Chuck, a friend told me that the cocktails of sugar and salt in our snacks keep us running back for more and gaining more weight. What say ye? – “Snacking in Seattle”

I recently read an excellent article in Men’s Health by Lisa Jones on eating errors that can keep you fat. I’d like to repeat and expand on some of her points, including answering this reader’s great question.

Take this six-fold test and see whether you inadvertently are packing on pounds.

1) Do you skip meals?

It used to be believed that missing a meal could make you skinny. Now we know that neglecting those nutritional nuggets (especially breakfast) can mess with your metabolism and play havoc with your weight.

The best approach to daily bread is four to six small meals each day. They also can reduce the temptation for binge snacking. But even the traditional three-meal-a-day approach is good if you can limit your intake to roughly 500 calories a meal and add two healthy snacks at 100-200 calories around those meals.

Key in every meal is protein. A recent study, highlighted in Reader’s Digest by Dr. Mark Hyman, documented how those whose daily protein consumption fell below 15 percent of their total calories were much hungrier after breakfast, ate more snacks and were on the fast track to gain more than 2 pounds a month.

2) Do you speed-eat?

Studies show that when we slow down and savor our foods, we also fill up faster and won’t want more to eat.

An experiment published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism observed how 17 healthy men ate 1 1/4 cups of ice cream in either five or 30 minutes.

Men’s Health reported, “According to study author Alexander Kokkinos, M.D., Ph.D., levels of fullness-causing hormones (called PYY and GLP-1), which signal the brain to stop eating, were higher among the 30-minute men.”

So slow down and enjoy what you’re eating. That’s why God gave you those taste buds.

3) Do you gorge on weekends?

We all think it: “It’s Friday, and I’ve been working hard all week. Time to relax.”

The problem is that we often let down our health-and-fitness guard on weekends, too, and that’s one-third of our week!

A study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation observed the reactions of palmitic acid on leptin – a hormone that helps control what you consume. Saturated fats, which are ingested in larger amounts in Americans’ weekend diets, are the storehouses of palmitic acid.

The study’s leading researcher, Deborah Clegg, Ph.D., from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explained, “We found that within three days, the saturated fat blunts or blocks the ability of leptin to regulate food intake and body weight.”

The point is that eating fatty foods from Friday to Sunday can prime the pump for Monday overeating, too. So dietitian Jennifer McDaniel of Saint Louis University recommends rewarding yourself during a meal on the weekends, not relishing in an entire weekend of gormandizing.

4) Are you on the sugar-salt snack seesaw?

New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss just came out with a new book, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” which is an exposé on how the food industry is contributing to America’s obesity epidemic by concocting perfect salt-sugar snacks that will keep us coming back for more.

Sodium is an essential mineral (and electrolyte) needed to maintain blood pressure and water retention, but too much of it can send our appetite soaring for more, in addition to increasing our risks of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

In the book “Healthy Heart Miracle Diet,” nutrition experts explain how the full-scale assault on our taste buds has the dangerous side effect of making us want more and more food.

“That’s because processed foods place us on a flavor seesaw: We eat something terrifically sweet, and almost immediately we want to counter it with something salty,” the book explains. “Part of what’s happening is that sugar and salt are both distinct appetite stimulants; the scientific term for this is sensory specific satiety. … (That) helps explain how we’re able to magically have room for dessert after a big meal.”

Interestingly, it’s often the crunch we crave in salty snacks, so try some celery with peanut butter, or at the very least, go for low-sodium nuts or popcorn.

5) Are you drinking too much alcohol?

There’s no doubt that there are a few health benefits to a glass of red wine. But when’s the last time you’ve calculated the number of calories in the chardonnay, cocktails or beer you consume every week? And we all know how excessive drinking can cripple our willpower and lead to the munchies.

Interesting also are the yin-and-yang cravings of salty snacks and alcohol; one feeds off the other and creates an appetite for more, which is why bars often have bowls of salty pretzels, chips and nuts for their patrons. It’s a vicious circle, or is it a seesaw?

I’m not espousing universal teetotalism, but there’s no doubt that less is better when it comes to alcohol.

6) Do you snack and snooze in front of the television?

That’s what they call double trouble – consuming calories while burning none.

Men’s Health reported that those who eat in front of the tube can consume nearly 300 calories more than those who don’t. Not to mention, they are less active, too.

That is also why Donald Hensrud, M.D., medical editor-in-chief of “The Mayo Clinic Diet,” recommends: “If you want to watch TV, be active at the same time or go work out and come back. Then you can treat yourself with some TV.”

If you answered more of the six questions above in the affirmative than you did in the negative, don’t be overwhelmed. Tackle the toughest first, because it will have the greatest impact on your psyche, weight and fitness.

We need to harness our most optimal energies for the heavyweights working against our health.

As McDaniel told Men’s Health, “Target just one or two behaviors at first – ones that you can make the most difference by changing.”

Remember that when it comes to health and fitness, you’re running a marathon, not a sprint. So pace yourself, and keep fit for life!

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at

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