. Examples of the ladies’ go-to snack foods according to our survey include;
- Rice cakes with peanut butter
- Protein bars/balls/slices
- Nuts and nut butters
- Trail mix
- Crispbreads and flatbreads
The items on this list fall under what we commonly refer to as ‘healthy snacks’ and I have left out the standard fare of the workplace or home that I am sure our female readers have fallen prey to once or twice. These are your cakes, biscuits, chocolates, muffins, flapjacks and sweets- the good stuff. Today’s study is intentionally targeting both of these categories as we will see later on that the guise of ‘healthy snacks’ can lead to trouble if they are taken too far and these so called ‘healthy’ alternatives can potentially be just as detrimental to our plans as the extra tim-tam, twinkie or hobnob with your afternoon cup of tea.
With our aims and terms defined, lets get into the method. Our sample female is sitting at 25% body fat as determined via dexa scan and her aim is to be beach-ready for a European summer at around 18-20%. She is moderately active, exercising three times per week and we therefore have her average Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) at 2200 calories. In laymans terms, she is looking to lose about 5kg and her daily target to do so is around 1700 calories.
Time to home in on the snack factor- over a typical week, on average, our test subject is consuming between 600 and 700 calories per day in foods she classifies as snacks. This isn’t a problem in isolation, provided the overall daily intake is kept in line with the individual’s target total however, this can be a deal breaker on two fronts;
- Where the snack total is allowed to increase to the point where daily caloric targets are surpassed.
- Where the macronutrient (macro) breakdown of these snacks throws the overall daily protein:fat:carb ratio out of proportion.
Combine the two together over an extended period and you have a perfect storm for slow or stalled progress in body composition or even unwanted weight gain.
In regards to the overall snack total, this can be difficult for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is because snacks are sneaky. They are small and innocent and the single chocolate biscuit or teaspoon of peanut butter looks like a pushover compared to our summer bikini-body goals. However, that single small snack portion is rarely satiating enough to tie us over and due to the often the high sugar or salt content (or both) of snack foods- eating one of these little fat gain foot soldiers can actually leave us wanting more… and more…. until you are staring at an empty 500g packet of cashew nuts, mentally debating whether you need the afternoon off for stress leave.
The next issue is what is actually in these little snacks that we love to hate so much. This is an ongoing theme in my posts and involves taking our thinking one step further than the simple calories in vs. calories out approach. We need to ignore the food item itself and forget about the perceived ‘healthy or unhealthy’ label. If packaged, flip the little fella over or if not, input the food into MyFitnessPal and start to take note of the protein, fat, and carbohydrate contents of individual snack foods. For both our healthy and unhealthy snack options, I can guarantee almost all of them will be fat and carbohydrate dominant- even those with protein listed as the selling point.
Like any study, we need to finish with some results and recommendations. The problem is clearly a serious one and even I have had the occasional brain snap and knocked off half a tub of crunchy peanut butter, sending the system into damage control, but with these few tips below it is a problem that together, we can beat.
- Be acutely aware of your snacking habits. Don’t let these little buggers sneak behind enemy lines unnoticed. Snacking, like some negative emotions can be addressed simply by staying aware of urges as they arise. This can take away some of the power snacks have over us by avoiding snack denial and closely watching ourselves when the cookie jar is passed around. This means observing your actual level of hunger at snack time and logging 100% of snacks consumed across the day, not just logging the planned intake and acting like the rest doesn’t count.
- Enforce snack-time limits. We know this is easier said than done and sometimes plain old willpower isn’t enough. One trick is to ensure that adequate amounts of protein, fats and green vegetables are consumed in all main meals as this will help keep you satiated longer and may even remove the need for snacking between meals all together. Drinking water or green tea can help during periods of boredom-related hunger also and I have even been guilty of the occasional diet soda to curb a sweet craving but I recommend these only be used in moderation if at all.
- Make informed snack choices. This is key and should really be extended beyond snacks to your overall diet plan. As already mentioned, it is as easy as reading the labels of packaged food or using various smartphone apps to gain an understanding of what is actually in your food. Just because it is listed as ‘all natural’ or as a ‘protein snack’ doesn’t mean it isn’t high in unwanted sugars or fats and they need to be monitored just as strictly as the ‘less healthy’ alternatives.
- Remove temptation. If you know you can’t stop at one chocolate biscuit, as sad as it may be- just stop buying them. Simply don’t have these foods within reach if you have identified them as your weakness. When it comes to the biscuits and cakes at the office- if you just can’t say no and your goals are being jeopardised, then it may come to a point where you have to ask your colleagues nicely that when mum bakes fresh cookies they don’t bring any in for you, or that you aren’t offered any chocolates when a box is left over from a client meeting. You could even see your new-found positive habits filtering through your team and office…. or you could be ostracised from the rest of the team. Either way, you will be leaner for it!
That’s it for this week’s post- I would love any feedback or tricks/tips you might have for the female (and male) cookie monsters out there that are struggling with their snacking habits and as always- feel free to email any questions or stories and catch us on social media at the links below. Have a great week! GC