I Made a No-Snacks Rule for 4 Days: Here's What I Learned

Can I lifetime snacker learn to be a mealtime-only eater?

I started with wonderful intentions. Don’t we all?

I was going to my in-laws for four days of wonderful togetherness for Thanksgiving. Normally, we don’t have enough vacation time to make this trip happen, so I was especially excited this year to see everyone. However, I wanted to have some kind of goal to keep me in check.

My experiment, I decided, would be based on an article I’d read about how children in some European countries are dramatically less likely to snack than children in the United States. Instead of snacking, they build up appetite for meals and, consequently, eat less overall and eat with more of a focus on the social aspect.

I thought this sounded good for my trip – after all, meals during Thanksgiving are important and I’d hate to pass up on stuffing. But the stray cookie, the handful of Chex mix, and the sneaky sugary drinks and alcohol? I could find a way to cut those.

I decided on my no-snacking policy as we drove to my in-laws house. I would get serious! I would eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, and that’s it!

I did quite well on Wednesday: despite waking up ready to eat, I waited until everyone was assembled for breakfast and I even filled up on fruit instead of pastries. I ate lunch with everyone else even though no one would have cared if I ate earlier or later, and I held off on dinner until dinner was served. I felt wonderful! I genuinely looked forward to each meal.

The hard part was later, when we’d been playing board games for hours and the cheese straws came out. Oh, cheese straws – I am undone by you. That’s when I found the fundamental problem with my no-snacking rule: it took only one little cheese straw to break it. Then, the second and third cheese straws were of no consequence to my rule-following success…but tell that to the scale!

The rest of the weekend was a mixed bag – I held off in many circumstances when I’d normally snack, and I snacked away whenever my willpower gave out. Overall, I ate less than I would have, and I came away with some longer-term lessons to help curb snacking in the future:

  • Carry a glass of water: When not much is going on and we’re a long way from meal times, I tend to need something to “do” with my hands, otherwise I’ll resort to snacking. Sometimes what works is my favorite hobby, crocheting, but most of the time, I need to go fill a glass with water, which not only gives me something to “do” but also fills me up and keeps me hydrated. When I don’t do this, I’m more likely to get myself into snacking trouble.
  • Aim for well-spaced meals: If you look at the hours I was awake during the trip, all my meals were skewed early – a bright morning breakfast, a noon lunch and a 5ish dinner, even when we were going to stay up talking and watching movies till midnight! It’s practically asking to snack. I want to try two things: one is keeping my dinner time at around 7 when I'm going to bed late, and two is saving enough calories each day for one, planned snack in the evening. Rather than opening the floodgates of the unplanned snacking, having a specific, approved snack makes it feel less like the rule is broken and keeps me in check.
  • Recover after failure! I need better self-talk when I’ve caved for that first cheese straw. I need to say “that was such a tasty cheese straw, and it was enough! I’m getting a glass of water,” rather than “that’s it, I’ve failed, I’m giving up.” It will be a long road, but I hope this change in self-talk will make me both happier and able to snack less.

Make it WayBetter

Is snacking your bane, or does it usually work out fine for you? Is there a change you can make that actually allows you to enjoy meals more, or to curtail snacking after a small portion? Everyone is different, and the best snacking habits for each person will be different too.