If you ask 10 people if it's wise to snack when you're trying to lose weight (or keep it off), you'll probably get just as many opinions. The virtues of snacking are an oft-debated topic, and, like many nutrition questions, there is no clear-cut answer. It all comes down to when you're snacking, why you're snacking, and what, exactly, you're snacking on.
"Overall, a well-planned snack can actually help you stick to your nutrition goals," Stephanie Anklan, RD, LD, of CHI Saint Joseph Center for Weight Loss Surgery, told POPSUGAR. To make sure your snacking is helpful — and not secretly sabotaging your efforts — ask yourself these questions.
1. Do You Always Snack Within an Hour of Your Last Meal?
"Don't force yourself to wait for your next meal if you're feeling ravenous," Stephanie said, as this can cause you to overeat or make poor food choices. However, if you consistently find yourself reaching for a granola bar within an hour of breakfast or a bowl of ice cream right after dinner, you probably just need bigger meals. Try adding a little extra fat or protein to your meals; it should help you feel fuller longer. An extra egg in your omelet or half a sliced avocado on your salad may just help get you through until your next meal and stop overeating before it starts.
2. Are You Snacking Because You're Truly Hungry?
If not, you could be tacking on extra calories you simply can't afford when you're trying to maintain your weight or create a deficit to shed unwanted pounds. "Late-night snacking or mindless grazing can definitely get you in trouble," Stephanie warned. Whether you're munching on chips during the latest episode of Game of Thrones or reaching for a muffin and coffee at the same time every afternoon, it's important to be mindful of why you're snacking. "Ask yourself, are you bored or tired? Did you not sleep well last night?" Stephanie said. If you're eating out of boredom, try diverting your attention to another activity like reading or calling a friend. If you're seriously feeling that afternoon slump, experiment with an earlier bedtime or eat more energizing whole foods.
3. Which Foods Do You Typically Reach For?
When it comes to snacking, the issue may not be whether or not snacking is good for you, but if the snacks you're eating are the right ones. Snacks that fill you up and provide important nutrients will help you stay on track. Stephanie advises her clients to "aim for a blend of veggies or fruit, protein, and healthy fat to keep you full and satiated for a few hours." Luckily, most foods contain a combo of these three, so it shouldn't be too difficult to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Stephanie's favorites include apple slices and celery sticks (carbs) with peanut butter (protein and fat), or cherry tomatoes (carbs) with olives (fat) and salami (protein). All of these are much more filling than carbs alone and will keep the between-meal grumbles at bay.