I’m being good. I’ve eaten my five meals; all small, spaced two to three hours apart, and mostly vegetables, fruits and grilled chicken. I’m . . . I guess I’m feeling good. I’m doing this weight-loss thing right. I have more energy, that’s for sure . I’ve gotten all the nourishment that my body needs to survive, and it’s the right kind . . . . . why then, oh Christ and the Man-Jesus, why then am I STILL FUCKING HUNGRY?!
People in first world countries have to deal with a problem that, frankly, should be a crime until it is a problem for every person in every nation in the entire world: we have too much food. The real issue is that most of that food goes to waste when we have children in this country who are going hungry, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about a behavior that develops by having whatever you want to eat available to you 24/7, and is one of the biggest factors of weight gain and obesity: Snacking.
Now I’m not talking about the mid-morning and afternoon snacks that I described in last week’s post. Those aren’t snacks so much as they are meals. What I am talking about is the mindless eating of whatever food happens to be around you. It’s that midnight craving that will send you eating that gallon of ice cream in the back of your freezer, or the realization that you finished a whole econo-sized bag of tortilla chips while watching the game. It’s that full box of oreos calling your name, incessantly, until you wharf down every single last one of them, which is what Cookie Monster goes through every single day of his life.
For the large, eating is not about hunger, it’s about compulsion. In all honesty, a large person doesn’t know what real hunger is because they have enough fat stored in them to live off of for a season. When I was hungry, my body was never truly in need of energy since I had such a cache around my butt.
But our brains, those brilliant and tricky motherfuckers, look around and see all of this food just sitting there like it owns the place. This just ticks our brains off for some odd reason, and even though our stomachs are not crying out in hunger pangs, our brains trick us by saying its sensing ghrelin, which is the hormone that causes us to feel hungry, and away we go. This can be dangerous because the larger you get, the more and more your brain stops recognizing when your stomach is actually producing ghrelin, and it may even stop recognizing leptin, which is the chemical your body creates to tell the brain it is no longer in need of sustenance. This can happen very rapidly as the more you eat unconsciously, the more you start to see snacks as non-meals.
How many times have you eaten an entire bag of chips in the afternoon, only to sit down at the dinner table and eat a big meal? Or munched on some cookies about a half hour before going to lunch? We delude ourselves into thinking that what we’re eating is not an actual meal, that “snack food” is different than normal food and shouldn’t be entered into the equation, but that’s just not so. Everything you eat has to be considered a meal because that is what your body is treating it as. If you are trying to lose weight you must look at every single thing you put into your mouth as if it is part of your last (or next) meal.
But saying is a hell of a lot easier than doing in this case, as it takes a long time to retrain your brain to only make you feel hungry when you actually are. The other part of the problem is we have also developed an addiction to the instant gratification of the fatty snacks that are either crunchy or gooey or creamy or crispy. It is the need to taste something salty or sweet, to hear that crunch, to chew for a few brief moments and to feel something go down your throat. This means that to snack on something healthy, let’s say some salad, doesn’t appeal to those snacking cravings because it won’t give us those sensations. Have you ever opened the fridge to find something to eat, and although your fridge is fully stocked with a whole bunch of stuff that is good for you, you close the door and claim out loud that there is “Nothing to eat”?
Yes, you have. Don’t fucking lie, you fucking liar. You’ve done it three times today. You can’t fool me. I know.
We do this because we don’t really want food; we’re not even hungry. What we want are those sensations, to be gratified, to be satisfied, and that has nothing to do with being hungry.
Now the simple thing to do would just be to just stop snacking, but I have tried this and all I found was a good motivator to go out on the street and steal food from anyone who happened to be walking by.
You can’t just go off snack food cold turkey because it is a behavior, because they are habits that we have formed and reinforced over our lives and they can’t be dashed away in a matter of a few weeks. We need to find some snacks that can satisfy our lust for those sensations but that don’t keep us fat at the same time. After a lot of trial and error, I have found some foods to use as snacking material while trying to lose weight.
Dried Fruit – (Sweet, Chewy or Crunchy, Poppable). Any fruit that has been dehydrated is a great snack food because their textures run from chewy (prunes, raisins, cranberries) to crispy and crunchy (apples, bananas). Fruit also becomes sweeter and their flavor more intense when dried, so they can really help satisfy those of you with a sweet tooth. The down side is that because the fruit is smaller it gives the illusion that they have less calories, which is not true, and it’s easy to over do it. Before you know it, you have eaten the equivalent of three big bowls of fruit and that’s 2 and ⅞ bowls too much.
Seaweed, Kale Chips– (Salty, Crispy/Crunchy, Dippable). Both seaweed and kale are loaded with nutrients (kale is the most nutritious leafy green out there), and when dried become extremely crunchy and very chip-like. They are also extremely low on calories, so eating a whole bag won’t hit your waste line as much. The bad part is the taste. Whenever I eat these, I think, “So this is what dead leaves taste like”, which always inspires the nom nom noms in me.
But they are also dippable so flavor can be masked, although the moment you dip these things in nacho cheese is the moment you start adding fat to your body again.
Nuts and Seeds – (Salty, Crunchy, Poppable). Nuts and seeds are a perfect snack food as not only are they loaded with omega-3 fats, but they are also packed full with protein and vitamins, and are filling as a handful can hold you over for hours. Almonds are considered one of nature’s “superfoods” and I personally always keep some around. Peanuts are also good, as is peanut butter, which can help sate those “creamy” cravings. The down side is they are still filled with fat and if you’re not careful you can over it do it just like the fruit. And depending on which kind of nuts we’re talking about (cashews, macadamias, Brazil nuts), the fat content might outweigh the good attributes.
Popcorn– (Salty, Crunchy, Poppable). I’m not talking about popcorn that you cook in a microwave or that comes in those large tins and split into three flavors. I’m talking about air-popped popcorn or popcorn that you cook yourself on a stove top. Popcorn is high in fiber, tremendously low in calories, and leaves you extremely full. You can shovel in this stuff by the handful and never feel guilty. The down side is that the flavor of popcorn can leave much to be desired.
This means you have to add flavor to it, and that’s where fat can easily sneak back into the party. But if done right, you’ll end up with the best snack food for weight loss. All you need is a ¼ cup of unpopped kernels, a tablespoon of oil (vegetable is standard, but any oil will do), a ¼ teaspoon of salt, and five minutes.
- Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan on high. Place four kernels in the oil, and cover.
- Swirl around the pot to coat the kernels, and when all four pop, take the pot off the heat, uncover, and dump in the rest of the kernels.
- You want to coat all the kernels with oil evenly, so carefully swirl the kernels in the oil, off the heat, for at least forty seconds. You’ll see the kernels get much lighter in color. After the swirling, leave the pot off the heat, letting the kernels cook for a minute or so.
- After a minute, it’s time to add your salt (use popcorn salt, or ultra fine salt. If you can’t find it in the store, you can always stick some in the blender and make it yourself.) This is also the time when you would add butter or some other fat, and where you could end up ruining the health benefits of the popcorn. You don’t have to add anything, but your popcorn will most likely come out very chewy and fibrous. I have found a little bit of fat can make the popcorn lighter and can also help spread the salt to every bite. While the animal fats like butter or bacon fat can make your popcorn tremendously tasty, there are a slew of other oils (like sesame oil or olive oil) that are healthier and add major flavor to the popcorn. No need to measure this, as you won’t need much more than 1/8 of a teaspoon.
- Once you have added your salt and oil, cover and place the pot back on high heat. Swirl to coat the kernels, and then let it sit. You want to make sure you have a cover that will let out steam, as the popcorn will be gummy if the steam is trapped in there with it. Once the kernels begin to pop, start swirling the pot over the heat. You need to keep it moving or else your will burn your popcorn and be left with many unpopped kernels.
- The instant the popping has stopped, transfer the popcorn to a bowl. You won’t need to add salt as they will be tasty enough. However, you could add a dash of cayenne pepper, or perhaps some powered ginger, if you wanted a little more kick.
Popcorn is my favorite snack food while losing weight. And if it’s air-popped, you could eat bowl after bowl of the stuff without fear of repercussion. But even with that, the bigger part of the fight is the mentality, and if you are trying to lose a lot of weight you will have to teach yourself about moderation and self control, two things that snacking does not help with. These foods can help ease the transition and conquer those initial cravings, but they are not a solution. The solution is not just about replacing bad foods with good ones, it is also about only eating when you need to. The day you can go without having to snack at all is the day you take the next step to changing your life.