Spring is here, and weight loss is a hot topic in my office.
Lately, women have been coming in confused about why they aren’t able to drop a few pounds, even though they’ve been paying closer attention to what they are eating.
What I’ve discovered is that a lot of them are really great about meal planning – even a week ahead of time. What they aren’t doing, however, is snack planning.
Some women are shocked when I have them keep a food journal for a week. They had no idea how much they were snacking throughout the day – or how unhealthy those snack choices were.
It’s far too easy to grab a handful of chips from a bag on the counter, a granola bar or pack of crackers from the cabinet, or a candy bar from the vending machine down the hall without really thinking about it. And when you do, you might be consuming more calories than you realized – and not the right kind!
Weight loss is about more than calorie counting, and the choices you make are as important as the number of calories. Your body processes 100 calories of sugar-filled cookies far differently than 100 calories of broccoli!
Often, women tell me, they are snacking when they aren’t even hungry!
Snacking is a habit that can be so hard to break. Snacking isn’t necessarily a bad thing; for many, it’s a necessary component of keeping blood sugar levels stable. But only if you’re eating the right kind of snacks!
The sugars and carbs in many popular snack foods actually make blood sugar imbalances worse. Snacking works for some and not for others. Learn about what works best for YOU.
Let’s take a look at some things you should know about snacking, how to prepare yourself for healthy snacking, and then I’ll give you ten great snack options to keep on hand.
How snacks may be sabotaging your weight loss
If you’re snacking for any reason other than actual hunger, you’re likely to both choose the wrong types of snacks and overeat. Portion size makes a huge difference in the impact that snacking has on your weight.
It’s far too easy to eat multiple servings of something without even realizing it – especially snacks you grab on the go. Even snacks that come in smaller containers can be two or three servings – don’t be fooled by the “individual” packaging. Always read the label to know exactly what one serving really looks like.
If you’re choosing primarily processed foods or baked goods, your snacks aren’t giving you the fuel your body needs. And you’ll consume a lot more calories, too! Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are always a better choice than something that comes out of a box, can or bag.
If your snacks aren’t filling you up, that’s a problem. Small amounts of high calorie foods won’t give your brain the signal that you are full – so you’re likely to keep on eating. Choosing snacks with a balance of protein, fiber and healthy fats can help you feel full – and keep you feeling that way for a lot longer!
Impulse eating and emotional eating can also sabotage your weight loss efforts. It can be hard to turn down a snack when someone is passing a plate of goodies around the office but if you hadn’t planned to eat, and your body isn’t sending hunger signals, don’t take a snack just because it’s offered. And when you find yourself upset or stressed, try some physical activity instead of reaching for food.
Being prepared is your best defense against mindless snacking
The better prepared you are to make healthy choices, the likelier it is that your efforts will succeed. The following quick tips can help you be ready when hunger strikes – and help you avoid eating when you aren’t hungry at all.
- Clear your kitchen of unhealthy options. Most people won’t get in the car and drive to a store just to get a specific snack when the mood strikes. If you don’t have chips in the cupboard, you can’t eat a whole bag in one sitting. Stock up on the things you want to be snacking on, and get rid of the rest.
- Choose whole foods over anything that comes in a package. If you have to open a box, bag or container to get to the food, it’s essential that you read the label and know exactly what you’re eating.
- Track your intake. While this can feel cumbersome, it really is the best way to know exactly what you have consumed in a day. Once you get in the habit of writing everything down, knowing that you’ll have to look at the list later might just inspire you to measure out one serving instead of eating haphazardly. In the long run you will not have to be so careful of all that you consume.
- Keep a schedule. If you plan ahead of time to eat your snacks in between your meals, it’s a lot easier to say “no, thank you” when someone offers you something to eat at other times. Having a regular schedule also helps you avoid getting too hungry, then eating everything in sight.
- Be prepared for special events. So many celebrations and events in our society include food. But just because it’s offered doesn’t mean you have to eat it! Think about why you are attending, and then focus on that – not the buffet table – when you get there. You can celebrate a loved one’s birthday without eating cake, or catch up with friends without heavy appetizers. Being prepared means deciding ahead of time what you’ll eat – if anything at all.
- Post positive affirmations around your workstation or kitchen to help you avoid snacking when you aren’t hungry. A bright colored sticky note that says “I will eat with intention” can make a big difference in the choices you make!
- Pause when you first feel hungry or have a craving. Finish a task, get up and move, drink a glass of water, or skim the news. Think about whether you are truly hungry. If not, ask yourself what you really need — and then find a way to get it!
- Keep whole fruits or vegetables handy – they stay fresh longer, and are easy to eat, even if you’re heading out the door (though it’s best to focus on your food, rather than eating on the run). If you prefer chopped veggies with dip, keep a supply cut in the refrigerator so you won’t be inconvenienced in the moment.
- Eat snacks slowly and deliberately. Don’t eat them as you work, watch tv, or scroll through social media.
- Find snacks with volume. For instance, you can eat a whole bell pepper with 3 oz of hummus for less than 200 calories. 20 regular potato chips amounts to approximately 200 calories. Which do you think fills you up (and keeps you full)?
- Portion size matters – so measure your food until you are certain you know what one portion looks like.
Related Article: How to Lose Weight Working From Home
10 Delicious Healthy Snack Alternatives
Have you ever noticed how you feel after digging into a bag of chips or a handful of cookies? Chances are, it’s not great – at least not for long.
While you may get an initial “high” from these comfort foods, are they really satisfying your physical hunger? When you find heartier options that include protein, healthy fats and healthy carbs your snacks are doing what they’re meant to do: keeping your body fueled and ready for action.
Below is a small sampling of healthy options. With some creativity, preparation, and the right spices the options are endless!
Just remember – whole, fresh foods make much better choices than processed packaged foods. Using that one rule of thumb will help ensure that your snacks are helping you – not hindering your weight loss!
Try these delicious options when the urge to snack comes upon you:
1. Toast with Avocado or Natural Nut Butter
A slice of multigrain toast spread with avocado or a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter is filling and balances protein, whole grains, and the healthy fat your body needs.
2. Fresh veggies with Hummus or Guacamole
Fresh Veggies are always a great choice – they’re filling, low in calories, and packed with nutrients. To add variety to the flavors and keep veggies interesting, try them dipped in guacamole (see recipe below) or hummus. With such a range of hummus flavors available, you’ll never get bored!
To keep portion sizes reasonable, buy the individual sized cups or divide a large container into 3 oz portions. If you don’t care for raw veggies, try cutting some up, adding a dash of olive oil, and popping them in the oven or air fryer.
3. Air popped popcorn with your favorite spice
Popcorn is a low calorie, filling snack that can satisfy a need to crunch, as well as a craving for salty snacks, without sabotaging weight loss. While there are plenty of commercially available flavors to choose from, be sure you’re reading labels to ensure all you’re getting is the corn and spices, not a lot of additives and preservatives.
A better option is to air pop your own corn, and sprinkle it with whatever flavor you’re in the mood for!
4. Greek yogurt and berries
Plain greek yogurt is a terrific snack choice, since it’s filled with protein but has none of the added sugar many other yogurt products contain. It can be used in a variety of ways (it makes a great dip base), but one of my favorites is to add some fresh berries, which will fulfill the urge for sweets without the unpleasant symptoms that added sugar can cause.
5. Roasted nuts with spices
A handful of nuts roasted with a blend of spices is a warm, satisfying treat. Be sure you’re paying attention to portion size here, though. While nuts are packed with protein and healthy fats, they’re also dense in calories. So when weight loss is the goal you’ll want to stick with one serving at a time (typically a small handful).
6. Olives and cheese
We hear a lot about how the Mediterranean diet promotes weight loss success for many. Olives are a staple of Mediterranean culture, and are a salty, satisfying snack that deliver the healthy fat your body needs. Pair it with a small portion of cheese for an even more filling, nutritious option.
7. Cottage cheese and peaches
Cottage cheese is another great, filling snack that can be dressed up any number of ways. I love it with fresh diced peaches, but any fresh or frozen fruit will do.
8. Fresh salsa with bean quesadilla
Fresh salsa is versatile and quite filling — especially since you can eat a lot of it without overdoing the calories! Make the base with fresh tomatoes, onions and peppers, and then mix it up however you like: perhaps some fresh mango or pineapple? You can eat it on it’s own, or use it to dress up another dish.
For a snack, I love to fill a high-fiber whole grain tortilla with black beans and a bit of cheese and grill it on a griddle, then spoon salsa on top. To add some healthy fat, a slice or two of avocado really rounds this snack out nicely.
9. Fresh Fruit skewers
Fresh fruit is a great choice to add some sweetness to your day. And why stop at just one kind? Keep some containers of cut fruit handy in the fridge, and make skewers that can change with your mood. Options include melon, apples, peaches, pears, mango, grapes, and pineapple to name a few. There truly are hundreds of possible combinations!
10. Easy roll-ups with cream cheese
Who needs bread? Spread 1 oz of cream cheese on thinly sliced turkey breast, cured salmon or lox, or other lean meat. A variety of spices can change the flavors so it’s different every time.
Healthy snacking can help, not hinder, weight loss
Some fad diets ban snacking altogether, but I know that for many women that’s not the most practical solution. Limiting calories and food consumption so drastically often leads to overeating eventually. That’s why fad diets simply aren’t sustainable!
My goal is to teach women that snacking is okay for those that find they need it, and done intentionally with healthy alternatives. You shouldn’t have to feel deprived to lose weight; that’s no way to live long term!
Learning how to plan for snacks the same way you plan for meals is the key to healthier, lighter snacking. You deserve to feel satisfied with the food you eat. The delicious options provided here can help you do just that!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD