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Snacking Your Way Slim

Snacking Your Way Slim: Main Image
Snack smart. Mix carbohydrates--think fruit or whole grain crackers--with protein and fat
In the US and other Western nations, between one-half and three-quarters of adults are overweight or obese. If we turn this picture around, however, we can be cheered by the realization that one-quarter to one-half of adults have figured out how to stay fit and healthy. How do they do it? If the latest research is any indication, snacking may be one of the secret keys to staying slim.

On your path to healthy weight, make plenty of pitstops

To study the connection between eating frequency and body weight, researchers tracked the dietary habits and physical activity levels of three groups over nine months:

  • Weight-loss maintainers--96 previously overweight adults who had successfully lost and kept off excess weight to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Normal-weight people--80 normal weight adults who had never been overweight
  • Overweight people--81 overweight adults

After collecting and analyzing the nutrition and exercise data, the researchers found that there were no significant differences between the groups in the average number of meals eaten each day. However:

  • The number of snacks eaten per day was highest in the normal-weight adults, who consumed an average of 2.3 snacks daily.
  • Weight-loss maintainers averaged 1.9 daily snacks.
  • Overweight adults averaged 1.5 daily snacks.

Self-reported physical activity levels were highest in weight-loss maintainers, followed by normal-weight people, and lowest in overweight adults.

Smarter snacking and other slim secrets

This study suggests that even with ever-present food temptations and modern conveniences that contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, certain health habits can turn the tide in our favor. Use the following snacking tips and other tricks to find your best, healthy weight.

  • Dine discreetly. Have three distinct meals and two separate snacks per day, rather than simply grazing constantly. The study defined a snack as being separated from another meal or snack by at least one hour and containing at least 50 calories.
  • Snack selectively. To benefit from frequent snacking--a good way to keep hunger from getting out of control and later overeating--snack smart. Mix carbohydrates--think fruit or whole grain crackers--with protein and fat. Try an apple and almond butter, cottage cheese and a banana, or Greek yogurt with low-fat granola.
  • Move more. This study confirms what many other studies on weight maintenance have found: once a person has been overweight, he or she may need to exercise a bit more than someone who has never been overweight, in order to stay at a new, healthy body weight. Find an activity you enjoy and do it consistently, or mix it up with lots of different activities if you're the type to get bored. For some people, finding an exercise buddy or choosing a good reward for exercising (like going to the movies) may help with motivation,
  • Try, try again. It's okay if you slip off the healthy eating bandwagon now and then. People who have the most success maintaining a healthy body weight do so by simply getting back on track the very next meal or snack after they've over-indulged. Avoid "I've blown it now, so I may as well eat whatever I want" thinking.
(J Am Diet Assoc 2011; 111:1730-4)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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