Once a relative rarity in the daily life of the average American, snacking has now become something of a national pastime.

As recently as the 1950’s and 1960’s, most Americans were “three square meal” eaters - eating took place at meal times and only at meal times. If you were hungry between meals? Well, too bad - you simply waited.

In the decades since, snacking has become universal and mindless. While there is a place for snacking in response to true hunger, most of us have lost track of what a truly healthy snack pattern really is.

For this week’s goal, you’ll be establishing healthier snack patterns, taking a look at your habits and meal schedule to prevent undue snacking that may be preventing your weight loss or muscle tone success.

The Goal: Know the difference between a meal and a snack

With a typical Caloric intake of around 1600 calories, you should attempt to divide your calories between meals, leaving room for one snack and a treat (or two snacks and no treat).

Remember that 1600 calories is just an average, albeit a good starting point for most women. Women require fewer calories to meet and maintain a goal weight, typically in the ballpark of 1600 calories for moderately active women. So if you are trying to increase muscle tone, around 2000 calories, or if you are trying to lose weight, around 1200-1400 calories.

Ideally, on a 1600 calorie plan, you should aim to consume three 400 calorie meals, one 200 calorie snack, and one 200 calorie treat.

On a 2000 calorie plan, you’ll consume three 500 calorie meals, one 200 calorie snack, and one 300 calorie treat.

Most consumers get into trouble when the number of calories in their snacks rise, becoming more indicative of meal calories. While meal calories often rise in tandem, nonstop snacking throughout the day ultimately derails most people.

A nonstop flow of small calories leads to weight gain over time, and prevents you from ever truly feeling hunger cues. The result? You feel hungry all the time - a constant state of “yeah, I could eat something.”

Create snack structure and boundaries

Using your three meal, one snack, and one treat pattern, plan your snack for when you are typically most hungry. For most consumers, this falls between lunch and dinner. When the urge to snack comes on, limit yourself to a piece of fruit and some cut veggies.

Yes, you read that right. For many consumers, unnecessary snacking takes place when more tempting foods (popcorn, pretzels, chips, etc) are offered in lieu of truly healthy (albeit “plain”) choices. If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple and some carrot sticks, you’re not truly hungry!

Stick to this pattern for at least a week to see how it works for you; it takes your body 7-10 days to adjust so it will take some willpower on your behalf. There’s a good chance that you may still feel hungrier than normal, but it takes time for the body to normalize itself without the constant flow of calories that comes from the “one bite here, one handful there” style of snacking that many consumers engage in. In time, your body will adjust to the new pattern of eating.