Snacking is sometimes seen as a negative when trying to lose weight, especially if you’re munching on packaged foods, which are often highly processed and high in calories, fat and sugar. However, when done smartly, snacking can help you maintain a consistent level of energy, prevent cravings and add important nutrients to your overall diet. Try these 12 snacking strategies to help you reach your goals.
FIGURE OUT IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY HUNGRY
Before you head to the pantry on autopilot, it’s important to figure out whether you’re really hungry or just, say, craving sugar because you saw a recipe on Instagram for Oreo brownies. Before you snack, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to eat a piece of fruit or some sliced veggies to curb your hunger, says Amy Gorin, RD. “If the answer is ‘no,’ then you’re probably not actually hungry,” she says. If that’s the case, make a cup of tea or sip a glass of water with sliced lemon or cucumber instead — you’ll satisfy your oral fixation without consuming unnecessary calories.
FILL UP ON PROTEIN AND FIBER
If you’re going to snack, make it count. According to Jennifer Glockner, RD, it’s important to nosh on foods that combine protein and fiber, since they help promote satiety while also supplying your body with vital nutrients. Try hard-boiled eggs, unsalted nuts, edamame or apple slices drizzled with almond butter. Glockner also suggests sunflower-seed butter on whole-grain crackers, hummus with pepper slices or plain Greek yogurt topped with berries or cucumbers.
“These snacks will [help] prevent [you from] overeating at the next meal or snacking too much on energy-dense foods like cookies and chips,” she says. For more healthy snack ideas, check out this list of 12 delicious high-protein snacks under 210 calories.”
CONSIDER IF YOUR SNACK WILL BE TRULY SATISFYING
Sometimes, it’s better to just go for the real thing. “I am a big fan of healthy alternatives,” says Mallory Gonzales, RD.. “But if you are truly craving a piece of chocolate and you’re planning to have carrots instead, ask yourself if that will be satisfying.” Sometimes when we choose a less satisfying alternative, it can snowball until we eat the thing we actually wanted in the first place. “You end up having walnuts, then yogurt, then the chocolate itself because that’s the satisfaction you were looking for,” explains Gonzales. As a result, you’ve eaten way more than you intended to.”If the sweet or ‘not so healthy’ snack is truly what you want, portion it out, enjoy it and move on with your day.”
PLAN YOUR SNACKS AHEAD OF TIME
If you have a stash of healthy, tasty snacks on hand, you’ll be less likely to reach for a pastry or bag of chips when you hit that afternoon slump. “Hungry people tend to grab the first foods in sight, usually foods high in fat and calories, and often in excessive quantities,” says Glockner. That’s why she recommends preparing your snacks in advance. Chop veggies and fruit, pour nuts into a plastic bag or whip up a green smoothie to stick in the freezer. This is also a smart way to pre-portion food so you’re not overeating.
DON’T EAT IN FRONT OF YOUR SCREEN
Research shows that eating while distracted makes you more likely to ignore your body’s satiety signals and, thus, overeat. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or watching YouTube as you snack, step away from your gadgets. Limiting these external distractions is key to eating mindfully, rather than mindlessly, Glockner explains: “It’s important to sit down to a meal without distractions, slow down, savor every bite and listen to [your] body cues and satiety signals to prevent overeating and subsequent weight gain.”
TAKE A BREAK BETWEEN BITES
Similarly, it’s a good idea to put your snack down between bites. “Even if it’s a granola bar, you can put it on a napkin or paper towel between bites,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD. “This slows down eating and creates more mental reminders that you’ve enjoyed a snack, which can help curtail mindlessly overeating and therefore, help you reach or stay at a comfortable weight.”
HYDRATE WHEN YOU SNACK
“If you’re having fiber-rich and savory snacks like, say, graham crackers or peanut butter and apples, it’s a good idea to enjoy it with hydrating, zero-calorie liquids like sparkling water or tea,,” notes Sofia Norton, RD. “The combination of water and fiber will help you feel full sooner and for longer.”
KEEP FRUIT IN PLAIN SIGHT
A study published in the Journal of Health Education and Behavior suggests you’re most likely to eat whatever is most visible in your home. That’s why Gorin recommends storing fruit in a bowl on your kitchen countertop or desk so you always have something healthy to reach for.
USE SNACKS TO FILL NUTRITION GAPS
“Don’t look at snacks as a negative thing, but merely as a way to fill any nutritional gaps you may have during the day,” says Staci Gulbin, RD. Try logging your food on MyFitnessPal to track your intake and snack strategically. “If you haven’t eaten enough protein throughout the day, use your snack times to consume high-protein snacks like Greek yogurt, jerky, or a protein shake. If you feel you haven’t consumed enough fiber during the day, then use snack time to consume some fiber-rich foods like fresh fruit or a side salad.”
MAKE SNACK PREP A HABIT
Snacks that don’t require any preparation are easy to eat on mindlessly. “Instead of eating ready-to-eat snacks like a bar or pre-popped popcorn, put in the effort to snack prep. It could be as simple as spreading nut butter into celery or popping natural microwave popcorn,” suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD. “It will be more satisfying if you took a little time to prep it.”
HAVE A PLAN FOR TURNING DOWN LESS-HEALTHY SNACKS
If you’re offered a snack you don’t feel hungry for or it doesn’t feel worth it to you, be prepared to say no. “There are always well-meaning friends, family and co-workers who may encourage us to snack when we would prefer not to,” says Summer Yule, RD. “Thinking about ways to politely decline may be helpful in dealing with such situations. This can be particularly helpful for people who are shy and/or would prefer to avoid confrontation.”
DON’T SKIMP AT MEALS IN FAVOR OF SNACKING
Skipping snacks altogether may be beneficial for some people trying to lose weight. “I’ve found clients who want to lose weight often eat a light breakfast and lunch in an attempt to cut calories, but this approach leads to excessive hunger that’s hard to fight,” explains Cassetty. When you’re distracted by hunger, you’re more likely to eat whatever’s within reach.
“One of the best ways to combat over-snacking and reach or maintain a comfortable weight is to eat a well-balanced breakfast and lunch,” says Cassetty. “A meal should satisfy your appetite for up to four hours, so if your meal isn’t lasting that long and you’re snacking as a result, it probably needs to be more filling.”