The M&M bowl in the office posed a challenge to our two testers, Tonya and Helen, as they worked to take control of their snacking habits in Week 5 of Harvard’s 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating.
Week 5 of the plan makes it clear that uncontrolled snacking can be the enemy of any healthy eating routine. “Sneaky snack calories” are casual and unplanned. I kept a daily snacking diary and found out that while I don’t snack often, I snack poorly. From the community bowl of M&Ms in the office to the secret stash of mini Snickers bars in my top desk drawer, I’m a bigger snacker than I’d like to admit. When I get home from work, I often have a bowl of cereal to hold me over until dinner. Since I think of these as “small snacks,” I tend to overlook them when I tally my daily calorie count. That had to change.
Snacking Strategies. Through the first four weeks of following the 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating, I conquered breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I will not let snacks be my demise! I changed my mid-morning snack from mini-snickers to low-fat yogurt. (The 6-Week Plan suggests non-fat yogurt with berries, but I need more flavor in my yogurt.) And now when I hear someone dipping into the community M&M bowl at work, I grab my water bottle instead of mindlessly gravitating to the candy. At home, I munch on walnuts and dried cranberries if I get hungry before dinner. I guess I have to disclose the bag of Doritos next to my microwave. But wait, it’s not a bad as you think. My trick is to take out two chips, seal the bag with my food saver, and wait until I’m in the next room before I enjoy my treat. At this rate it will take me a month to eat the entire bag, so let’s just pretend I didn’t mention it! See you next week for the wrap-up.
I’ve never been a big snacker. Uh-oh, wait a minute, I think I just fibbed. When I thought about snacks in the past, my concept was of “old-fashioned, sit-down snacks” aka milk and cookies after school. Under that definition, I’m not a snacker. Then I started thinking back to my eating patterns before I embarked on the 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating. I realized I was eating mindlessly—a handful of this as I prepared food; a swipe from the candy bowl at work as I walked past. I was eating because the food was there, not because I was hungry. So I used the advice in the 6-Week Plan to make some rules for myself:
- Rule #1: Eat only if I’m hungry.
- Rule #2: If I think I’m hungry, drink water first. According to the 6-Week Plan, we sometimes confuse thirst with hunger.
- Rule #3: Don’t eat because I’m bored. Do something else instead. Walk the dog. Weed the garden. Listen to music.
- Rule #4: Plan my snacks just like I’ve been planning my meals.
How much is a handful? As part of the planning process, the first thing to go was the concept of “handful,” as in a handful of nuts. By definition, a snack is a small meal. To make sure my snacks were small, I bought plastic snack bags from the grocery store. The smaller size helped me make sure portions were kept under control. It’s hard to cram too many nuts into a snack bag. I cut up some carrots and celery sticks too! Boy, did I feel virtuous as I chopped my veggies. Finally, I stocked up on some plain non-fat yogurt. I added some berries and had a filling snack that also helped make sure I’m getting enough fruit in my diet.
Now if the folks at work would lock up the peanut M&Ms and hide the key, I’d be on my way to full-time healthy snacking.
Tonya Phillips (left) is the Product Marketing Manager at StayWell Consumer Health Publishing. Helen Hoart (right) is President of StayWell Consumer Health Publishing. StayWell is the publishing management agent for Harvard Health Publications.
Join the fun and learn to eat healthfully with the Harvard Medical School Six-Week Plan for Healthy Eating.