We hear that said all the time, when giving advice about how to lose weight.
Its not without good reason…snacks are usually hyper-palatable, calorically dense, and nutrient poor…in other words they are most likely to cause you to eat more than less.
Obviously we want to stay away from standard snack foods like chips, crackers, cookies, and candy, but what about all those “healthy” snack foods?
Paleo/Keto/Primal snacks are not magical…you can just as easily over consume them as traditional snack foods.
Just because you took a sweet potato and fried it in coconut oil and turned it into a chip doesn’t mean you will be able to stop eating them after one handful. Yeah these chips are “Paleo” but they are still hyperpalatable.
Pick your favorite Paleo/Keto/Primal “protein bar” and I guarantee they are several hundred calories of deliciousness. Eat one and you probably want more.
The same is true of things like nuts, and nut butters.
A couple handful of nuts can be well north of 500 calories.
Two spoonfuls of your favorite nut butter is no different. Ever measured out 1 tablespoon of a nut butter before? It is not a lot, and it’s 200 calories (or more!). I bet when you stick that spoon in the jar and pull out that “spoonful” of nut butter it’s probably well north of 200 calories.
So yeah…ideally you would not snack, but I have yet to have a client that has not asked me what to eat for a snack.
I tend to tackle the snacking question by trying to get to the root cause of why they want a snack in the first place.
Are they bored?
When we are sitting around with nothing to do our monkey brain starts thinking about all the delicious food in our cabinets, before we know it we are tearing them apart looking for the hidden bag of chocolate.
Are they thirsty?
When we don’t drink enough water our body starts sending signals for us to get hydrated, but we can often misinterpret that signal as hunger. Besides, what is tastier water or food? Food of course! Yet again we find ourselves in the cabinet or fridge trying to quench our thirst with gummy bears.
Was their previous meal not big enough or lacking satiating foods?
This is a problem I see all too often. Many times people who are trying to lose weight are eating meals that do not contain a lot of food volume so they find themselves unsatisfied and looking for something else. Sometimes they are lacking protein at each meal, or other times it’s because they are just eating protein and fat and little else. The solution is to add more food volume in the form of vegetables and/or leaner proteins.
Did they skip one or more meals?
Intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating are all the rage right now. However, I see way too many people skipping meals or waiting to eat way beyond the point of normal hunger, and when they finally decide to eat they go CRAZY. They can’t even wait for the meal they are preparing to be done cooking. While they are cooking they are snacking on anything and everything they can find.
Did they have a poor night’s sleep?
Lack of sleep has been known to disrupt our hunger hormones . Sleep poorly and you are going to be more likely to want to snack than you would if you didn’t.
Are they under a lot of stress?
When we are under a lot of stress we want some kind of comfort to help relieve the stress. One of the places we find comfort is in food, particularly foods we have associated with good memories…cake, cookies, candy, and alcohol.
Fortunately if we address the underlying causes above the desire to snack almost always goes away.
But what happens if you truly just need a snack? What should you eat?
I always tell clients to do three things before they reach for a snack.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Go for a walk.
- Meditate or do something cognitively demanding.
Why these three things? They tackle some of the major problems above…they satisfy your thirst, eliminate boredom, and reduce stress.
If you do those things and you are still hungry, where do you turn?
In a recent study, participants consumed 210 calories worth of fruit containing virtually no protein, or soybeans containing about 18g of protein as a snack in the late morning. The group that ate the soybeans lost 6 lbs, decreased their waist circumference by 4.9 cm and ate less calories. The group that consumed fruit gained nearly 2 lbs, only decreased their waist circumference by 0.9 cm, and increased their caloric consumption.
The protein group also gained more muscle and lost more fat, however this was assessed via bioelectrical impedance and is not the most reliable way to assess body composition, still it looks more favorable for the protein group.
This is not to say snacking on fruit is a bad thing, but if you are trying to eat less and meet a protein goal, using protein as your snack is your best bet. Unlike typical snack foods, protein is nutrient dense, low calorie, and very satiating.
So what are some good protein snacks?
In this study researchers used soybeans. That’s perfectly fine, but I would try animal sources of protein first (assuming you eat them). Here is a list of animal based protein snacks I would consider.
Jerky: Epic, PaleoValley, and COMPS all make great animal based jerkys.
Canned Seafood and Meat: Any kind of canned fish or meat are good options. I like Wild Planet’s products. They not only have fish, but also chicken and beef.
Yogurt: Yogurt, particularly dairy yogurt, can be a great option for protein as well. Get some unsweetened yogurt, top it with some fruit, add some honey or maple syrup and you have a perfect high protein snack! If you want to kick the protein content up a bit, add some protein powder to it!
Eggs: Nature’s perfect package….nutrient dense, tasty, and filling! Pre-make some hard boiled eggs, and throw them in the fridge. Just pop a couple whenever that craving hits!
Sliders: Make your own sliders!!!! Use your favorite ground meat, and make mini burger patties. Again these can be stored in the fridge and taken out whenever you need them. The only thing I would suggest is you use a leaner cut of ground meat, remember we are looking for more protein not necessarily high fat.
What about from an ancestral perspective, did our ancestors snack? Honestly the concept of a “snack” is something created by the modern food industry. It wasn’t until we had the ability to package and preserve foods did snacks become a thing. Before that, if you wanted something to eat you made the food. At best you could grab a piece of fruit.
When our ancestors came across food, regardless of whether they were hungry or not, they ate. A perfect example is when modern hunter and gatherer tribes come across a beehive. They stop whatever they are doing and go through extraordinary efforts to get their hands on the honey in the hive and devour it.
They don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, whether the hunt they may be on will be successful, food is no guarantee for them. Today we have the equivalent of beehives within our reach 365 days a year. Even though we don’t have any worry about where our food will come from, our ancestral instincts kick in and we get signals to devour all the honey we can. This is why boredom can easily lead to snacking, our instincts get the best of us. As Robb Wolf has said, we are wired to eat (snack)!
So while snacking in its modern form was not a thing thousands of years ago, our ancestors had the same “snacking behaviors” we have today. The difference is that food was not within arms reach at a moment’s notice. To solve this problem we need to combat our natural instincts by using many of the strategies outlined in this blog post. If you would like to get additional information on how you can overcome modern challenges and better align your lifestyle with our ancestral norms to achieve your goals, use the form below to sign up for my newsletter. Each week you will get a couple of emails packed full of actionable information you can put to work immediately to see meaningful results!
- (n.d.). A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and …. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18564298/ ↑
- (2021, June 30). Effects of 6 Months of Soy-Enriched High Protein Compared … – NCBI. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8308358/ ↑