Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Great Snack Debate

In one of my recent English conversation courses I used horses and cows as virtual visual aids in an effort to explain what we mean when speaking about "grazing" as it applies to American eating habits. My students were appalled. 

They understood grazing, they understood snacking, but they most definitely did not understand how the two concepts intersected.

If snacking is part of a French woman's daily diet, which often it is not, it is reasonable, low calorie and almost always includes a cup of hot tea -- no milk -- to quell any hunger pangs that may occur between lunch and dinner at 8p.m.

As I believe I have mentioned before, even the healthiest of in-between-meal nibbling like yogurt, for example, when advertised on TV is accompanied by a small line running across the bottom of the screen cautioning viewers not to abuse non-meal associated eating. It's similar to, though not quite as menacing as, the warnings on alcohol and cigarette labels.

So here again is what my students and a few of my friends told me they eat at four or five o'clock in the afternoon. Out of the 24 women I questioned, five said, "nothing," three said "only hot tea" and you can read what the others said below. When I asked if they didn't get hungry from time to time they said yes, but they could wait for dinner. "Snacks in the afternoon are for children," one proclaimed. "Not for adults." (Again, my subjects are between the ages of 40 and 70.)

Edith: Tea and one piece of whole grain toast, no butter and a half-teaspoon of homemade jam.

Cristel:  A cappuccino and two squares of dark chocolate. (Remember a real cappuccino has no whipped cream, just low-fat milk steamed into a frothy mousse.)

Christine: A clementine or any other small, seasonal fruit like a plum for example.

Sophie: A cup of tea and two small cereal biscuits from the health food store. 

Claire: A small bowl of homemade applesauce, no sugar of course.

Anne-Françoise: A cup of tea and two slices of a pear or an apple -- no skin.

Danielle: In the winter occasionally a cup of hot chocolate.

Claudie: A café au lait and a yogurt.

Françoise: A hard boiled egg.

Ava:  An apple.

Chantal: A large glass of water and a cigarette. (Note: I considered not including this one, but thought it so stereotypically French I couldn't resist. Plus, I know it's true.)

Anne:  Cappuccino Minceur Natural Scientific. "I drank it between meals, for three months to help me lose four kilos I gained after a series of parties. It's miraculous and delicious," she said.

Caroline: A cup of tea and sometimes with my children I have one inch of a baguette with a little bit of Nutella -- but not often.                          

Marie-Christine: An espresso and two Thé cookies from LU, "they have the least number of calories and give me the impression I'm having a real treat."             


Anonymous said...

I am very in favour of regular, healthy snacks. (So is Weight Watchers). The idea is you should never be too burstingly full or too starvingly hungry.

If I'm too hungry, I often/ usually make bad food choices (pizza, anyone?) and besides, I get grumpy.

I've lost about 6 kilos (12 pounds) so far with MyFitnessPal - a free calorie and exercise tracking website. My clothes are starting to fall off! Quite exciting. Another 4 kilos to go then I'll see how I feel.


coffeeaddict said...

Almost all of the "snack" options the ladies listed look healthy enough (except the cigarette). The part that struck me is that they regard this as a guilty pleasure and are almost ashamed to confess that they too occasionally have a little bite in between. As if this were a sort of failure?

Fashion, Art and other fancies said...

I am very French. It's not in my culture to snack, but whenever I do it's some sort of citrus fruit and tea;-)

Julienne said...

This afternoon I had a slice of warm chocolate cake accompanied by a tablespoon of double cream, a latte and a glass of water!!!!
I don't think I would go down to well with the ladies of your blog!!!!
Despite this I have recently lost 23 kilos so it can't be too, too bad and it does taste wonderful.
Snacking is delicious, grazing is healthy...that's how I see it anyway!

Gauss said...

Thank you for mentioning the cigarette! Very often bloggers seem to think that French women can do no wrong and only have healthy, elegant, proper habits - so thank you for being honest and recognizing that French habits can be bad, too.

Sulky kitten said...

These French ladies show admirable self-restraint! I'd spend those hours with my face pressed up against a boulangerie window...but otherwise it's the glamour and thrill of a hard boiled egg for me.

Francine Gardner said...

When I am stressed, I feel the constant need of snacking...and go for chocolate! I do not believe in snacking and when france, i have breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea with fruit in the afternoon. Back in the States I eat at all times. Not the best for the "ligne"

helen tilston said...

These are all very good suggestions to hold us over until supper.

I like tea and an apple.

A great reminder
Helen xx

Rayna St. Pierre said...

How informative! I was struck by "an inch of baguette" and "two slices of pear". What do you do with the rest of the pear, my American mind questions!

Thank you for the reminder that elegance is in large part discipline!

I loved the response about a cup of tea and a cigarette. Very honest!

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I prefer to eat smaller portions throughout the day than larger meals with snacks,but when i want to snack one of my favorites is just a big teaspoon of Smart Choice (low fat) peanut butter!

Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

I guess I'm very American, then! To keep my energy up during a long workday, I rely on carefully constructed snacks every 2 hours or so -- a little protein and carbohydrate mixed (that's key!). Otherwise I get ragingly hungry, lose energy and focus, and wind up just overeating later. (I do like the idea of hot tea and a little chocolate, though!)

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Thank you for sharing these little French secrets. I presumed they never snacked at all. I appreciate this. I have been working very hard on eliminating snacks and I find they were actually a habit that was very hard to break. Your brain reminds you at a certain time. I wasn't able to totally eliminate them until I started keeping a daily food diary. I still falter from time to time.

LuxeBytes said...

I love it when you survey your friends like this. I always have a cup of black tea with a little cream.

xoxo --

déjà pseu said...

Great survey, thanks Tish!!

I'd be in the hard boiled egg camp. My blood sugar tends to crash after caffeine+carbs. But I do think that on the whole, they have the right idea about keeping snacks to just few bites, something to take the edge off.

kathy peck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathy peck said...

Had to delete my previous comment as my clogged sinuses are affecting my spelling and grammar.
OK - what they are having for snacks, sounds like what I should be having for dinner right now, with a glass of red wine maybe?

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

When a snack is in order it must be protein for me. The hard boiled egg sounds like my style and tea of course!

I have never embraced Nutella and so many women rave about it.

I think smoking would ward off food cravings but at such a high cost to one's health. I am surprised to hear that women are still lighting up with all the information out about how dangerous it is....

Lorrie said...

I broke the grazing habit several years ago - by drinking water or a cup of hot tea if I felt like eating something. More often than not, the drink satisfied me. I started to ask myself why I was eating - sometimes it was boredom, sometimes because the food was in sight, sometimes because I was hungry. Learning to distinguish hunger from other feelings was important for me.

I find it interesting that so many nutritionists advise eating every 2 or 3 hours "to keep up the blood sugar." There may be those who need to do that, but for most of us, it's unnecessary.

When I do snack, I go for a few (8-10) almonds, a square or two of dark chocolate, or a piece of fruit. With tea, very lightly sweetened with honey or sugar.

I loved reading what your friends were having for snacks. Thanks for doing this survey.

Villette said...

Excellent -- and enlightening -- survey.

Kiki said...

I lived in Toulouse for several months, and I found that many French are eschewing smoking. Several of my friends had quit. When I was out with them, we often stopped for a cup of coffee. Or, in the summer, we had a sparkling water or a Coca Light (Diet Coke).

Never any food with a late afternoon drink.

My friends would willing admit that they were regularly hungry. Food commercials certainly didn't help. A nice heap of guilt with every ad.

Annette said...

At 3:00 I have to have a handful of almonds mixed with a few M&Ms. A glass of water wouldn't do it for me -- I've got to have that bit of chocolate. The cappuccino and chocolate -- I could do that one.

Marsha said...

The older I get, the more I realize that eating is not sinful, regardless of the amount, unless you have stolen the food from someone else. And when I get hungry, I get cranky. So I eat when I am hungry - and what I eat depends on a) what's around, and b) what I want (I'm willing to travel when my stomach is set on something in particular). I keep nuts and dried cranberries and fresh fruit and yogurt around because they are low in calories (more or less), but I'm not crazy enough about them to overindulge once hunger is appeased. Regardless, I can't say how distressing it is to hear that some folks think being a little bit hungry all the time is a good thing. And consuming an "inch of baguette" seems very strange to me - either eat it, or don't, but one mouthful is more like bribing your stomach and your psyche than actually appeasing hunger. However, to each her own.

Susan Tiner said...

A hard boiled egg works for me. I am glad I quit smoking almost 20 years ago, but still miss the weight control benefits :).

vicki archer said...

How I love their discipline Tish... xv

Anonymous said...

I do not understand, why they have dinner so late. When do your friends usually get to bed in the evening, and get up in the morning?
I usually get up at 5.40 a.m., have lunch at noon and the time, your ladies do (not) snack, at around 5 p.m. is my "dinnertime".
Beate from Bavaria, Germany
(Thanks Tish for your blog! I visit it every day!)

Tine said...

So funny! My name is Christine and in the winter I bring clementines to work every day!

webb said...

An inch of baquette, a half teaspoon of jelly, two slices of pear - I am in awe! Have found that a cup of tea or coffee is fine in the afternoon, IF - huge IF - I can pass on the sweet to go with it until the drink has had time to "register" with my brain. Otherwise, add a nice big slice of bread or something sweet. Maybe I can take this as inspiration! thanks for the survey.

Duchesse said...

I just can't last from 1 pm to 8 pm (or 9:00) without food. And two slices of apple would do nothing; I need almonds, a slice of (thin-cut) toast with nut butter or a yogurt.

You have also not mentioned the French habit of a 6 or 7 pm. aperitif, plenty of room there to indulge.

Beate from Bavaria, at 5 pm. you will not find a restaurant in Paris serving dinner, except for a MacDonald's or the like. Do not even *think* about Spain!

Aurora said...

Where in America can one buy the Cappucino Minceur? Online searches reveal nothing...

Linda McMullan said...

All these comments (thanks for opening this subject!) make me smile. Every single human I know needs a little pick-me-up between 3:00 and 5:00 PM - whether it is a simple hot drink and some down time, or a little protein or fiber or sweet. What makes me smile is how many people try to bluster their way through this very basic need. Just do it. In moderation. And enjoy your snack without denying that you needed it.

tweedlibrarian said...

I'm so glad you shared this - now I have some new ideas for light snacks rather than my usual afternoon cookie. I tried bringing carrots to work for a few weeks but got tired of it quickly.

caroline@thebalancedapproach said...

Absolutely! If you are hungry at this time in the afternoon - then it accept it - it is your body's way of telling you it is time to refuel. Just remember to eat a snack - preferably healthy - and not something that resembles the size of a small meal!!

If you are not hungry ...then don't eat!

Murphy said...

I admire French women, I really do! but I think there is something unhealthy about feeling guilty about eating when you are hungry or spending most of your life feeling hungry. We eat late - at 8 or 9 due to late work and sports schedules. I can't go that many hours without food without feeling lightheaded or crabby. So I always have a snack around 5: usually a plain yogurt or a banana with tea or coffee. And honestly, I would rather gain 20 pounds than take up smoking.

Class factotum said...

I have never embraced Nutella and so many women rave about it.

That's good! More for the rest of us!

I would rather gain 20 pounds than take up smoking.

I intend to do both once I am 70 or 80 and already on the slide to home base.

Fiona said...

I read recently that 3.24pm is when our wheels fall off and we need something to eat. I wonder how this was worked out?

My mid-afternoon 'meal' before our 7.30pm dinner is a piece of fresh fruit and a small handful (about 8-10) raw almonds. If I am hungry later (but still before dinner), I will have several tiny slices of Edam on low-cal wholegrain rice crackers. It's minimal in calories but feels so luxurious.

Thank you for gathering the info - there are some great ideas in there. I can only skip afternoon snacks altogether if I've had plenty of protein with my lunch. Perhaps that is their secret?

Lost in Provence said...

I know that I am too late to the party but I was so blustered by the French way of non-snacking that it took me awhile to get back on track.

From what I remember about working with a physical trainer when I was an actress, it depends on each individual's metabolism. A lot of people have a higher energy level and less weight gain by eating a light something every few hours, but not everyone. Listen to your body! I won't say "indulge in moderation" because I am not a moderate kind of girl, but you know what I mean!

Bisous Tish, your blog is fabulous!

O D Y S S E Y said...

i very much like the way the french eat and view food. of course none of these ladies go around snacking on chips and dip, snickers bars, and the like. their snacks are *real* food, healthy choices in moderation. :)
good post!

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