The In-convenience Store Truth

On days you have to work "grab-and-go" pit stops into your life, here's how to do it healthfully.
The In convenience Store Truth

Even if you simply stop at the convenience store to fill up—your car with fuel, not your body with junk food—it's an easy place to end up in a will-power war. It's tough to pass up packaged cupcakes on sale for 69 cents or three-for-a-buck candy bars when you've got the munchies.

And it makes things decidedly inconvenient for your weight-loss efforts.

"Think about walking into a convenience store or a 7-11 as the equivalent of entering into a lion's den," says New York-based clinical psychologist Stacy Malin. "It's a place you wouldn't enter without having a defense ready. You have to be prepared."

Here's why: Convenience stores not only pump an estimated 75 percent of all gasoline in the U.S., but the industry's 140,000-plus stores also make a pretty mint on merchandise. In 2005, the lion dens rang up $151 billion in non-gasoline sales, according to a National Association of Convenience Stores report.

Their top 10 in-store items look like a What's What of unhealthy products: 1. Cigarettes; 2. Non-alcoholic packaged beverages; 3. Foodservice (on-site-produced pizzas, sandwiches, etc.); 4. Beer; 5. Other tobacco; 6. Candy; 7. Salty snacks; 8. General merchandise; 9. Whole milk products; 10. Packaged sweet snacks.

No wonder full-service is so rare. But working "grab-and-go" pit stops into a healthy lifestyle is possible, says Marisa Moore, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. Go "beyond the end caps" where smartly placed sweets and treats grab your stomach's attention. And be wary of the bargain bins.

"Maybe you're getting a deal financially, but it's not a deal for your waistline," says Moore.

To counter the evil-marketing ploys and register displays—and resist cheesy nachos and ooey-gooey pastries—try these snack-attack strategies:

Healthy Choices
Some stores offer fresh veggies and fruit—at least fresh in theory—baked chips, low-fat yogurt and milk, and individual granola bars. Water, diet drinks and low-cal sweeteners for coffee are also staples.

Size it up.
"Studies have shown that the more food you have in front of you, the more you'll eat," Moore says. "Start with that smaller bag." Paying attention to portion sizes can save you hundreds of calories. Even small bags of pretzels or chips can contain 2-plus servings, and the bigger "grab bags" can have 4 servings. A 100-calorie snack pack can hit the spot without sabotaging your weight-loss efforts.

A distraction such as driving—or watching TV, though hopefully not simultaneously—makes you more likely to pound down too much if you buy bigger items.

Fit it in.
"Snacks are definitely useful," Moore says. They help tame the appetite come mealtime, boost energy, and give you something to look forward to. Just choose filling and lower-calorie eats, and check out nutrition labels.

Protein Power
Protein keeps you fuller longer, so Moore recommends munching on it. Try string cheese, low-fat beef jerky or nuts that are dry-roasted (unsalted) and not covered in chocolate.

Chill Out
Don't gulp down empty calories from sugary sodas, sports drinks or beer. A 44-ounce cola will soak you for nearly 600 calories. "Have a nice cup of ice. Suck on that while you're driving," Moore says. It's quenching, cool, will keep your mouth busy, and can be used as ammunition against the guy who cuts you off.

Mental Checklist
Determine if you're hungry, dehydrated or simply trying to fill another emotional need before snatching up something salty or sweet, says Malin, who has a specialty in eating disorders and weight struggles. Then decide what will really satisfy you.

Distract your grumbling stomach.
"Use distracting behaviors," Malin says. Reach for a magazine instead of doughnut in line. Take a short walk while your latte is whipped up. Chew on sugarless gum. Or call a friend, she suggests, to keep your mind off food and help you not make bad choices.

Steer Clear
Need gas? Eat before you arrive at the station. You'll be less tempted by the likes of breakfast sandwiches that, Moore says, "can be 700 calories and all fat."

And if you're feeling weak? "Pay at the pump," Moore advises. Especially if your gut's gauge is close to empty. "If you're hungry, avoid going into the store. That way you'll avoid all temptation." Your wallet and waist will be happier.

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