A brief guide to healthy snacking

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I came across this story today which refers to a study conducted by psychologist Brian Wansink and his team at Cornell University in the US. Professor Wansink is the author of the book ‘Mindless Eating’, and has a special interest in the often-unconscious factors that determine what and how much we eat. If you haven’t read his book, I thoroughly recommend it.

In this experiment, individuals were allowed to eat Pringles-type potato chips from a tube. Some individuals just ate regular chips. However, in other groups, the regular chips were interspersed with chips that had been coloured red. The study subjects did not know why some chips had been coloured red. Those eating these ‘segmented’ chips ate about half as many as those eating regular chips. Here are three mechanisms through which the authors suggests the inclusion of red chips might cause people to eat less:

they call attention to and encourage better monitoring of eating
they suggest smaller consumption (portion size) norms
they break automated eating sequences by introducing a pause

All of this makes sense, but what practical tactics exist for ensuring snacking does not turn into excessive eating or gorging? I know from my own experience and frommany experiences with clients that once we start, it can be difficult to stop eating snack foods until they are all gone (however big the portion). Here’s a brief guide to dealing with mindless eating isues.

Out of sight…

Back in September 2010 I wrote a blog post about combating ‘mindless eating’ by ensuring that snack foods are not kept visible. Constant visual reminders about foods will tend to cause us to eat more of them, pure and simple. So, snack foods (and foods in general) should be stored out of sight.

Don’t buy it

If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. So, you might want to consider making your home (and perhaps your workspace) devoid of rubbishy snacks.

Go nuts

For people who aren’t allergic, I think nuts make a very good snack. Some raw nuts, for example, represent a decent and usually satisfying snack. They can help quell appetite in the late afternoon and early evening and make eating healthily in the evening far easier than if hunger is left to run riot.

Some people have the opinion that raw nuts are a bit boring and that they’d rather eat salted, dry roast, hickory-smoked or some other more flavoursome type of nut. I am not into the idea of people going through their lives perpetually denying themselves food pleasures, but the more we like a food and the more ‘rewarding’ it is, the more we tend to eat of it. It’s partly because raw nuts are a bit unexciting that they make an ideal snack (not many people will knock themselves out over a fistful of raw almonds).

A bit at a time

Sitting in front of the TV with a bag of nuts or chips or whatever in your hand is just asking for trouble. As Brian Wansink’s latest study shows, some method of interrupting our ‘grazing’ seems to reduce the amount we tend to eat. One way of employing this practically is to, say, take a handful of nuts from a packet, and to put the packet back in the cupboard, drawer, purse or briefcase before eating them. If more nuts are needed, you can always go back. But it makes sense to avoid having an unopened packet (particularly a large one) in front of you for extended periods of time.

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