There’s something so, so good about a stellar snack. At its best, it can be the ideal pick-me-up prior to, or after, a really tough workout or it could be a well-deserved break when that day at the office feels like it’s never going to end. But snacking isn’t an automatic win. At its worst, it can be the culprit for deterring your healthy progress and ultimately sabotage your weight-loss goals.
Here, experts weigh in on the biggest snacking mistakes you’re probably making and how to fix them.
It’s common to try to keep snack calories and portions to a minimum, because you’re under the impression something’s wrong with reaching in the pantry in between meals. “But that’s not true,” says Kristen Peterson, RD, owner of PrimeLife Nutrition. “Snacking helps you avoid getting hangry,” she says. “Plus, eating 4–5 smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day is a proven strategy for increased weight loss.”
The fix: Instead of snacking on something low-cal that won’t satisfy you (like carrots or celery sticks) pair them with 2 tablespoons hummus or peanut butter, suggests Peterson. This more filling option won’t break the calorie bank and should help keep you from overeating later.
If you’ve ever reached for something sweet or salty out of pure boredom you’re definitely not alone. “Sometimes it’s the candy bowl in the office or late-night eating while watching TV,” says Melissa Boufounos, certified holistic nutritionist. Over time, these small bites can add up and prevent you from reaching your goals.
The fix: Before reaching for a snack, do a hunger check. “On a hunger scale of 1–10, 1 being not hungry at all and 10 being the hungriest you’ve ever felt, you should aim to eat when you’re around 7,” says Boufounos.
“Things like nuts, seeds and dried fruit can be great, nutrient-dense snacks, but they can be easy to overeat if you’re not careful,” says Boufounos. Check out these common portion-size mistakes because when it comes to eating healthy foods, it’s still possible to overdo it.
The fix: Instead of eating right out of a bag of nuts and seeds, serve yourself the appropriate portion size.”
“If you have a lighter lunch at noon and didn’t remember to pack any snacks, you’re almost guaranteed to reach for something less healthy on your way home or overeat at dinner,” says Peterson.
The fix: Make snack prep a part of your regular meal prep routine, advises Peterson. You can also keep some crackers and cheese or healthy homemade trail mix at the office. “It’s always better to have something on hand in case, even if you’re not hungry and end up saving your snack for the next day.”
Both protein and fat are essential macronutrients that help keep you feeling full and satisfied. “If you have something like watermelon for a snack at 10 in the morning, you’re going to be pretty hungry before lunch is even approaching,” says Peterson. “When you just eat a fruit or vegetable as a snack, it can raise your blood sugar, then drop it, leaving you feeling hungry within an hour.”
The fix: Opt for snacks that incorporate both a healthy fat or protein, like almonds for example, with your fruit. “This will help you stay fuller longer and avoid extra servings at lunch or dinner because you’re starving.”