Now that we’ve discussed the physical and psychological drivers of snacking and we’ve defined snacking, it’s time to go into some of the ways you can “snack for success.”

First, understand that we need to fuel our brains and bodies, and that eating is the appropriate response to hunger.

Generally we need to eat a minimum every four to five hours in order to maintain energy and blood sugar during waking hours. This is very individual and may vary between approximately two and six waking hours depending on your metabolism, your activity level, and what and how much you ate previously. Be aware however that overeating at a previous meal results in excess energy being stored and thus you will usually still experience hunger within the above timeframes. This is the way your body works and is not a sign of weakness or lack of willpower.

Second, understand that the more you anticipate your hunger, the more you can ensure that you have good options available.

There’s a lot of power in acknowledging your hunger and need for food. A regular eating rhythm allows your body to relax and know it will be fed. It allows you to be able to more accurately gauge when eating urges are physical or emotional. And it allows you to be prepared with eating choices that are satisfying in every dimension.

While this information may seem obvious, a surprising number of people are completely surprised by their hunger (even when it happens every day), don’t acknowledge the biological necessity of eating, or fail to plan for options. This is the result of diet culture messages demonizing hunger and eating. Even when they don’t hold up in the light of day, these messages can become firmly entrenched in the subconscious.

I was one of those people. For years I went straight from a long work day to three hour night classes, first as a university student and then as an instructor. For some reason I expected to rely on willpower to make it without eating until I was home sometime after 9:30 pm.

The cycle started because I usually wasn’t hungry in the stress of preparation and traffic, and this was exacerbated by grazing throughout the day rather than taking time for a proper lunch. I failed to anticipate and accept that I would certainly be hungry later. A handful of nuts and a few bites here and there wasn’t going to hold me for 7-10 hours.

Most evenings I ended up at the candy machine which at least gave me some quick glucose for brainpower but left me later in an even deeper blood sugar crash. More than once I ended up in complete physical and emotional breakdown by the end of the day. I no doubt put others at risk by driving while starving. And almost every week I seriously overate when I finally had food available.

If I had been more aware, I could have been prepared with a sandwich or other source of high quality fuel either before class or during a break. I would have enjoyed school much more and no doubt would have been a better student and teacher. My false beliefs about hunger and eating kept me in an unhealthy cycle between starvation and overeating, and set me up to make poor food choices when I did eat.

Regularly fueling your body with quality food that satisfies both physically and emotionally is the best defense against snacking urges that feel out of control or come on out of nowhere. By planning for your hunger with enjoyable meals and snacks you are setting yourself up for success.

Look at your schedule and isolate those times where you are predictably physically hungry or when you predictably crave something to eat for other reasons. And think about your beliefs about hunger and eating. Next week I’ll discuss how to use that information to determine your most successful snacking strategy.

You can find the other parts of this series here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.