Many people who struggle with weight snack far more than they need to, making sustained weight loss nearly impossible. This is a tough subject for many of my patients, as it is tied into habits that have been hardwired since childhood. It is really important to identify your snacking patterns/habits if your goal is losing weight and keeping it off forever.  Which of these snacking patterns describe you?  

Snacking archetypes

  • The abstainer: One of those that rarely snack (lucky you!)
  • The growler: If their is a growl in the belly, it must be time to eat. 
  • The grazer: This snacker eat small amounts of food all day rather than eat full meals. Many with this pattern of snacking think they are not in fact eating that much, when in reality they are consuming far, far more calories than they would if they ate actual meals. Some grazers have succeeded in training their body to live on what I call the “gas-station diet”; a diet that consists only of food one may find in a gas station.
  • The self soother: This snacker eats when they are bored or stressed, as it makes them feel a little bit better (for a few minutes, at least)
  • The “low blood sugar” nurser: Some people have been led to believe that they need to eat every few hours in order to “keep their blood sugar up”, because they were told this repeatedly in their youth. The corollary to this is the true low blood sugar nurser. In this case (where the low blood sugar is real), there is a problem with the medication they are on. In type 2 diabetes, it is because they are on the wrong medication most likely (modern type 2 diabetes drugs rarely cause low blood sugar). In type 1 diabetes, it typically happens when on too much basal insulin, have insulin ratios that are not fine tuned, or have less than perfect carb counting skills.
  • The “metabolism booster”: This snacker has been led to believe that snacking boosts their metabolism, hence helping weight loss (though for some reason that has never worked).  Some of my patients tell me they think they can’t lose weight because “don’t eat enough”. That is nonsense. Unfortunately, this is still is taught by some out of date dietitians (for example). If someone ever told you that you need to eat more to lose weight, please tell them you are never listening to them ever again.
  • The social snacker: “Hey, free donut!” This snacker feels compelled to eat any and all free food at work. And at any gathering, be it kids sports, church gatherings, parties, etc.
  • The “healthy” snacker: They don’t eat sweets, but they do eat 500 calories of pretzels or chips a day. They don’t drink soda, but routinely polish off a half gallon of juice or milk in a day.
  • The workout snacker: This snacker rewards themself with food because they exercised, completely negating the weight loss benefit of the effort they exerted.
  • The mommy snacker: This snkacer does not make snacks for themself, but needs to taste test anything she makes for the kids.
  • The couch potato: This snacker associates screen time with snack time, and ends up getting in one last 300-500 calorie bolus of food while winding down watching Netflix or playing PS4 before bed.
  • The liquid snacker: Because that KitKat Coolata you grabbed at Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t really a snack, it’s a drink! You know it has a bunch of sugar, but it can’t be that bad, right? Hate to break it to you, but 2 days worth of carbohydrates (226 grams) is pretty bad.
  • The wine down snacker: Work and parenting is tough, and a beer or glass of wine (perhaps 2 sometimes) takes the edge off. Just averaging 1 beer or wine per day is enough calories to add 15 pounds of weight in just one year.

How can you modify your snacking behavior?

A cognitive behavioral therapist can help you out immensely if with some of these behaviors. Some of these therapists use what is referred to as the “Beck Method” of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and I have patients who have made breakthroughs using this method after failing many times in the past. I recommend CBT for anyone who has struggled with weight loss, but I find that most patients do not have an open mind to this type of therapy, which is a shame. If you’re curious but not ready to take the CBT plunge yet, I recommend the book The Diet Trap Solution, which is a CBT book written by Judith Beck, whose method I mentioned above.

I don’t have any specialized training in CBT and the recommendations below contain no special insights into modifying these behaviors, but I will give a couple thoughts on each pattern.

  • The growler: First, be aware that it is normal and healthy to be hungry during some times of the day. Second, reassess the amount of fat in your meals. Reassess how much fluid you are drinking (thirst triggers hunger signals too). Try breaking the hunger signal with an activity.
  • The grazer: This type of eating pattern is incompatible with long-term weight loss. You probably don’t cook, either because you live alone or because you never learned. That can’t be an excuse for this type of destructive eating. If you need to, work with your doctor, dietitian, or therapist to get to the bottom of this eating pattern and fix it.
  • The self soother: Snacking to relieve stress or depression is common, and nothing to be ashamed of, but is a tough pattern to break. Think about trying cognitive behavioral therapy. You may also consider whether you have untreated depression, and may benefit from treatment (there are many treatments for depression, including medications.)
  • The “low blood sugar” nurser: Are you on meds that can actually cause hypoglycemia? If you are, talk to your doctor about modifying your medications to those that have a lower risk of hypoglycemia. If you aren’t sure, please ask your doctor. You need to know what medications can cause low blood sugar (and if possible, try to get off them)! A continuous glucose monitor or flash glucose meter can help show you how low your blood sugar is actually going. I really like Freestyle Libre for people with type 2 diabetes, since it affordable (as of 8/2019 it costs $75 to anyone with commercial insurance). If you have type 1 diabetes, then I recommend 3 things. First, a continuous glucose monitor. Second, finding a good endocrinologist or diabetes educator to work with to help you troubleshoot And third, the book Sugar Surfing.
  • The “metabolism booster”: No comment.
  • The social snacker: Do not let this common problem sabotage you. Make a rule to never eat free food at work. Avoid eating at church gatherings as much as possible (or bring your own food). If you are at kids sports frequently and think you will absolutely need a snack, bring your own.
  • The “healthy” snacker: This is easy. Stop fooling yourself with silly marketing. Here is an easy rule. A healthy snack has less than 15 grams of carbohydrate.
  • The workout snacker: Pre-workout protein or carbs can indeed help performance, but if your goal is weight loss, then is performance really that important? Post-workout protein (not carbs) can absolutely help recovery, but you need to be extremely careful that you aren’t overdoing it and consuming enough calories to negate your workout.
  • The mommy snacker: No more tasting. Better yet, try to cut back on making snack for your kids, since they don’t really need to snack if they are eating meals.
  • The couch potato: I want you to break this habit if possible, as it is going to slow down or prevent your weight loss goal. Try sipping on hot decaffeinated tea (which can be soothing and help get your body ready for sleep) if you need to be consuming something. If you really feel you absolutely need to snack, then try to keep it to 15 grams of carbohydrate or less. Absolutely no ice cream or sweets on the couch.
  • The liquid snacker: This is easy. Don’t drink anything with calories. If you want some fancy drink during the day, it needs to be sugar-frss.
  • The wine down snacker: You need to find another outlet for stress relief. It is nearly impossible to have long term weight loss if you have a 150-300 calorie per day drinking habit. Easy rule: no drinking on weekdays