As dietitians, we’re also snack therapists because the majority of our clients need help in making better between-meal choices. We see people every day that eat healthy, well-balanced meals but their poor snack choices make it impossible for them to either lose weight or improve their health.
If your nighttime noshing or afternoon slump-busting bites have gotten out of control, use our 12-step approach to help you snack smarter.
We are now munching and crunching to the tune of 600 calories from snacks—about a quarter of our daily calories. Unfortunately, most of our snack picks are treats like cookies, cake and salty chips and soda—choices that pack a lot of sugar or fat, but aren’t nutritional all-stars. They’re also the foods that we just can’t eat a little of because they’re so irresistible. New research shows why that is: Junk foods rich in salt, sugar and fat disrupts the the brain’s natural mechanisms to control hunger…making us want more and more.
Here’s our 12-Step Approach to Snack Smarter
2. Snacks should be calorie-controlled. A good rule of thumb is less than 200 calories.
3. Most women only need two snacks: one before lunch and one before dinner. Evening snacks are generally eaten out of habit not hunger and unless you work a night shift, you don’t need to fuel up to sleep.
4. Keep a snack journal for a week. Write down every snack you eat and how you feel to see exactly how much you’re snacking and if you’re really hungry or eating because your tired, bored, lonely or anxious. If you’re feeding your emotions, start to work on other healthier activities that can replace snacking.
5. Processed food snacks that come in 100-calorie packages generally are not good-for-you choices. (If they were, they wouldn’t be limited to 100 calorie portions.)
6. Watch out for “healthy” snacks that are bad for your diet: These include some sugary cereal bars, yogurt-covered pretzels, sports drinks or fortified candy.
7. Try to make sure your snacks contain protein or fiber to help keep you satisfied. Here are some of our favorite protein-rich choices.
8. Think W.A.I.T. or “What am I thinking!!!” before you eat a snack. If you can think about what you’re about to snack on before eating it, you may realize that you are snacking out of boredom, anxiety, stress and not because you’re hungry.
9. Cookies, chips, candy, soda and other sugary beverages should not be part of your daily snack options. They’re an occasional treat but not an everyday choice.
10. If you’re not physically hungry, don’t snack. If you are watching TV, don’t snack. Let your hunger guide your snacking and when you’re hunger is around a 4 or 5 on the hunger scale, then it’s time to have a healthy snack. You should never ever eat in front of the TV or any other screen as it will generally leads to overeating.
11. If your snack isn’t something you would serve as part of your breakfast, lunch or dinner, don’t eat it.
—Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD