Snacking for weight loss is a thing, as counterintuitive as that sounds. Eating more often to lose weight? Yup, it can work. "People trying to lose weight may want to skip snacking in order to cut calories, but then you tend to become extra hungry between meals," Samantha Finkelstein, R.D., founder of Nerdy Girl Nutrition , tells SELF. "Any time your blood sugar drops and you become ravenous, it's harder to make sound food choices."
Before we get into it, though, important disclaimer: Losing weight is different for every person, so what works for someone else may not work for you. There's no such thing as a quick fix, and if your goal is to lose weight, it's important to have realistic expectations and to approach the goal in a healthy and thoughtful way. Losing weight isn't just about food intake, also; your sleep, your stress levels, your health, and your hormones can all play a role, making it a super personalized thing that looks different from one person to the next. And if you have a history of disordered eating , it's important to talk to a doctor before you begin messing with your eating habits. Even if you don't have a history of disordered eating, it's important to think about why you're trying to lose weight, and to consider what kind of energy you might need to put in to doing it—and really check in with yourself about whether that kind of effort will be healthy for you in a holistic sense. In many cases, the healthier thing is to eat mindfully, pay attention to your body, and not spend time or brainpower thinking about calories or the numbers on the scale. Again—it's personal. The most important thing is to be good to yourself.
Now let's talk snacks. Snacking is a superstar habit, even if you're not trying to lose weight. Peppering healthy mini-meals throughout your day keeps your energy stable, allowing you to power through the day, and it prevents you from overeating at proper meals . Here, registered dietitians share eight key rules for how to snack the right way.
1. Try to eat every three or four hours.
"Once you pass that four-hour mark, that’s when your blood sugar levels drop and you get into trouble," Brigitte Zeitlin, R.D., M.P.H., C.D.N., founder of the New York-based BZ Nutrition , tells SELF. Think of your eating schedule like a clock that starts at breakfast, which Zeitlin recommends having within 30 minutes of getting up. "After that, you should eat a meal or snack every three to four hours until dinner," she says. "Make sure to stay awake for at least 30 minutes after your final meal to allow for proper digestion and a better night’s rest."
2. Get the right mix of nutrients.
Snacking for weight loss—or snacking, period—can seem intimidating because you have to figure out the proper balance of what your body needs, but dietitians have some helpful guidelines. "Check the nutrition labels of what you eat, or look up the item online," says Zeitlin. "Aim for 3 or more grams of fiber and at least 5 grams of protein ." Together, fiber and protein create a super-filling combo that helps you stay level-headed until your next meal. You should also keep an eye out for sugar and sodium, two potential troublemakers. "Keep sodium below 170 milligrams per snack, and limit sugar to 5 or fewer grams," says Zeitlin. snacking for weight loss
3. Consider snacking your top priority when it's actually happening.
Multitasking is a hard habit to quit, but it's worth it to cut down on other activities when you're eating. This practice, also known as mindful eating , is based on the premise that fully concentrating on every aspect of your meal ultimately makes the food more satisfying. "While snacking, take the time to sit and eat without distractions," says Finkelstein. "Step away from your desk, the television, computer, or anything that might divert your attention from the sensation of what you're eating."
4. Turn your snack game up a notch if you're a workout fiend.
Eating right before you exercise is a recipe for stomach pain. Finish up your pre-workout snack at least an hour before you start sweating so you have enough time to digest, says Zeitlin. "That also helps you have enough energy for a really great workout!" she says. Here are a few pre-workout snacks that also happen to be low-calorie.
As for post-workout snacks , Zeitlin recommends going for one if your next meal is going to be more than four hours after you're done working out.
5. Avoid the BLTs.
"Bites, Licks, and Tastes—or BLTs, as I like to call them—can add up to 500 additional calories a day," says Finkelstein. That's because people sometimes confuse grazing and snacking when they're two completely different things. "Snacking the right way means you have specific times of day that you’re eating and stopping, while grazing is a casual, constant state of eating throughout the day without really paying attention to how much you’re consuming," says Zeitlin.
6. Stay away from low-fat or "light" items.
They sound ideal, but those keywords are giveaways that the food is likely loaded with sugar and added sodium to compensate for flavor loss, says Zeitlin.
7. Actually, skip most packaged foods altogether.
The convenience is tempting, but you're often better off taking the time to make your own snack. "With pre-packaged foods, you run the risk of consuming artificial ingredients," says Finkelstein. "Not only do they not provide health benefits, they don’t tend to keep you full either." That just leads to mindless grazing to fill the pit in your stomach—not ideal, whether you're trying to lose weight or not.
8. And stock up on real ones instead.
They're the ones that come sans wrapper, or otherwise have a minimal ingredients list. "It’s best to stick with the snacks nature has given us. They have no icky additives, usually lots of good stuff like fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals, and items like fruits and vegetables are naturally portion-controlled," says Finkelstein." Things like nuts, natural nut butters, and hummus are also good options. But the truth is, it's normal to hit snooze one too many times and need a quick bite that won't leave you feeling sluggish and bloated. "When I need something substantial in a pinch, I love Larabars, made from all-natural, real foods," says Finkelstein.
All of that sounds pretty doable, right? For some grocery inspiration, the experts share some of their preferred snacks:
Samantha Finkelstein's favorite bites:
1 cup sliced raw bell peppers with 2 tablespoons hummus
1 apple (if sliced, 1/2 cup) with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup baby carrots with around 2 ounces sliced turkey and 1 tablespoon hummus
Brigitte Zeitlin's go-to snacks:
1 serving of Greek yogurt with ½ cup of fresh or frozen raspberries
1 part-skim stick of string cheese with ½ cup of grapes
1 cup of edamame
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