If I could sum up the one weight loss tip that has been more important to my weight loss journey than all others in 2021, the one thing that made it possible to stick to my plan, it would be this one:
No Snacking Between Meals
Let me explain why this is the most important diet strategy:
Looking back at 2021, I’ve learned so much about myself and my eating habits. I’ve really tried to be reflective and find out, why I eat, why I overeat, how to maintain my weight loss, how to avoid temptations, which foods are triggers for me, what my reasons for sticking to my diet are, and more.
But because I’m human, the answers to these questions are always changing.
Sometimes, I can’t control myself around certain foods, while other times I have incredible discipline.
For every habit I believe I struggle with, I can find evidence in my behavior of a time I didn’t struggle with the same thing. Finding out where I am, in different seasons of my life, and how to best cope with my challenges is going to be a life long pursuit. It requires me to be thoughtful before I impulsively indulge in foods, and be reflective when I do.
Throughout the year, there was one thing that was true-it was easiest to stick to my food plan when I didn’t graze, snack, taste my food as I prepped it, or told myself this one bite doesn’t matter, etc. When I didn’t eat between meals, I kept my weight off.
My slippery slope
This past month, I did a LOT of snacking. I took about 10 days off of exercise during the holidays, and I was pretty consistently eating between meals. Let’s be honest. Food is ALWAYS within arms reach!
It’s a slippery slope. It always starts with one untracked bite of leftovers, or treats sitting on the counter, and it balloons to zero tracking and bowl after bowl after bowl of cereal in between meals.
It’s not that my weight got out of control. It was only a few weeks of eating mindlessly, but I felt out of control, and I don’t like that feeling at all. When I feel disciplined, I feel good. When I give into every craving the second I have it, I don’t feel good.
Just so you can get to know me a little better, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the times I eat when it’s not meal time.
- I have a habit of getting something to eat before I start on a project, when I finish a project, or when I get home from being out.
- I have a habit of eating while I cook or prepare food.
- I have a habit of getting a craving, and indulging it IMMEDIATELY. Without discipline or being conscious of my actions.
- After a meal, I graze while cleaning up the kitchen.
My goal for 2022
It takes 66 days to solidify a habit.
There’s pretty good research indicating that the true length of time to form a habit is 66 days (source)
Do you know how awesome it would be if I only ate at 7 am, noon, and 5 pm. Three meals and a high protein dessert. If the habit was so strong that at 10am I wasn’t even thinking about food. I think that would be a success.
So, here are 10 tips I have considered would help me stick to the best habit of not eating between meals:
- Before I eat the meal, I clean up the food prep. This way, I’m not continuing to eat while I clean up, after I’m already done with my meal.
- I’m Not going to eat while cooking. This is VERY difficult for me. I literally have no idea why it’s so hard. But if I could stop nibbling on food while I’m cooking, I’m sure I’d be cutting out a massive amount of calories.
- Learn to pause between stimulus of wanting to eat and the response of eating. When I first started losing weight, this was the only thing I did, and it was so important in starting my weight loss journey. Pausing more, being reflective and thoughtful is important in ALL areas of life, including dieting. (read more about this weight loss strategy here)
- Get snack food out of the house. I am capable of overeating even the healthiest of snack foods. Even rice cakes! There have been many days when I’ve eaten a whole package of rice cakes. Although I don’t believe this would ruin my weight loss, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. So pretzels, crackers, rice cakes, popcorn, etc, if I’m not going to eat it during meal time, I don’t need it in my cupboards.
- Practice NOT taking action on my impulses. When you take action on a craving, it reinforces the behavior. It’s SO hard to say no and not indulge when the urge hits. But, the ability to walk away from the urge gets stronger each time you do it. In fact, I’ve been known to keep a tally of the times I’ve walked away from indulging a craving during a day, and it does get easier every time you do it.
- Studies show, not eating the food reduces cravings better than eating the food. When I’m craving a snack, one hour after eating a meal, not eating it actually helps cravings go away than eating it. (great source here!)
- Pause to ask myself, “Why did I overeat?” and “Was it worth it?” Being reflective has been so important in my weight loss journey. Being present and asking questions to why you do certain behaviors is not just enlightening, but can help you create better health habits.
- Knowing the consequences of telling myself, “just this once.” I know eating off plan once in awhile does not lead to weight gain. But what it does lead to, is reinforcing a habit of grazing, and eating multiple times of ‘just this once’. Once I start, it’s a slippery slope. This year I want to catch myself every time I tell myself, just this once, and decide if it’s true.
- When I slip up, I won’t skip the next meal! This is a tough strategy, that inherently feels wrong, but in the long term, helps me stay more consistent. Here’s what it looks like (as evidence by just YESTERDAY. haha). Yesterday, I decided I wouldn’t eat between meals. I ate at 8am, and was planning my next meal at noon. But at 9am, I sat down to start working, and immediately had an urge to just “get a little snack to help me concentrate.” Was I hungry? No. Was it a habit that I would get a little snack before I started working? Absolutely. Unfortunately, I caved and got myself a tasty Built Bar. December me would have kept snacking and decided I would just turn it into a meal and then I’d skip lunch. New me, decided to accept the slip up, and just start again with a real, proper lunch, and it worked! The rest of the day I wasn’t snacking and I didn’t tell myself “screw it anyway and start fresh tomorrow.” I started fresh 3 hours later! It was much more effective than trying to make up for it by skipping the next meal. In fact, I like so much that this worked, that I might write more about this strategy in the future.
- Stay busy between meals. Getting bored is a huge reason I eat between meals. But, when I’m in flow, working on an article or project, the time between meals goes so quickly! Finding ways to stay busy is good for me. When I don’t feel like doing something, I can easily decide to do something easy and mindless and not let it be food. Watching crime shows on Youtube or reading a magazine actually works for me.
So, those are my best tips for sticking to my diet in the new year. The most important thing to remember is to keep, the behavior, not the result under your control. You can measure the success of not eating between meals, but you can’t control what the scale says each day. The behavior, not the result, is the goal!
So, Who’s with me in avoiding mindless snacking in 2022?? Tell me in the comments below!
- Making Health Habitual, British Journal of General Practice
- James Clear, How long does it take to form a habit, with science
- Neurobiology of cravings, Harvard
- Never Binge Again- a great book and podcast.