The reasoning behind it is pretty simple: When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to overeat. And, if you have to wait too long between meals, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure. “It is very difficult for most people to withstand temptation when they are very hungry,” says Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Of course, there’s a big difference between snacking on junk food whenever you want and snacking on stuff that’s good for you in a planned-out way, says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, and it's important to be smart about your snacking. Here’s how to go about snacking for weight loss the right way:
Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates alone, so you’ll feel satisfied longer, Angelone says. A high-protein snack like a handful of nuts or hard-boiled egg also help keep your blood sugar stable, which makes it unlikely that you’ll be hungry again before you should.
Sure, sugar tastes awesome, but it’s not going to do you any favours. “Snacks that are nothing more than sugar kilojoules, like soda, candy, or many energy bars, are a waste of kilojoules and won’t help you meet your healthy weight goals,” Upton says. These snacks can also cause your blood sugar to spike, which is followed by a crash—and that can make you feel like eating again not long after you snack.
Having two spaced-out snacks a day (one between breakfast and lunch, and another between lunch and dinner) can do two things: help you avoid overeating at the next meal because you’re famished and help keep your energy levels up between meals, Angelone says. This is especially helpful if you tend to eat breakfast early and have a late dinner.
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Obviously, you want to eat less during snack time than you’d have at a meal, but it can be tough to figure out how much to eat. Upton recommends having a snack of up to 840 kilojoules. “It should have fibre and/or protein to help keep you fuller, longer,” she says.
The longer you wait to eat when you’re hungry, the more you’re likely to just cave and eat something crappy. That’s why Angelone recommends having your snacks prepped and ready for when it’s go time. Also, put the tempting stuff where it’s out of reach or out of sight so you don’t get the urge to grab them in a pinch.
If you know ice cream is your thing, and you can’t do without having it here and there, it’s okay to put it in the snack rotation as an occasional treat. Just make sure you have a healthier version of it on-hand, like Halo Top, which is high in protein and low in sugar without tasting like “light” ice cream, Upton says. The same is true for gummy candy (dried fruit is a good swap) and chips (try air-popped popcorn or roasted chickpeas).
It sounds weird, but hunger pains can actually feel really similar to the sign that you’re thirsty, Angelone says. (That can explain why you may feel starving when you first wake up—you could just be really thirsty.) If you feel ravenous when it’s snack time, try having some water first. It could prevent you from overeating.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.