Logic may say to you that snacking will only make you gain weight or stop you from losing weight. Strange as it sounds, it is snacking that may help you reach your weight loss goals and help you meet your nutrient needs. Of course how you snack is what will make the difference. Grazing, or munching on snacks throughout the day, will certainly lead to unwanted weight gain or prevent you from losing weight. On the other hand, regularly planned snacks fit into your meal plan will keep you on track for a well balanced diet and prevent your urge to splurge on less desirable food options.
Figuring out how snacks will work for you depends on your schedule. If you find that you are going over 4 hours between meals, consider adding a snack in between meals to ward of excessive hunger come mealtime. That can lead to making poor food choices. Skipping meals and not eating much throughout the day is a bad habit to have if you are looking to be healthy and have a balanced diet. It is hard to get everything you need all at once, and even sometimes hard to get it all in 3 meals. This is where snacking can come to the rescue.
Here are some reasons why snacking may be just the weight loss habit you are looking for:
1) Helps you get the vitamins and minerals you need- Even with planned out meals to ensure balance from a variety of foods, it is easy to miss out on nutrients. Snack time is a good time to aim for fruits, veggies and low fat dairy foods to boost your intake for vitamins and minerals. With less worry about following a recipe or eating a “meal” you can focus on what you may have missed out on yesterday or know you don’t have planned for later.
2) Prevents you from overeating at meals- Starting off your meal feeling famished can lead to eating just about everything in sight. It may not be that extreme for you, but it is possible to overeat. Being overly hungry come meal time may lead to eating quickly and not allowing enough time for the message from your stomach to reach your brain that you are full. By the time you get that message you may have already eaten past your limit (and your needs).
3) Helps you feel satisfied- Making yourself feel deprived by placing foods and “snacks” off limits can leave you feeling like you are missing out. Let this go on for a few days and before you know it you are seeking out something to fill that void or satisfy your cravings. Allowing for planned snacks/snack time means you can help yourself stay satisfied and not worry about a grumbling stomach between meals. Even better, you will have something there when that feeling comes on and won’t feel like you need to rush to find a vending machine.
4) Gets you out of the “I’m on a diet” mentality- Let’s be honest, it is easy to get trapped in this way of thinking. Feeling restricted and forcing yourself to eat fewer times per day isn’t going to help you in the long run. Knowing that you can enjoy “normal” meals and snacks during the day can reduce stress about wanting or craving certain foods and overeating at meal times. The best advice is to change your diet, not go on one…and a healthy diet is just the change you need!
5) Maintains your concentration- Without the grumble in your tummy you can focus better on the task at hand. For most of us that is getting our work done so we can enjoy friends and family in our off time. It is easier to be productive when your glucose levels are up and you are feeling satisfied. Without those hunger pangs you are free to focus your attention where it is really needed.
There you have it; snacks can be a healthy part of a weight loss diet. Choosing wisely will ensure that you are not picking foods with little nutritional benefit and more calories than you really need. The vending machine may not be your best option, but packing snacks from home will make sure you get the mid-day boost you need and prevent poor food choices come dinner time.
By Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD