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Last updated: Sat. Jul. 26, 2014 - 10:28 am EDT

Diet Detective: Solutions for over-snacking

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We asked 190 people on DietDetective.com to vote on their Eating Alarm Times ­ those few hours each day when you can consume up to 300 extra calories, which causes you to gain weight. If only 20 percent of your day accounts for 80 percent of the reason why you're overweight, identifying your Eating Alarm Times means you don't have to overhaul your entire life to lose weight. In fact, you can make real changes by being careful during just that one period when you typically overdo it. Here are a few tips:

Time: Prime-Time TV Snacking Hours (7-11 p.m.)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: 31 percent

Problem: Either you're a kitchen lingerer or you're sitting in front of the TV after a long day, mindlessly munching.

Solution: Come up with snacking alternatives. For example, if you typically have a bowl of chips in front of the television, try a lower-calorie version. Also, make sure you put a portion in a dish and return the rest of the bag to the kitchen. That way you'll have to get up to get seconds. Here are a few other strategies:

• Eat only at the kitchen or dining table. Consider all other areas snack-free zones.

• No eating while standing in front of the fridge.

• Close the kitchen: Once dinner is over, turn off the lights and consider the kitchen closed for the night.

• Prepare a variety of healthful snacks in advance.

• If you have a hard time eating small portions, don't try to limit yourself, because you'll probably eat even more calories in the end. Instead, you need lower-calorie alternatives – even a second healthy dinner (made up mostly of healthy protein).

Time: Dinnertime (5-8:30 p.m.)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: 28.8 percent

Problem: You've had a long day at work. Maybe you didn't have time to eat during the day. Now you're starving. If you're in a restaurant and have a menu in front of you, watch out ­you'll probably over-order. If you're home ­ well, there is always plenty of food to overeat.

Solution: You have to eat more. If you're not getting enough food during the day, you'll overeat at dinner. Try to plan your lunch and an afternoon snack. If that doesn't work, try the following:

Create a detailed weekly dinner menu. This should be very specific, including recipes and preparation, ingredients, etc. If you plan on going out, get menus for a variety of restaurants and list the approved healthy items they have to offer (at least three per restaurant). Call ahead to make sure the dishes are really healthy. For all the standard healthy-eating issues when dining out, check out my dining out cheat sheet here: http://goo.gl/6HuWOS

Time: Afternoon Snack Attack (1-5 p.m.)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: 19.2 percent

Problem: When you're hard at work or out-and-about with the kids, it's not easy to resist when that afternoon snack attack hits. You just want anything “good.”

Solution: You're supposed to snack. Snacks should be about 100 to 250 calories, depending on your specific caloric needs, and should include protein, not just “empty” calories.

• Try having mini-meals such as half a turkey sandwich without mayonnaise (use mustard) or half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. See if you can get a mini-fridge to keep in your office to store healthy snacks.

• Declare a No-Food Zone: Set up a neutral territory where unhealthy food is not allowed.

• Read the Diet Detective's Guide to Eating Healthier and Performing Better at the Office here: http://goo.gl/Ob9QDI

Time: Lunch (Noon-3 p.m.)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: 6.9 percent

Problem: Not planning for lunch and/or not eating breakfast. The combination can be tough on your waistline.

Solution: If you're going to work or eating at home, make your own healthy lunch. You might even try to create a weekly menu along with a shopping list. For sandwiches, choose whole-wheat breads. For filling, use lean luncheon meats such as turkey, ham or roast beef, rather than bologna, salami or bacon. Add vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers. Plain peanut butter (meaning no added sugar, just crushed peanuts) is also a good choice. If you eat out, review menus in advance and approve at least three healthy meals for each of your favorite restaurants.

Time: Late-Night Munchies (11 p.m. until ...)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: 4.8 percent

Problem: You can't sleep and you're bored, stressed, sad could be any number of emotions. You head to the fridge and raid the cabinets, frantically looking for anything to satisfy you.

Solution: Don't leave it up to chance. Have the ingredients for satisfying, low-calorie, late-night snacks, such as cereal (under 120 calories per cup) with skim milk, cut-up veggies with low-calorie dip, yogurt, fruit, low-calorie soup (under 100 calories per cup), or an egg-white sandwich on low-calorie toast (without butter), available at all times.

You might be eating at night because you didn't eat enough nutritious food for dinner or your evening snack. Or it could be part of a larger problem: emotional eating.

See Eating After Dark: http://www.dietdetective.com/weekly-column/eating-after-dark.

Time: Breakfast (5-9 a.m.) and Midmorning Munchies (9 a.m.-noon)

Percentage who said this is their Eating Alarm Time: Breakfast: 2.1 percent, Midmorning: 6.9 percent

Problem: You drank a quick cup of coffee but didn't have time to eat anything for breakfast. Now you're hungry.

Solution: Eating breakfast helps you lose weight, because you don't overeat at other meals. For midmorning snacks, having small packages of cereal in your office is a good idea. Bananas, oranges and apples are also satisfying at this time. Above all, avoid the vending machine, which typically doesn't have anything good (unless, of course, it has fruit). Read my column

“Breakfast in 5 Minutes or Less” for more tips: http://www.dietdetective.com/weekly-column/breakfast-5-minutes-or-less.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.


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