Are you finding yourself hitting the bottom of a crunchy bag of chips or a pint of ice cream and don’t even remember each bite? How did this happen?
Or…you make yourself a perfect snack of fruits and veggies…and then are hungry just moments later and are disappointed to find yourself scrounging in the pantry for more?
Why do you feel so out of control around food? Why do you only want “junk food”? You’re probably wondering how to stop snacking entirely.
I’m here to help! I’m Jamie, a Registered Dietitian with nearly a decade of experience navigating healthy eating and helping you feel empowered and happy around food.
If you’re feeling out of control around snacks and just want to quit: this blog post is for you.
Let’s kick things off with a little discussion about if snacking should go…or if some snacking is okay.
Surprise: Snacking isn’t bad
If you’re working toward reaching your healthiest weight, struggling with weight gain, or just trying to eat more healthfully, snacks can feel like they’re nothing but “extra calories”.
This may surprise you, but I’m not here to tell you that you should stop snacking or that snacking is a bad thing. In fact, snacks can be super useful for feeling more in control around food.
But, if you find yourself doing more mindless snacking than you’d like, or you’re feeling guilty about certain snack foods, this is an opportunity to get curious about why those things are happening.
The truth is: you’re allowed to eat any food (snacks included!). I’m a dietitian, so it is probably no surprise that I’m a fan of fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and other nourishing foods. But it may actually be a surprise to learn that I also like the fun stuff, too.
Do you feel so hungry and out of control around snacks that you could use a framework of how to plan meals that keeps you feeling satisfied for longer? This blog is your go-to (and also be sure to check out my Handbook for even more information to make you feel empowered around eating).
Do you have assumptions that you should never eat chips, ice cream, or any fun foods? It’s time to start letting those “rules” go – they’re not nourishing your best life!
If you’re ready for 10 easy-to-follow, practical tips on how to pace your eating throughout the day in a way that feels good, these tips will help. Feeling nourished will help to prevent feeling out of control around snacks!
1. Eat regularly spaced, balanced meals
The first place to start is to eat at regular intervals throughout the day– at least every 4-5 hours is a good idea. This helps keep your hunger and fullness cues a lot more stable, which means they’ll be easier to listen to!
Make sure your meals and snacks are nutritionally balanced so they can provide energy and nutrients for your body. This means protein, fat, and carbs at most meals and snacks.
By giving your body the fuel it needs, you won’t feel so snacky and out of control at the end of the day. Your mood and energy levels will benefit too!
Remember, it’s not all about eating the absolute most nutritious foods, all the time. Don’t forget to include your favorite foods! If your meals aren’t satisfying, you’re more likely to start reaching for foods mindlessly.
If you’re doing a lot of nighttime snacking, this piece is especially important. I know this sounds simple, but start with eating regular meals! Grazing will typically fuel more grazing behavior.
Looking for ideas for a healthier option? Here are some tasty, satisfying balanced snack ideas: Balanced Snacks to Fuel Your Health Goals (RD Approved!)
2. Prioritize protein at meals
Protein is a great source of satiety and can help keep you full for longer. An easy way to eat more protein is to include sources of protein at most meals like yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, or tofu.
You definitely don’t need to be 100% perfect all the time, but having protein-rich food at most meals helps to keep your blood sugar (and, ahem, mood) stable for longer.
Want to learn more about protein? Check out this post: Facts About Protein From a Registered Dietitian.
3. Focus on fiber
Did you know that most adults are far from meeting their recommended amount of daily fiber? Aim to include at least 3-4 sources of fiber each day. Women should aim for at least 25g of fiber per day, and men should aim for at least 38g.
Fiber has many health benefits, but one of the most important for our conversations about satiety today is that fiber helps keep you full and stabilizes your blood sugar levels to help reduce your cravings for sweet or salty snacks.
Some great sources of high-fiber foods are beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
Eating more fiber does not need to mean plate after plate of raw veggies or giant salads if that’s not your thing. Here are a few of my favorite tasty, high-fiber recipes:
- The Best Avocado Toast with Tomato
- Sunrise Sunset Tropical Smoothie Recipe
- Inside-Out Egg Roll (Easy 20-Minute Recipe!)
4. Make sure your meals include some fat
Fat is another nutrient that can help you feel fuller for longer. Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado are important to include in meals.
You aren’t actually doing yourself favors by skipping salad dressings or other sources of healthy fats. Let’s leave that fat phobia in the 90s and enjoy our meals with some rich and creamy fats included!
My Easy Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe is super quick to whip up and takes your salads up a level – pinky promise!
5. Don’t wait until you’re starving to eat
It’s better to eat sooner, rather than later when hunger starts to creep in. Ever try to make a healthy food choice when you’re absolutely starving?
If you wait until you’re starving to eat, it can be harder to make balanced and satisfying choices.
When you listen to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, you’re able to make a choice that feels good both in terms of having the mental bandwidth to make good plans for your next meal, and also in the ability to listen to your fullness cues when they start to pop up. I.e. if you eat before you’re ravenous, you’re less likely to binge eat.
6. Eat more mindfully
If you’re doing a lot of eating in front of the TV, scrolling on IG, grabbing handfuls of snacky foods every time you walk by your pantry, you’re probably doing a lot of mindless eating.
Mindful eating is a great practice that can help you become more in tune with your hunger and fullness signals.
Try slowing down when you’re eating, focusing your attention on your food, noticing if you are still hungry or full after each bite, and avoiding distractions (like scrolling on social media).
Now of course, this is our real life, so it isn’t reasonable to expect to eat every single meal away from a screen, but when you can slow down and enjoy a meal with fewer distractions, enjoy the opportunity.
7. More ZZZZs
Did you know that when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re hungrier the next day? Think back to your last really terrible night of sleep: how did you feel the next day? Did you crave carbs? This isn’t your imagination.
Lack of sleep changes your hormone patterns the next day and makes your body crave carbs. To feel your best self, aim for 7-8 (or more!) hours of sleep each night. When you’re more rested, your body is in a better place to make decisions about food.
8. Stress management
Surely this is no surprise, but stress eating is real. When you’re stressed out it’s much more difficult to make healthy choices because so much of your headspace is being used up already. Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to make healthier choices after a stressful, busy day at work?
For most people, stress eating (aka emotional eating) probably won’t disappear entirely, but if it’s out of control– it’s a good place to put some focus.
There’s nothing wrong with using food for comfort sometimes, I just recommend that this not be your only tool to manage stress.
In addition to food, consider other ways to manage and process stress, such as exercise, meditation, therapy, and journaling. And if there is any opportunity to reduce your stress, your body will thank you.
9. Stay hydrated
Did you know that it is possible to want food when really you just need some water? I’m not saying that you should drink water to mask feelings of hunger. But, when you’re feeling dehydrated it can be really tricky to listen to your hunger cues accurately.
Stay hydrated throughout the day and if you’re jfeeling extra extra snacky, have a glass of water first. If your hunger persists afterward, assess how hungry you are and what type of food would make you feel satisfied or nourished.
Even though I am a dietitian and know that water is a great hydration choice, I like to have a little fun and variety, too! This Iced Strawberry Green Tea Recipe is SO refreshing on a hot summer day.
10. Enjoy balanced snacks
If you’re hungry…eat!
Eating well-timed, nutritious snacks can be a total game changer for feeling in control around food throughout the day.
To optimize your snacks and help them to actually keep you full in between meals, work on including each of the macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs. A great example of a balanced snack is some nut butter on an apple or a cup of yogurt with some berries sprinkled on top.
And PS– if you’re craving a snack that doesn’t fit that bill, eat it! Allowing yourself to enjoy all foods is key to managing cravings and feeling in control around food. Remember that what you’re doing on a regular basis is what matters most.
That’s a (snack) wrap!
At the end of the day, snacking doesn’t need to be bad or good— it can just be a regular part of your eating pattern.
If you’re feeling out of control or guilty about your snacking habits, it is worth exploring where those feelings are coming from and why it’s happening.
Maybe you would benefit from some support in planning a realistic, balanced eating plan. Maybe you have some food rules that are not bringing you joy. Either way: a dietitian can help!
Snacking is neither good nor bad – it’s how you approach it that matters most. If you’re ready to feel in control of your snacking habits, try implementing some of these tips so that you can snack when you want in a way that feels good.
Building any new habit takes time, so give these tips practice! The next time you’re feeling like you can’t lay off the “unhealthy” snacks, revisit this blog post!
And when you’re ready for a dietitian-crafted guide on how to actually improve your eating habits (and to stop dieting), check out The Balanced Basics Handbook so that you can understand protein, carbs, and fat without obsessing over them and put together balanced, satisfying meals using a simple, flexible method.