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  • Eating

What gives you the most trouble with eating—sit-down meals (in or out) or snacking? If the answer is snacking, it’s time to direct your energy and focus to changing your between-meal eating which, in turn, will improve your entire relationship with food.

We used to have most, if not all, our food interactions sitting at a table with others. In fact, much of our eating was done at actual mealtimes. We used to eat a piece of fruit, crackers, or peanut butter to tide us over between lunch and dinner, lick an ice cream cone while out and about, munch popcorn at the movies, enjoy cotton candy at the circus or a red candy-apple after ice skating, and maybe snack on chips and dip before a late-night supper. Even these snacks, however, were generally eaten with our fannies planted firmly on some kind of seat—but rarely a car seat unless you were at a drive-in movie. Snacks were often event related, like the examples above, or for an occasion, say, a holiday or birthday party.

But that was a long time ago for most of us. Now, much of our eating is done between meals and on the go. We’ve become habituated to snacking and feel bereft without it. Snacks are no longer occasional treats, but a daily pastime that we engage in while doing other things or that we squeeze in between activities. In fact, some of you may feel that a life without snacking is no life at all! Moreover, our snacks now are generally of the refined sugar, saturated fat variety and they’re doing damage to our health.

“When Snacks Attack,” an article in the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter (10/2011), helps us understand what happens when we snack constantly on high fat foods. In rats, it causes the release of “natural chemicals similar to the active ingredient in marijuana—endocannabinoids.” These chemicals cause “rats to crave still more fatty foods.” Not only that, endocannabinoids were released as soon as the fat hit the rats’ taste buds and began a “surge in cell signaling that prompts the wanton intake of fatty foods.”

Does this mean you must stop snacking? Not necessarily. Maybe you don’t really need snacks but eat them because you’ve become habituated to them. Perhaps with some effort, you could cut out snacking between meals. Alternately, if you eat small meals and are really hungry between them, you could find satisfying snacks that aren’t always high in fat/sugar. Many “normal” eaters don’t snack at all and stick to mealtime eating only. Others snack during the day only when they’re hungry, but not in a mindless way. Give some thought to your snacking habits and how to handle them better.