Snacking doesn't have to ruin your healthy eating plans!
For many of us, the term ‘snacking’ is often associated with ruining healthy eating plans, cheating on diets, and generally failing to live up to our own lofty expectations.
But here’s the thing - having a snack doesn’t have to involve any of the highly processed, sugary, oily morsels of empty calories, known as ’snack foods.’
Snacking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it can actually be a great way to keep your portion sizes under control at meal times, whilst boosting your energy levels throughout the day - without resorting to intravenous coffee.
So, the good news is, you definitely don’t need to quit snacking - but tweaking a few habits here and there could keep you in great shape, whilst ensuring you don’t ever feel deprived.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow, to make sure you’re snacking the healthy way.
Satisfy with substantial snacks
Allowing yourself to become insanely ravenous and irrational by meal time can result in putting away a mountain of food before you even become aware of what’s happening. Having a few healthy snacks throughout the day is the best way to prevent an overindulgence of epic proportions.
The trick is to make sure you’re choosing snacks that will keep you feeling satisfied, and with steady blood sugar levels for at least a couple of hours. The easiest way to ensure this without turning a snack into a meal, is to combine high fibre foods with those that contain some protein.
Think: apple slices with peanut butter, carrots dipped in homemade hummus, or a date and walnut slice! Yum!
Only buy whole foods
Supermarket snack food isles are places to avoid if you really want to snack the healthy way. Highly processed, packaged snack foods are a very convenient solution when you’re hungry and busy, but despite whatever clever marketing slogan is jumping out at you from the packaging, the vast majority of these ‘foods’ have no place in a truly healthy lifestyle.
If you stock your fridge with market-quality fruits and vegetables, and fill your pantry with a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, then you’ll only have healthy snack options available at home.
For snacks at work or school, opt for the kinds of fruits, veggies and nuts that are easy to pack and take with you. For example: grapes, almonds, apples, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and bananas.
Healthy snacks can also be a little more decadent if you prefer to get creative in the kitchen. If you have a food processor at home, there are many delicious, plant-based snack recipes online, such as choc-protein cookie dough balls, and coconut & almond choc chip protein slice.
Get more sleep
The importance of a good night’s sleep is significant to pretty much every aspect of our lives, and even our snacking habits are likely to suffer as a result of too many late nights.
Sleep deprived people not only tend to eat more calories than those who are well rested, but they are also much more likely to make poor food choices.
When we haven't slept well, our energy is low and staying focused is really difficult. This means we’re much more likely to crave sugary snacks and processed carbs to get a quick (but short-lived) surge of energy.
Getting enough sleep helps us feel good, and when we feel good we make good choices - so keep your healthy snacking on track by prioritizing sleep and getting more early nights.
Take a moment
When cravings strike in between meals, just take a moment to ask yourself whether it’s nutrients you’re needing, or if you’re actually just tired, thirsty, stressed or just in need of some comfort.
If you’re at work, perhaps a break is all you need. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotional, maybe a relaxing bath or a phone call from a friend is what will really help.
With processed, packaged foods so readily available to us, we’ll often snack as a way to distract, comfort or entertain ourselves. The key to healthy snacking is to ensure you’re eating to meet your body’s needs, and providing it with the best nourishment possible.
So, take a moment… close your eyes… and ask your body, mind and soul what they’re trying to tell you.
Be present, snack mindfully
To get a better feel for your energy needs and to keep track of what you’re eating each day, it really helps to practice mindful eating - even for the littlest of snacks.
Rather than eating while you drive, walk, or watch TV - put your food on a plate and sit down somewhere without any distractions. Spend your snack time being present in the moment - look at your food… smell it… taste it… and enjoy it.
Avoid eating any of your snack before it’s on the plate and you’re comfortably seated. You’ll find it’s much more satisfying this way, and over time, you’ll find that you become really in-tune to what your body needs, and the kinds of foods that make you feel your best.
Bringing awareness into your snack time will help you make healthy choices and avoid eating too much or too little.
Never skip a meal
Many of us are guilty of skipping the occasional meal when we’re busy or tired, or even just trying to reduce the calories we consume.
Breakfast is the meal most commonly skipped, and this can have less than desirable consequences when it comes to our next snack. As soon as the hunger pangs hit, we’re likely to end up eating a meal that’s the equivalent of a two-sized snack, consisting of the nearest available junk food.
Commit to having breakfast, lunch and dinner every day to see your snack time mishaps turn into a healthy and wholesome hunger management strategy.
Following these suggestions will take the guilt and shame out of snacking, and replace them with a gratitude for healthy food. A well-fuelled body calms the mind, making any challenge we face - big or small - much easier to overcome.
Remember though, that no one should be striving for perfection and there is no harm in the occasional slip up. Aim for optimal snack habits and keep these guidelines in mind next time you need some help getting your snacking back on track!