How many times have you heard tips on how to curb snack cravings? A ton, right? We've definitely written about them a lot, too. But here's the thing: While over-snacking can definitely compromise your weight-loss goals, it is possible to eat between meals and still drop pounds. "Mindfully snacking can help keep hunger at bay, and it can even help fuel your metabolism," says Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., the dietician for the Phillies and the Flyers. "But snacking doesn't equal weight loss if you make unhealthy food choices or consume too much." So how can you make sure to snack the right way? Just follow these tips:
Ignore All Those Rules About the Ideal Time to Snack
Some people will tell you it's a bad idea to snack between breakfast and lunch. Others will tell you that you have to have an apple at 3 p.m.—not 4 p.m.—if you want to avoid overeating. In reality, it's all kind of b.s. "The best time to eat a snack is when you're hungry," says Cavuto. "For some people, that's mid-morning. For others, it's in the afternoon—or maybe both. Listen to your body, and fuel when you need it." One trick that Cavuto likes to use to help people keep tabs on their hunger—particularly if you're the type of person who's often so busy that you forget to eat— is to set a "snack timer." Set an alarm for a few times throughout the day, and when it goes off, take that moment to pause and assess if you're hungry, thirsty, or neither. That way you won't find yourself suddenly famished at 7 p.m.
…But Don't Snack When You're Not Hungry
Just as you should eat when you're hungry, you should also avoid eating just because you heard it's important to have an afternoon snack if your stomach's not grumbling. "Don't snack for the sake of snacking," says Cavuto. Let your body's cues dictate if you need to eat—and boredom or stress are not reasons to snack." (If you're feeling anxious, check out these 10 ways to relieve stress before you snack.) Keep in mind that you also may misinterpret thirst for hunger, so make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Stay Under 200 Calories
Cavuto says this is a good ballpark to aim for to make sure that your snacks don't turn into mini-meals. Of course, if you find yourself full before you finish your 200-calorie snack, feel free to save the rest for later. "Listen to your body," says Cavuto. "If you feel satisfied before you finish you snack—reality check—you're not obligated to eat the whole thing."
Go for a Mix of Protein, Fiber, and Healthy Fats
This is the ultimate trifecta for a snack that will keep you full for hours, says Cavuto. "You want to choose foods that are nutrient dense and will fuel your body while satisfying your cravings," she says. Examples of eats that contain all three of these nutrients include roasted chickpeas or kale chips that have been drizzled with olive oil or a piece of fruit with nuts or a hardboiled egg. If you don't have the time to prep those, Cavuto also recommends Kind bars.
If you hit the corner store or the vending machine when hunger strikes, you're limited to the options there—and even if you pick something healthful like nuts, the portion size can be much larger than you necessarily want or need. Combat this by planning ahead and bringing your own perfectly portioned snacks with you, suggests Cavuto.
Have Fun with Your Snacks
At the end of the day, if you're eating crackers that taste like cardboard just because you think you should, you'll probably end up feeling unsatisfied. That's why Cavuto recommends experimenting with different snack options to find ones you love. "Weight loss doesn't have to mean deprivation," she says. "Get creative, and plan for snacks and meals that really satisfy you."