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Meals Are So Last Year: We’ve Become 24/7 Snackers

By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

Pizza and Soda

There’s a new phrase to describe how Americans now eat— “freestyle eating.” We eat whatever, whenever and however we want. Long gone are the traditional rules. You know, the ones many of us learned while growing up. When I was young, if my behind wasn’t planted in my seat at the dinner table there was hell to pay. Not so in our 24/7, constantly on-the-go universe. We’re cramming in a bite standing, sitting, walking, driving, on planes, trains, subways, talking on the phone, shopping, staring at any number of screens, at our desk, in a chair, on the couch, on the floor and in bed. Anything goes.

What happened to three squares a day sitting in a chair at a table? Heck, what happened to cooking? It’s rapidly disappearing, replaced by ‘round-the-clock snacking and grab-and-go food. And food companies and marketers are quickly changing their product lines to match the demand.

The New Normal of 24/7 snacking means nothing is sacrosanct anymore. Meals are now completely interchangeable. Pizza for breakfast? Not a problem. Cereal for dinner? Fill your bowl. Skipping a meal is a moot point if you’re snacking all day.

Several recent studies have shown that approximately 97% of Americans engage in snacking and it’s widespread in all age groups. The most common snack foods are salty crunchy products followed by cookies, cakes and ice cream. Happily, fruit is a popular snack as well.

This food trend is hitting younger generations in a major way. Anyone over 40 is more apt to be set in their ways and imprinted with special memories of mom’s stern look if we ate junk or skipped a meal. It’s not a surprise that the food industry is closely scrutinizing the needs and demands of the Millennials, as they’re setting the pace of change. New statistics show that almost 40% of Millennial eating involves snacking and food-on-the-go. Less than 5% are getting three squares. There went that ritual! Check this out— according to the food giant Kellogg’s, more than 30% of all cereal is now eaten for meals and snacks other than breakfast. So what’s going on with breakfast? How about cookies and apple pies sold at McDonald’s for breakfast? Breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts? Why, that’ll be a chicken salad sandwich. Hey, let’s not forget the snack-‘til-you-drop after-dinner crowd. Rice Krispies and Special K Chocolatey Delight are real hits for these nocturnal noshers. So what are people having for dinner? Yogurt’s the new dinnertime entrée!


So many of these changes are prompted by people’s freestyle schedules. When you’re an über overachiever squeezing in only  4-5 hours of sleep, you’ve got 19-20 hours of assuming the vertical position, and countless opportunities to eat whenever and however. Since so much of the grab-and-go fare is portable carbs and fat, you can see the ensuing packing-on-the-pounds problem. Cramming in time for breakfast is one of the great challenges and in some younger circles, breakfast has morphed into a 10 a.m. snack-on- the go altogether. Lunch sales have spiked between 2-4 p.m. More fast food joints are staying open until midnight or 24/7. It’s a new munchin’ and crunchin’ world.

Alright, alright. Enough already. What does all of this mean to you? Here are a few suggestions:

Buck the Trend: If you want to achieve a healthy weight and a fit body, then buck this new trend and plan to eat your meals and an afternoon snack. Stick to what has worked for years. Start a reverse revolution. Stop the 24/7 out-of-control eating and you’ll reap the rewards.

Get Back to Cooking: Research shows that those who cook are able to achieve and maintain their weight significantly better than the grab-and-go crowd. You’re in control. You can control the ingredients and portions.

Prepare Healthy Snacks: There are plenty of healthy snack options. Log onto the WebMD Food and Fitness Planner for countless recipes and snack suggestions. Try to avoid processed foods riddled with refined sugars and unhealthy fats. Fruits, raw veggies, nuts, low-fat string cheese, and protein shakes are just a few of the options.

Plan: Your success is absolutely dependent upon your ability to plan to buy fresh groceries and to know what you’re eating every day. Prioritize your meals and snacks. As I always say, those people who prioritize their health and wellbeing look and feel like it!

Do you find yourself snacking constantly instead of eating proper meals? What do you do to try and eat healthy? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Fitness and Exercise Community.


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