Snacking can be a key component in maintaining a healthy weight, as long as it is done with intention and a high level of mindfulness. What do I mean by that? If we mindlessly snack throughout the day out of boredom or cravings, we will likely end up eating when we aren't actually hungry, eating too much, and eating the wrong foods, which will lead to weight gain. However, if we strategically eat healthy snacks throughout our day, when we actually feel hungry, we can prevent overeating at our larger meals, minimize cravings, increase metabolism, and regulate blood sugar levels, all of which help us on the path to a healthy weight.
The two crucial factors here are:
1. Practicing mindful eating, which means learning to listen to when our bodies are physically hungry vs. emotionally hungry, and slowing down with food. The body is amazing at regulating its own weight if we eat the right foods only when we are actually hungry, and stop eating when we are full. The problem is that many of us aren't tuning into our bodies enough to hear what they really need. Start cultivating awareness around your physical vs. emotional hunger by keeping a food journal. Write down everything you eat and next to it, write down how you were feeling before, physically and mentally. You may start to notice patterns of when you are eating when you aren’t physically hungry, and noticing is the first step to changing. Also, take note of how long it is taking you to eat each meal and snack. When we eat too quickly, we put our bodies into a stress state and can’t gauge how full we are getting. Here is some more info and tips for slowing down (link to Stress & Eating blog post) Working with an Eating Psychology Coach can help you learn ways to be more mindful with eating and help you navigate and work though your emotional hunger.
2. Eating nutrient dense snacks that won't spike blood sugar and will keep you fuller for longer, which means snacks full of healthy proteins and fats and complex carbohydrates. Our blood sugar levels rise and drop too drastically when we eat too many refined carbohydrates (aka: cookies, chips, cereal, candy, juices, soda). Some of my favorite healthy snacks include:
Veggies and/or Mary's Gone crackers with hummus
An apple or banana with almond or peanut butter
Half of an avocado with sea salt
Canned sardines or tuna
Homemade energy balls.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight requires keeping our blood sugar balanced. If we are getting enough essential fats, clean protein, and complex carbohydrates in our meals, blood sugar levels will stay within normal range. If you are feeling like you need to snack just to bring your blood sugar levels back up (feeling jittery, fatigued, lightheaded), you may want to examine your overall diet to see where you can eliminate refined carbohydrates and add in more healthy proteins and fats, especially at breakfast. That being said, even if you are eating healthy snacks, it's not good to be constantly snacking throughout the entire day, because we need to give our insulin (our fat storing hormone) a rest. If we never let ourselves get to the point where we feel hunger pangs, our insulin levels will always be elevated, storing excess nutrients as fat. It's important to strategically snack to find that balance of never feeling either too hungry or too full.
A Lot to Digest?
It's always beneficial to see a Nutrition & Eating Psychology Coach when you are setting out to make changes in your diet and lifestyle because it can be challenging at first! Our brains are wired to keep repeating patterns, so it's helpful to have someone to partner with you to start changing those ingrained habits.