THE BLOG
10/23/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

Ask JJ: Snacking and Stress

Stepan Popov via Getty Images

Hi JJ, I'm 45 and a kindergarten teacher. I have a shake in the morning, eat lunch at 10:50 a.m., and usually get home around 4 p.m. Many days I go straight to the gym after work. Sometimes I'm quite stressed by the end of the day, and I have a snack and overdo the snack. When I've had a tough day, I usually want something crunchy to eat. Any suggestions to limit myself and deal with stress?

One definite pattern I've long noticed involves stress and snacking. People rarely snack out of hunger. Instead, you bomb a big presentation, then you have an argument with your significant other, so you assuage your frustration with a big gooey cinnamon bun your coworker left in the break room.

Or breakfast becomes a skinny latte, you nosh on something salty for lunch, so by 3 p.m. the hot waft of a cinnamon raisin bagel becomes too irresistible to resist.

Doing your meals correctly can prevent these and other dietary catastrophes. Breakfast should be a fast, filling protein shake. Make lunch and dinner lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches.

If you're hungry between meals, make sure you're eating enough of those blood sugar-balancing foods. That's where a food journal becomes handy. One study found people who wrote down everything they ate lost twice the weight of those who didn't. Writing everything down isn't fun, but doing so can help you pinpoint potential glitches that leave you craving double fudge chocolate chip cookies.

Meal timing also becomes important to steady blood sugar levels, reduce cravings, and create steady energy. You'll want to have breakfast within an hour of waking up, then space meals four to six hours apart. Eat a substantial dinner and then close up the kitchen about three hours before bed. (And no, that doesn't mean staying up later!)

With those considerations, your day might become something like this:

Upon waking -- protein shake
10:50 -- lunch (prep, plan, and make sure you're eating enough)
Pre-workout -- protein shake
6 p.m. -- dinner

If you're still hungry between meals and need something crunchy, slow roasted or dehydrated nuts fit the bill. Portion control becomes essential here. I prepare and pre-sort nuts into plastic baggies to prevent overeating. Almond or other nut butters with celery sticks make another smart option.

Teaching can be stressful, so make sure you've got an outlet to unwind. That might mean meditation, yoga, deep breathing, hanging out with your colleagues at Starbucks, or walking your terrier around the block. Figure out what works for you and prioritize it.

In your food journal, note any underlying emotions that might gravitate you to mindlessly snack. Boredom, loneliness, stress, and anxiety can suddenly find you digging in to a half-eaten bag of Double Stuf Oreos, yet that momentary indulgence will only leave you feeling worse and craving more high-sugar impact foods. Develop a non-food habit to satisfy these emotions.

What non-food strategy helps you assuage stress and other detrimental emotions? Share yours below. I love reading your questions, so please keep 'em coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.