There probably won’t ever be a consensus on whether it’s better to snack between meals or stick to eating three times per day to best manage weight. Even scientific studies can’t come to an agreement. Some have shown incorporating a few mini meals into the day can help shed pounds while others have demonstrated the opposite. No wonder we’re all so confused.
Here are the snacking mistakes you could be making.
1. Choosing the wrong foods
What do chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, trail mix, and an apple have in common? They’re all considered fair game for snacking. The term doesn’t really have any requirements as far as nutritional standards, so it’s easy to grab whatever sounds good when you start feeling peckish.
Instead of reaching for whatever food sounds tastiest, think about what ingredients will keep you most satisfied. Ideally, it should be something that gives you a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fat. If you’re a kitchen pro, try whipping up one of these healthy recipes. Even certain packaged foods can work in a pinch.
2. Chowing down at night
Though the findings on snacking in general remain inconclusive, the impact of late night eating is quite clear. More and more researchers are coming to the same conclusion: Eating late in the evening is bad news for your waistline. One example was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found nighttime eaters gained nearly 10 pounds more than those who didn’t chow down after hours over the course of the study.
3. Eating when you aren’t actually hungry
Most of us eat because of what the clock says rather than what our bodies are telling us. It makes sense for bigger meals, particularly if you’re dining with others, but there’s no reason to eat your mid-afternoon granola bar if you don’t feel hungry. Maintaining a regular schedule is barely scratching the surface, though. People often start noshing out of boredom, because food is presented to them, or as a way to cope with intense feelings.
Emotional eating is probably the biggest one, especially when it’s related to stress. Harvard Health Publications explains anxiety often leads people to consume foods high in sugar and fat, which can wreak havoc on your waist. If you’re going through a rough patch or have a big presentation coming up, try engaging in a stress-relieving workout.
4. Letting yourself become dehydrated
Say you feel famished at 10:30 a.m. and know you can’t possibly make it to lunch. Before reaching for something to eat, try drinking a full glass of water first. Many of us walk around chronically dehydrated and don’t realize our bodies are crying out for water when we feel peckish. One study even reported participants responded inappropriately to their combined feelings of hunger and thirst 62% of the time.
If you make it a habit to regularly drink water during the day, you could avoid the hunger issue altogether. If water’s not your thing, try tea. Just be wary of beverages with a lot of sugar because you’ll end up consuming as many calories as if you’d eaten.
5. Eating too much
What starts as a snack can quickly turn into a full-fledged meal if you aren’t careful. Eating from open containers often leads to this problem because it’s hard to tell just how much you’ve consumed. Take almonds, for example. Most nutritionists recommend about ¼ cup for a snack, which provides 170 calories and 15 grams of fat. Eating out of the package might prompt you to eat three times that amount, which is basically a meal at 510 calories and 45 grams of fat.
6. Going all snacks all the time
According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, American adults get about 24% of their daily calories from snacks. This seems pretty reasonable, but the same report indicated overweight individuals have much greater snacking tendencies, consuming 40% of their daily calories from these mini meals. So it seems the problem is turning the day into a nonstop eating spree.
7. It’s all liquid
Some people like a mid-afternoon treat in the form of a juice or coffee drink. Sounds harmless enough, until you realize how many calories you’re quaffing. A 16-ounce vanilla latte made with whole milk is 290 calories, and most of that comes from sugar and fat. Though juices made with fruits and vegetables will certainly provide key nutrients, they’re still high in sugar.