Try these six tips to make between-meal snacking a sensible part of your weight management efforts.
1. Eat at regularly scheduled intervals. It’s not a good idea to mindlessly graze all day or nibble when you’re bored, stressed, or frustrated. That’s an easy way to lose track of how much you’re eating. Instead, at the start of your day, map out a game plan for your meals and snacks, so that you’ll be eating something approximately every three hours. This will help keep your blood sugar on a more even keel, which can give you more sustainable energy and improve your concentration. Plus, this schedule will help you avoid feeling deprived psychologically because you’ll know that you have another chance to eat coming soon.
2. Plan your snacks ahead of time. Ideally, between-meal pick-me-ups should contain a combination of protein and complex carbohydrates. Think of them as mini-meals, rather than treats: Choose foods that contain good quality calories that provide a big nutritional bang for every bite, such as vitamin- and mineral-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, or lean meats. By choosing your snacks ahead of time, you’ll be more likely to enhance the quality of your overall diet rather than turning to empty-calorie treats when hunger strikes.
3. Exercise portion control. A snack should be in the 100- to 250-calorie range, depending on how many you have in a day and how large your meals are; a snack that contains more calories is really approaching meal territory. When snacking, don’t eat out of a large bag or box, because it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re eating that way. If possible, put your snack in a bowl or on a plate-and sit at a table while you eat. Tasty, healthy choices include a small container of low-fat yogurt with some berries; a cup of baby carrots and sugar snap peas with 2 tablespoons of hummus; six small whole-grain crackers with a slice of low-fat cheese or two thin slices of turkey; or a package of instant oatmeal made with fat-free milk, a dash of cinnamon, and a small box of raisins.
4. Avoid multitasking while you’re snacking. Don’t chat on the phone, read the newspaper, or work on your computer. Try to truly focus on the snacking experience and enjoy the tastes, textures, and aromas of what you’re eating. This will help you derive maximum pleasure from your snack and help your brain register that you’ve had something to eat, which can crank up your satisfaction and make it easier to stop eating after a reasonable portion. The goal: to make snacking a conscious experience, not a mindless one.
5. Think about your drinks. People often grab a high-calorie drink to go along with their snack. That’s a mistake because research suggests that most beverages aren’t as satisfying as whole foods, so people don’t naturally compensate for the calories they drink by eating less food. As a result, a high-calorie drink can make the overall calorie content of the snack excessively high, causing you to consume more than your body needs over the course of the day, which can lead to weight gain or sabotage weight loss. Your best bet: Have water or a noncaloric beverage with your snack-or budget for the calories in, say, a serving of low-fat milk as part of the snack total.
6. Pack portable snacks. For those instances when you’re on the run and you can’t take a snacking time-out, stash nonperishable items in your purse or briefcase. Some good transportable choices include homemade trail mix, made with 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries and/or apricots, 1 tablespoon of chopped walnuts, and cup of crunchy whole-grain cereal; a brown rice cake topped with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a pear on the side; a dried-fruit and-nut bar (be sure to check the nutrition label for calories and fat); a box of nonperishable low-fat chocolate or vanilla milk and an apple; or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread. Carry a bottle of water with you, too, and voil-you’ve got a moveable mini-feast!