Big news today: We're getting fatter. Obesity rates in adults increased in 23 states and didn't decrease in a single state over the past year, according to this report released today by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I suppose this news isn't so shocking, considering that the trend has been going on for some time. Two thirds of us are now overweight or obese.
You might think we'd lose weight during a recession, but actually the opposite happens. Healthful foods like fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive than pasta, chips, and other processed foods. So people counting every penny tend to turn to cheap, calorie-dense fare. The report states, "The current economic downturn is likely to push these numbers even higher as rising prices and constrained incomes make it more difficult for families to buy healthy foods." And of course, many of us choose sweet, rich comfort foods like ice cream and brownies when we're feeling stressed or down in the dumps.
[Photo Gallery: See the Top 10 Fat States Where Obesity Rates Are Highest]
Interestingly, about 40 percent of women who snack claim their snacking habits have been altered by the recession, with many saying the impact has been positive, according to a recent survey of 1,003 women from Consumer Reports National Research Center. They're snacking more healthfully or snacking less. (Maybe they're skipping those pricey Godiva chocolates and Starbucks caramel macchiatos.)
[Photo Gallery: See the Top 10 Skinnier States Where Obesity Rates Are Lowest]
The CR survey also identified the most common pitfalls that lead to snacking. Here's how to sidestep them.
Going to the movies. This is just giving in to a must-munch mentality. Everyone's doing it, so why not me? Most of us aren't hungry when we hit the theaters after lunch or dinner, yet that fresh buttery popcorn smells so tempting. Here's my trick: I sneak in a bag of air-popped microwave popcorn and a bottle of water, which saves me about 500 calories. My big purse comes in handy.
Shopping at the mall. Check out calorieking.com to see just how many calories are in those smoothies or cinnamon rolls. Sure, shopping can make you tired and hungry. My teenage daughter knows my limit is about two hours. After that, we head home for our snack. If you've got more stamina than I do, throw a protein bar or serving-size bag of nuts into your purse for a recharge.
Feeling tired and stressed. Certainly a snack can be a quick pick-me-up. But ask yourself if you're truly hungry and need fuel or if you're just down and need the snack as a "drug." If it's the latter, head out for a walk or pop in an exercise DVD. Exercise is far better than a treat at increasing your energy and mood. If you're tired because you're famished, have a nutritious snack like peanut butter and raspberry jam on a rice cake—one of my favorites when I get home from work.
Going to a party. Those finger foods are hard to pass up, but you can if you make it difficult for yourself to snag them. I go first for a light-calorie drink, like a wine spritzer, so I have something in my hand to keep me from grabbing a plateful of food until I've had time to scan the buffet and choose carefully.
Zoning out in front of the TV. This is the downfall for many snackers, myself included. But I know I'm less likely to bring a pint of ice cream to eat in front of the TV if I'm watching with someone else. Watching recorded shows without commercials really helps, too, because I know I'm missing something when I head to the kitchen. Last night, for example, I missed two minutes of Rescue Me to grab a scoop of ice cream. I didn't go back for seconds.