Mindful snacking: what—and when—you nibble may help shed extra pounds
By Clay Holtzman, Hutchinson Center science writer
How’s this for an easy, diet-related New Year’s resolution: If you can’t give up snacking between meals, just make sure nothing hits your belly between breakfast and lunch.
A new study by the Hutchinson Center’s Anne McTiernan, a cancer prevention researcher, shows that the little bites you have after breakfast and before lunch—the pastry at the coffee stand or the sweet hidden in your desk drawer—is taking a big bite out of your diet plan.
McTiernan led a yearlong study that found dieters who had a snack between breakfast and lunch lost an average of 7 percent of their body weight, while those who didn’t lost 11 percent.
“We think this finding may not relate necessarily to the time of day one snacks, but rather to the short interval between breakfast and lunch. Mid-morning snacking therefore might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger,” McTiernan said.
But snacks aren’t all bad, according to McTiernan.
“Snacking could be part of a dieter’s toolkit if they’re eating in response to true hunger. Individuals should determine if they experience long intervals—such as more than five hours—between meals. Adding a snack might help people deal better with hunger and ultimately help them to make more sound choices at their next meal,” she said.
But what if your stomach starts growling at 10:30 in the morning?
“Many people think that a weight-loss program has to mean always feeling hungry,” McTiernan said. “Our study suggests that snacking may actually help with weight loss if not done too close to another meal, particularly if the snacks are healthy foods that can help you feel full without adding too many calories.”
So, reach for a non-fat yogurt, string cheese or fruit—items with protein that pack a nutritional punch and are low in calories.
The snack findings are part of a larger trial to test the effects of nutrition and exercise on breast cancer risk.
Here’s something else to chew on:
- Nationwide surveys indicate that 97 percent of U.S. adults report snacking.
- One study found that the most commonly preferred snacks were salty and crunchy items such as potato chips, pretzels and nuts; baked goods such as cookies and cakes; fruits; and ice cream.