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Snack Failure #keto

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TL;DR: Snacking is generally not a good idea and could possibly indicate other bad habits in your life, more generally related to delayed gratification. Lastly there is some self-reflection and application to my own life.

My interest in dieting in general is due to my own journey, so far losing in excess of 70kg and still going. I’ve done this through the use of ketosis and the keto diet, something you can follow here. Being on the keto diet in general requires that you be highly responsible for the things you eat, and therefore as a result I have been thinking more and more about foods, health science and habits.

This article in general aims to discuss the idea of snacking, and link it to much larger theoretical subjects. It’s something that occurred to me after having so much trouble with snacking whilst on the keto diet. But even prior to the keto diet, it has been something I have struggled with for quite some time.

I believe all people could find this an interesting subject, irrespective of whether they are dieting themselves. I hope to kick off some discussion about the subject, at least within my friend groups.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

The first thing about snacking is people justify eating unhealthy, easy to consume food by suggesting that there were ‘no other options available’. We used to have a saying which was “fail to plan, plan to fail”, meaning one should have a plan, or expect failure. If you find yourself eating unhealthy snacks rather than healthy snacks, you have already failed to plan ahead to the eventual possibility you will need to snack.

You may argue that ‘I planned to eat unhealthy food’ or ‘wanted to’ - to which I suggest the problem is far more fundamental. This is especially true if you do your own shopping. If you have unhealthy snacks on hand, you intend to eat them. You have actually planned to eat an unhealthy snack, you have planned to fail. We won’t discuss that here, but this is even worse than failing to have a plan in the first place - there was never any intention to do the right thing.

The real problem with unhealthy snacks - other than the obvious point that they are a detriment to your health, is that they feed a part of your brain that likes high-reward for low-effort. In the wild, you want to expend as little energy as possible for as much gain as possible. In modern times, when food is much more highly available, we need to actively fight this urge.

Failure of Meal Planning

The failure begins before the type of snack itself - the very requirement of a snack is a failure of meal planning. If you sufficiently plan your main meals, snacks are simply not required. The size, content and timing of your meals are all parts that have to be adapted, on a daily basis to your lifestyle. Snacking is an admittance to poor meal planning, especially if done regularly.

Humans are of course imperfect and make mistakes, therefore snacks will eventually be required, but it should not be accepted as a regular requirement and should certainly not become habitual. If you do find yourself snacking on a daily basis, it’s an obvious sign that you need better meal planning. Do not become comfortable with the idea of snacking, it is a trap - and not just one of health.

Delayed Gratification

Ultimately a meal is a form of reward. Humans have several ‘reward signals’, including food, sex, etc. To temporarily and purposely deny ourselves one of these things in favour of long-term benefit is delayed gratification. Studies have shown that children whom are able to show self-control through delayed gratification are more likely to be successful in the future 1.

In the context of snacking, delayed gratification is not so clear. The gratification really comes from the long-term benefits of eating more healthily. Dieting for several months or years can be seen as a more extreme version of delayed gratification, as the benefits will not be seen over the course of minutes, hours or even days. Similar pursuits include further academia, gym workouts or long-term projects for example.

I argue that if you regularly fail to perform delayed gratification in the form of snacking, there’s a good chance you also struggle with other forms of delayed gratification in your life. Habits in one part of your life tend to have high-correlation with habits in other parts of your life. If you have OCD for cleaning your room, there’s a good chance your work email inbox is also clean. If you have a drinking problem, there is also a higher chance of a substance abuse or gambling problem. Typically we act with highly correlating behavioural patterns.

Ultimate Delayed Gratification

The ultimate form of delayed gratification is to invest into an idea that will not bare fruit within your lifetime. As the supposedly old Greek proverb goes:

Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

We must ask ourselves the obvious question: Why does this man do this? He has no immediate benefit from the tree being planted, there’s a good chance that nobody he knows will benefit from the tree’s shade either. And yet, the old man plants the tree. Why?

There’s a good chance the man is invested in the society, in such a way that he wants to see its success past the length of his own lifetime. For most humans, this happens in the form of children, where we want to see the success of the human race, because our children are also human and carry parts of our DNA and ideologies.

The gratification is delayed to that of his kin. This would be similar for example to leaving inheritance, rather than spending every penny you have whilst still alive. The ultimate form of delayed gratification can be extended past your own lifetime.

This of course comes with a caveat, which is that you do have some long-term investment in the society you reside in. Whilst its possible to extend such feelings to others, children are typically the most likely long-term attachment that adults are going to make within their own lifetime.

This is unfortunately the tragedy of modern society, particularly in the West, where well-educated women are no longer choosing to have children. As a result, they (and their partners) are far less likely to be long-term invested in the societies they operate within. Their long-term investment is much weaker, and therefore there is no reason to plane trees whose shade they will not enjoy.

My point is this: If you want people to make good long-term decisions, encourage them to have children. As a friend once said to me (paraphrasing): “Nothing helps clarify your priorities more than having children”.


Regarding myself, I have self-reflected on several of the ideas I raised.

Prior to the keto diet, I failed to plan for snacks, and therefore planned to fail. Worse still, I even intended to fail by buying bad snacks. There was no long-term investment, I specifically remember thinking to myself “just a little longer”, which was a foolish justification for not having a plan.

Now that I am on the keto diet, I have been mostly successful in my pursuit of delayed gratification. Myself before and after this diet is night and day. That said, these last two months or so I have fallen prey to failure of meal planning. I have relied heavily on pre-planned keto snacks, whilst being healthy, are still a result of consistent meal planning failure.

The truth about my keto diet is that I need to do a partial reset - I think my calorie goals became too low and unsustainable, and I simply started substituting via snacking. The good news is that I recognized this (whilst still losing weight) and am able to rectify the situation without serious detriment to my progress.

Lastly, I find myself thinking about the last point more often during these days. I think given the right opportunity (partner, career, etc), I am more inclined to the idea of having children. Whilst resource consuming (as I’m sure my parents would complain to me), I think the benefits of having a long-term investment will actually help motivate my work.

  1. This is referred to as the Marshmallow Test and is not so black and white in the conclusions. Generally, children are tending to last longer in the delayed gratification test since the original 1960’s test, so there is of course some environmental factor.↩︎