Healthy Snacking and Calorie Counts

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on May 18, 2011
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Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes—and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

QUESTION: I'm 5'3", and the most I've ever weighed is 189. Through various lifestyle changes and semi-successful flings with working out, I’m down to about 160. After maintaining this weight for a couple of years, I have decided to get serious and lose the rest. But I LOVE to munch … it’s very easy for me to get through an entire day without ever feeling hungry. I’ve heard that I should learn to obey hunger signals, but because I’m eating throughout the day, I never quite get there. Do you think I am ultimately setting myself up for failure? Should I learn to only eat when I'm hungry even if I'm well within my calorie limit for the day? I want to establish good eating habits that will serve me well for the long haul! —Dorothy

DEAR DOROTHY: Congrats on your new(ish) healthy life! It sounds like you’ve done your research and had a few up and downs along the way. Yes, lots of weight loss experts say that you should only eat when you’re hungry, and that’s great advice. An interviewer asked me once if I remembered ever feeling hungry before I lost all my weight. I was at a loss: I couldn’t say that I had. Those of us who have issues with food are so out of touch with our bodies that we don’t know how hungry feels—and we skip “full” and go straight to “stuffed.” I think it’s a good exercise to experience hunger and fullness. But at the same time, I think we all have to find the way that works best for us. If you’ve been on this journey for a while, you’ve got a lot of knowledge in that brain of yours about what works for you and what doesn’t. You know you’re a muncher, and you’ve figured out how to stay within your limits while feeding that need to nosh. One of the things that was important to me when I was actively losing was quantity—I was used to supersize portions. So I had to find ways to create the illusion of size without adding calories. I ate massive salads stocked with high-volume veggies; I added low-cal vegetables to soups and stir fries; I chose puffy cereals over dense ones, etc. I also started using smaller dishes and eating utensils. There are a lot of experts out there doing research and giving advice, but you shouldn’t ignore the wisdom you have about your own personal eating habits, likes and dislikes. In fact, surveys of successful losers suggest that most people cobble together their own plans, picking and choosing from a variety of strategies to come up with a version that fits their needs. In your case, you might want to try out a no-munching rule for a period of time, perhaps a week, and log how you feel, what it did to your appetite, whether you felt hungry, and how much you actually ended up eating. That may give you some insights you haven’t gained yet. But if you decide that munching’s the way to go, I don’t think anyone would argue with you, as long as your snacks are healthy and you keep your calories in check.