5 Snacking Mistakes That Can Sabotage Weight Loss
1. Skipping an afternoon snack, then going all-out at dinner.
I call between 3:00 and 4:00 P.M. “the critical juncture.” Your energy naturally dips in the afternoon thanks to your circadian rhythm. If you’ve had a normal-sized lunch, you’ll probably get a bit hungry a few hours later, and that’s OK.
Without a healthy snack ready to go at this point, your concentration can start to falter, and you’re much more likely to accept the siren song of whichever available food comes your way, whether it’s a latte and a huge cookie or free office donuts. Indulging is great, but doing it just because you’re ravenous isn’t ideal.
For many people, not having a healthy snack in the afternoon (more on what makes a healthy snack in a bit) means arriving home starving and eating two dinners: the cheese and crackers/chips/whatever else they nibble on while cooking dinner, and dinner itself. Having a snack at that critical juncture can help tide you over so you finish the day just as committed to your healthy habits as you started.
2. Turning a snack into a legitimate meal.
To keep a snack from creeping into meal territory, it should be between 150 to 200 calories. Bonus points if it has a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
Some great snack ideas are a handful of roasted chickpeas, ¼ cup of nuts and a few apricot halves, 2 percent yogurt and a few pistachios, two Medjool dates stuffed with almond butter, two fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto, an ounce of cheese with a few crackers, and a piece of fruit with a tablespoon of peanut butter. These all combine protein, carbs, and fat to give you long-lasting satiety and energy.
If you space your meals and snacks correctly (you should be eating every couple of hours), you shouldn’t need a huge snack. The purpose of snacking is to carry you through your next meal, not to replace it.
3. Forgetting to snack before and after you exercise.
Let’s say you go from lunch to an after-work exercise session to dinner without eating anything in between. Going so many hours without eating would be a recipe for low energy and extreme hunger, even if you didn’t throw a workout in there.
So, what does this all add up to? A less-than-stellar workout that’s probably lower-intensity than you’d like (thanks to the lack of a pre-workout snack), followed by overeating once you’re home (thanks to the absence of post-workout fuel). When this becomes a habit, it’s an easy—and avoidable—way to potentially sabotage your goals.
4. Letting boredom or other emotions convince you you’re hungry.
It’s 8:00 P.M., you just ate dinner an hour ago, but you’re still foraging for something else to eat. Are you really hungry, or do you just want something to occupy you? Before you start snacking, ask yourself if there’s something you need besides food, like emotional comfort from a friend, some yoga stretches to relieve stress, or water, since it’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger.
Of course, you may actually be hungry. In that case, don’t feel like you can’t eat after dinner—it’s a myth that it’ll instantly make you gain weight. But don’t sit in front of the TV and mindlessly dive into whatever you’re having. Portion out what you want to eat so it’s snack-sized, then put the rest away. Here are some great snacks registered dietitians like to eat before bed.
5. Grazing all day, every day.
A few chips off the snack table at work. A piece of your friend’s chocolate bar. A handful of crackers. Constantly picking at food isn’t really snacking, it’s more like a day-long graze that usually results in you eating a heck of a lot more that you would if your meals and snacks had a definitive start and end time.
Sit down, and eat mindfully and purposefully. You’ll probably find that you eat enough to fuel your body without going overboard and that your food choices are a lot better. It’s a win-win.
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