Snacking is wrecking your progress

Are you a habitual snacker? Do you spend more time justifying your indulgences than considering how to better manage your treats? Well we’ve been talking about this over in my Facebook group, Uncommon Sense Physique. Here’s what I had to say on the topic.

When you pop that snack in your mouth, in almost all such situations, there is one simple reality.

That the individual–in this case my beautiful wife–wants/seeks the joy of eating the [insert favorite snack food] more than they want [insert desired outcome here].

Worse still, we’ve also found all sorts of ways to make this okay – to rationalize our decision.

  • “It’s just one chocolate.”
  • “Life’s too short to not have a treat.”
  • “It’s been a long day and I just don’t want to think about it.”
  • “I had a salad for lunch.”
  • “I worked out today, I can afford this.”
  • “I’ll work this off at the gym tomorrow.”

This is but a partial list, a list we could probably expand indefinitely. But you get the idea. Can you spot the theme?

Justification

We want so desperately for it to be possible. To snack on what we want, when we want, and yet still wake the next morning to the scale moving in the desired direction.

But people are terrible at guessing calories, assuming they are even trying to “guess” in the first place. And of course, the other challenge is that many of your favorite snack foods are laden with sugars and fats, and thus incredibly calorie dense.

Two of those little Dove chocolates? 120 kcal, with more than half of that coming from fat. And even the “healthy” snacks can wreak havoc on your progress. I mean, a quarter cup of almonds is 170 calories. Have you ever measured out a quarter cup of almonds? It’s not a lot, I can assure you. Personally, I’ve always considered an entire bag a “single serving”.

Now, when you factor in that an individual’s calorie target can be as little as 1700 kcal a day, one quarter cup of almonds is 10% of your daily intake. So you can see, that without a plan, snacking can quickly derail your progress. And we haven’t even talked about your favorite tipple yet!

Have your cake and eat it

Now there are strategies to achieve this – to have your cake and eat it, so to speak.

“Hoping” is certainly not one of them.

I personally rely mostly on discipline. I easily get so focused on my goals that I can ignore and push down my cravings, primarily by reframing discomfort and hunger to mean “progress”.

But if that’s not for you, there are other strategies too.

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) was conceived expressly to allow you to “eat whatever you want”. Unfortunately, it’s poorly understood, heavily over-marketed and frequently abused, particularly in terms of nutritional health.

But assuming you have no medical conditions or dietary restrictions, using IIFYM is definitely a way to enjoy life’s little indulgences. But, as always, there’s a cost. And that cost comes in the form of calorie tracking, and likely making significant concessions in other areas of your daily intake. As always, IIFYM is not “magic”. It doesn’t make high-calorie foods “free”, it simply gives you a framework in which you can “afford” them.

Another option that’s popular with many is IF, or Intermittent Fasting.

I used this very successfully a while back, and it is becoming incredibly mainstream with people like Greg O’Gallagher (Kinobody) pushing it as foundational to his training methodology. But again, it’s not rocket science.

Yes, there are some [much debated] hormonal benefits to short (think 12-16 hour) fasts. And there has been many studies on the long-term health benefits of caloric restriction.

But in this context, the primary mechanism at work is again caloric manipulation, both in terms of restricting the eating window (think intake) and by affording you more calories across fewer meals. But even here, unless you are incredibly disciplined and consistent in your eating, you still need to track your calories.

Negative energy balance

And of course, negative energy balance can be achieved by increasing your energy expenditure through increased exercise and daily habits.

  • Walking instead of driving.
  • Stairs instead of elevator.
  • Stand instead of sit.

All of these small changes can easily give you another 100+ kcal of wiggle room each day.

But at the end of the day, weight loss is all about establishing a negative energy balance. Consuming less calories that you expend over an extended period of time.

So if you are snacking and still making progress, you are not “gifted”. Your body doesn’t defy science. You have not discovered some radical new diet or eating protocol. You are simply in negative energy balance.

To wrap-up: Know what you want. If you really want to progress toward your goal, you are going to have to either take that donut out of your mouth, or put in the work to track your calories and create yourself the space for treats.

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