How to Conquer Your Snack Attack

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ll admit it up front: I am a snacker. In fact, I have a snack twice a day. My body screams for food around three p.m. every day, even though I make a point to eat breakfast and lunch. If I ignore the hunger, I end up grabbing and devouring handfuls of chips or cookies as soon as I get home around five p.m.  Therefore, I plan ahead and have a non-perishable snack stashed in my desk drawer at all times, usually homemade trail mix.
My second snack attack hits in the evening, and is not related to true belly hunger at all.  In the evening, I want to eat food for comfort.  You know what I’m talking about. At the end of a long day, all I seem to want is chocolate ice cream along with my favorite TV show, book or magazine. 
There is nothing inherently wrong with snacking. In fact, snacking can help with weight loss by warding off afternoon and evening binge eating.  However, the snack should be factored into your total calorie intake for the day, and should contain about 150 calories. A balanced snack should have about 15-30 grams of carbohydrates and three to five grams of protein.

Unfortunately, this type of healthy snacking is NOT happening in America, for children or adults.  While I know you are probably not really surprised by this statement, you may be surprised at the numbers. 
  • In ''What We Eat in America,'' a survey by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, it was found that adults are consuming a lot of empty calories from snacks alone.  From the 5,000 adults surveyed, it was discovered that men are consuming 923 snack calories every day from nutrient-poor foods (candy, cookies, soda, chips, etc.), while women are consuming 625 snack calories.
  • The results for children are no better.  A recent survey of fourth and fifth grade students revealed that children are consuming 302 calories daily from nutrient-poor snacks, and only 45 calories from snacks that contain a fruit or vegetable.  I see this regularly from the children I work with who are trying to achieve a more healthy weight. High-calorie, nutrient-poor foods are easily making up 300-800 calories daily for these kids.  While their meals may be planned and structured, kids often decide what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat when it comes to snacks. 
The statistics may be discouraging, but there is hope!

Where to Begin?  If you, your child or another loved one is trying to get a handle on uncontrolled snacking, it all comes back to daily food tracking.  With this type of journaling, you can easily pinpoint where and when you're consuming nutrient-poor foods, as well as the factors surrounding the snack attack.  How often are you snacking?  How many calories are in your snack?  Are you meeting any nutritional needs from your snack?  Are you reaching for the snack because of true hunger or for emotional reasons?

The key is to find healthy, balanced snack options that have maximum nutrients for around 150 calories. As I mentioned earlier, I am truly hungry in the afternoons and have found a great solution to tide me over until dinner.  My secret trail mix snack-pack contains about 160 calories, 25 grams of carbs, and about four grams of protein. It's a perfect mix of a high fiber cereal, nuts, and dried fruit. Here is the recipe:
Becky’s Trail Mix
2 cups high-fiber cereal, such as Wheat Chex
2 cups mini-pretzels or whole grain Goldfish crackers
1/2 cup raisins or dried fruit
1/2 cup unsalted mixed nuts
1/4 cup of M&M candies
Blend all ingredients in a bowl and divide into 2/3-cup portions.  Place mix into zip-top plastic snack bags.  Makes eight servings.
My evening snack of chocolate ice cream (1/2 cup) contains 150 calories, 15 grams of carbs, two grams of protein, and lots of sugar and fat. This snack is definitely less than perfect!  However, it is still a far cry from the 624 nutrient-poor snack calories consumed by most adult women as listed in the report above.  As I always say, it is most important to look at the quality of your total diet, not just one food.  In the correct portion, a high-calorie, nutrient-lacking food can still fit into a healthy eating plan. However, adult men and women do not have room in their diet for 600-900 calories from junky snacks.
Is it time to evaluate your snacking habits? What about the habits of your children? Is a snacking intervention in order?

What are your favorite healthy snacks?

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I have 3 meals and 2 snacks every day, or at least on work days. Breakfast at 630AM, snack at 10AM, lunch at noon, snack at 3PM, dinner 6PM. Maybe dessert, but no snacking after dinner. Snacks are usually string cheese, greek yogurt, nuts, fruit, veggies with ranch or hummus, wheat thins with laughing cow cheese, or fiber one bars when I want chocolate. I work 10 hour days, so I rely on protein to get me through. Sometimes I eat sweets (I have awesome European chocolates I ration out) but then I'm so hungry by the time I get off work. Report
I would love to see the trail mix recipe nutritional information that was used for the article, since it looked interesting enough for me to consider. I couldn't find it on the SparkRecipes side, so entered it myself so that I could find it later. I was a bit shocked that it came out as 233 calories per serving (not the 160 that is claimed in the article) and 36g of carbs (not 25 as claimed). To be fair, there isn't actually a volume-measured listing for the Goldfish anywhere, so I guessed that a single-serve would be about 1/2 cup (even though it looks more like 1/4 - 1/3 cup). Still...

I was also disappointed to see that even with the heavily fortified cereal in there, the vitamin / mineral amounts still were mostly not as high as they should be for the calories (for 233 calories should be 11.6% minimum - only hit that for folate, iron, and zinc). The nutritional info is not complete for the Goldfish, but I doubt that there will be much missed from such a heavily processed product.

I'll be skipping this one and sticking with fruits, vegetables, dairy, and home-made items with high nutrition. While I applaud Ms Hand's honesty in sharing that her personal snack choices aren't necessarily the most healthy, it seems a bit odd that the recipe shared doesn't live up to the minimal "healthy, balanced" qualifications outlined in the article. Report
My snacks tend to be pudding, yogurt, protein bars, single serve popcorn, a spoonful of peanut butter, pretzels, raw nuts, fruit. These are what I eat when I am trying to be more careful and am actually losing weight.

When I get in trouble and gain weight tends to be when I do ice cream, candy, cookies, cakes, etc. Report
Seems to me most of these snacks have WAY to much sugar. Even the trail mix with, pretzels, dried fruit and M&M's?? Might as well eat a candy bar !! I've found the higher protein ratio works better for every meal and snack. Then the sugar cravings aren't as bad. Report
I have so many habits to change that I look forward to learning more about what works for others so that information can help me. Thank you everyone. Also, I don't use Facebook so does that rule me out or in?
Im out of work for the last 7months my unemployment ran out and im so tired . I have gained 15 lbs since this all happened .
Where do i begin ? how many calories do i start with and anyone have ideas what to eat and how i can snack i do good with the water i drink about 9 glasses a day And im always running you know where ha ha
Any help would be great .
Diane EM TY TY
I snack all day, and am losing nicely. My problem with snacking in the past, was nuts. I snacked on nuts every night, way too many calories in nuts, switched to popcorn, problem solved. Report
I usually have raw almonds, protein bars and fiber bars in my drawer at work for snacking. Now that I'm unemployed, I am finding it harder to be healthy. Working on it though. I like some of the things that have been listed in comments...may have to add some of them. Report
I will take chocolate graham cracker and spread cool whip inside ..Make it into a sandwich, put in the freezer .. At night time, its like having ice cream with a little crunch Report
What would the calorie count be for this? Report
Go to unhealthy snacks before: Chips, crackers, chocolate, ice-cream, nacho chips, etc.

Go to healthy snacks now: Fruit, Unsalted or lightly salted nuts, popcorn, sugar-free jello, a small amount of melted dark chocolate with lots of strawberries or a Banana Baby if I'm having a chocolate craving. Report
I usually want to munch on salty or sweet things before bed. So I just deny myself and go to sleep instead. If I still want it in the morning, it becomes breakfast, but that rarely happens. So sleep is my snack-skipping method! Report
For a dessert type snack. I use one chocolate Vita cake (50 cals) + 3TBL. lite Cool Whip strawberries ,raspberries with a tsp. pecan pieces Report
I have a banana or a cup of yogurt. Sometimes a single serving of trail mix, as long as you do the whole portion thing works well. Report
Currently I am trying coconut milk with 500mg spirulina and an orange with 10 grams piloncillo. It has high carb content but I need it to keep my energy throughout busy day. It's my energy drink replacement. Report
I'd say my favorite snack would depend on what time of day it is. I usually carry nuts and protein bars in my purse. I love any kind of nuts: cashews, peanuts, pistachios, mixed nuts. I bought these little snack zip lock bags by mistake, and they turned out to be great. I put nuts or grapes or trail mix in them and eat them for my afternoon snack on the way home.

My evening snack is usually a skinny cow ice cream sandwich, or some other lo-fat ice cream bar. If I'm scheduled to start work at 7:00 then I will bring a yogurt for a snack seeing as my breakfast is earlier than normal. Report
Probably one of my most favorite snacks I enjoyed, and still do, is diced or sliced apples in a mix of low-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat Philadelphia cream cheese and honey. Mix those two together and dip the apples, pears or even mix peaches. SO GOOD! ^-^ Report
My favorite afternoon snack right now is a sliced apple with a dip that I make out of 1/4 C nonfat, plain greek yogurt mixed with 2 teaspoons of either peanut butter or almond butter. Mmmmm. Tastes great and really fills me up! Report
I try to eat fruit in the morning for a snack. But night time is still hard for me. Your trail mix sounds good I will have to try that. Report
Sorry, Jesusan. I'm going to take the registered dietician's advice over yours on this one. I'm terrible about snacking - I do so well during the day, but when my husband leaves for his night job and I get ready for bed, the urge to snack is overwhelming. I try to fight it and I'm sometimes successful but I've been known to devour an entire box of Triscuits in one sitting. And then, of course, comes the guilt. And most of the time I'm not even hungry, because I eat a healthy, balanced dinner! I just snack because something makes my body think it wants it. I've tried to curb it by brushing my teeth right after dinner, but that interferes with my nightly cup of tea. I've also tried to stop buying the foods I can't seem to eat one serving of, only to catch myself reaching for - and finishing - a sleeve of plain old saltines just to have something to chew on. So it's tough. I just try to make myself remember how good I feel when I don't consume a huge amount of salty food right before I go to sleep, and how proud of myself I am when I'm able to say no. Report
I love yogurt and berries, or any kind of fruit smoothie made with Kefir. Report
Can't wait to try your trail mix Becky! Morning snack is usually a banana or Source fat free yogurt with berries. I also take a partitioned container to work almost every day with cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices or grapes, and one turkey pepperoni or baby bell cheese for my afternoon snack. Keeps me from grabbing something when I walk In the door. Planning for snacks has been successful for me....cheers Report
15-30 grams of carbs & 3-5 grams of protein is NOT a balanced snack. When you feel the need snacks, even in the evening, it's probably because your body needs nutrition, even if there are emotional factors involved. If you don't eat every 2-3 hours, your body will go into starvation mode, which is counterproductive to your health, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Just make sure your last snack is at least 1 hour before you go to sleep. We eat 3 meals and 3 or 4 snacks a day, depending on how long our day is, and have been losing weight pretty steadily. Appropriate snacking is a healthy practice. Report
I am going to tried the trail mix. It will be perfect for my bedtime snack. I usually in the mood for something crunchy. Report
2 rice cakes, plain unsalted, with 1T Cashew Butter or Almond Butter and sometimes my homemade fresh fruit preserves, made with low sugar recipe.
Superb advice from everyone who are making a commitment to loose weight
I buy nuts in bulk. Cashews, pisthas, Almonds , from. Cashco cheap
And divide it equally in snack bags , max. 25 nuts. Intake . Report
I try and eat dinner early and immediately brush my teeth. Unfortunately it doesn't work in the late arvies. But at least it's SOMETHING! Report
When I have a sweet tooth, and I know that a piece of fruit just won't get it (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't), my go-to snack is to melt 1 oz chocolate chips (30 chips) = 70 calories and stir in 1/3 oz (8) raw almonds = 49 calories. A total of 119 sweet, savory calories that always takes care of my sweet tooth. Report
I would use Fiber One cereal, and use dark mini chips instead of M&M's...this would make it a healthier snack and of course raw nuts or raw pumpkin seeds might be good too Report
I am going to buy all and make some...any help we can get is thanks! Report
I agree about eating a carb loaded breakfast leading to all-day hunger.

I also snack every day - morning between breakfast and lunch and then again about 3PM. This trail mix will be just the thing. I have eaten other trail mixes before but don't like peanuts. So I usually pick those out. I like that I can customize this to my taste and still have it be healthy.

I'm trying to be sure to eat a lot more fruit and veggies. I love carrots or celery with homemade hummus! Report
I like to see that even the Spark Experts indulge sometimes. I see nothing wrong with an small indulgence like the ice cream in the evening. I am the same way. I think that part of my success so far has been that I don't deny myself something that I really want, as long as I can work it into my calories for the day. Report
On days where I start of with a breakfast of mostly processed carbs, I'm hungry all day - no matter what I eat for the other meals. Those days, I snack a lot.

However, if I start the day with a protein-filled breakfast, I'm less likely to snack, even if my meals are not large. I also prefer to make sure my snacks contain protein, so I'll have a sliced apple with melted peanut butter (1 TBSP) for a dip; or fat-free Greek yogurt and fruit; or hummus with veggies. For a snack on the go, I keep almonds in a small snack bag in my purse.

If I were to snack on Becky's trail mix, I'd be craving more carbs. You can have a trail mix without chocolate, especially if sugar causes cravings. Report
I love this article, there are days that I have to have a serving of Cheetos. But these days are far less often thanks to Spark People and tracking that helps me see what I am eating. Report
For me it's usually almonds or a small cup of yogurt. At first it was very hard for me to stop eating the whole bag of almonds (I love them dearly), but now I actually count them (no more than 20 at a time). The food tracker in SparkPeople helps so much! Also, I make sure that I don't have hi-cal / nutrient-poor snacks lying around the house (or else it's danger will robinson!). Report
Mindless eating is my biggest struggle. What I have found with my body is that I feel the need to eat every 2-3 hours so I try to make those times count. I have a healthy breakfast before my workout, then a post workout snack which is usually a recovery shake. I then have my lunch followed by an afternoon snack. I have dinner and then an evening snack. I just do my best to find healthy options. My favorite evening snack is a 90 calorie yoplait light that has been frozen. I let it thaw for 30 minutes for a frozen yogurt treat. I try to so hard not to, but I just think about food all the time and when my next meal/snack will be. Report
I am not a big snacker, but I usually have a banana at 3 p.m. on work days. I think I'll try the trail mix for something different. Also, I keep a box of Fiber One 90 calorie bars in my desk for those rare times that I am craving a late morning snack or I don't have a banana. Report
My go to snack is a ripe banana or 3. In fact, I so love bananas I wrote a whole blog about them. Lately, though, I have been trying to pay more attention to the nutrition of all the snack food I eat. Cheetos are my downfall. Report
This sounds really good, but what are Wheat Chex? We don't have them here in the UK. Hoping there's a substitute..... Report
I always have Skinny Cow or Healthy Choice frozen fudge bars on a stick in our freezer, summer or winter, for the 7 pm snack. I cut reduced fat cheese into one ounce pieces, wrap each up, and keep those ready. Trail mix never turned me on, ever, though I do have some walnuts in a bag in the kitchen. Report
Thank You Becky!! I could do this!! I will : ) Report
After several years at goal, my favorite snacks have really become very simple - plain celery, grape tomatoes, or baby carrots, for instance. I've come to develop a real desire for them on a regular basis! ( tastes actually changed after 60 years - LOL!) Report
I enjoy nuts for my snack. Report
This , is an excellent article! Shocking, what Americans eat!

My favorite snack is a medium banana, 105 calories.

I always keep bananas in the house!

Also, a medium orange, 67 calories, is also a great snack.

Also, I reallly like the Trail Mix recipe. I am saving it in case I need something a little more fancy than a single piece of fresh fruit. Report
My snacks are usually a granola bar or yogurt or a fruit. It used to be chocolate and little debbies. Report
I am so happy this blog was featured today. I have been working on my snacking...grazing I call it, for some time. This week, I've noticed that I am having two about the times Becky does. Wow, I think I'm going to stop fighting it. This week I went ahead and snacked and was careful about it and worked it into my plan and I think that is what I must keep doing. Thanks Beck! Report
Glad to hear someone else looks for snacks in the afternoon and evening.
Great idea to have trail mix handy and how much to eat. My go to snacks are yogurt, popcorn, fruit and baby carrots.
For hot weather we like to fix smoothies and ices made with fruit and fruit juices. Report
MY favorite afternoon snack is usually hummus spread on celery sticks or pita crackers. My biggest cravings are usually at night though. If they are in season, I like fresh strawberries with a little light whipped cream. For chocolate cravings, Jell-o sugar-free chocolate mousse is delicious! (and only 60 calories!) If I'm craving something baked, any of the Vita-Tops flavors (100 calories) are good with a glass of skim milk. Report
I have a favorite trail mix I buy in bulk from the food coop--it is mostly dried fruits and nuts, no chocolate or cereal. Very filling. I also love the Skinny Cow candy bars when I need a shot of chocolate, or the Trader Joes' 100 calorie chocolate bars. Having the snack pre-portioned is essential for me--when the bag is empty, I am DONE. Report
Great article thanks!
Chobani Greek Yogurt and an Apple is my go to snack in the afternoon.
Usually if I have a snack attack in the evening it's because I need a walk and a talk with my dh before we wind down for the night. Report