Snack Attack: How to Eat Smarter Between Meals

You're quietly working at your desk, when you're struck by an overwhelming desire to head to the vending machine for a snack.

It's possible that your body needs food. It's more likely that you want to that bag of chips or sweet snack because you're bored, stressed or smell something yummy in the cube next to you.

Stopping to ask yourself why you want the snack is a simple and helpful exercise to prevent overeating and keep your fitness and weight goals on track.

The next time you feel a snack attack coming on, take a minute to decide whether your body truly needs the fuel. Here's how.

More: 25 Healthy Snacks for Runners

Is it For Real?

Before you reach for a snack, ask yourself:

  • Is my stomach growling?
  • How long has it been since I ate last?
  • Did I just see someone else eating?
  • Do I smell someone else's snack?

Learning to distinguish boredom, stress, emotions and pure biology from real hunger is important. For example, the smell of your neighbor's snack will cause ghrelin levels to rise, which gives cues to your stomach—even if you're not hungry.

Determine whether you're truly hungry with a food journal. Write down your mental state before reaching for a snack; if you write that you're stressed, sad, bored or unhappy it may be an emotional snacking moment. Take a deep breath and walk it off.

When you do grab a snack, write what you ate, the time you ate it and a few words on your mental state at the time. Use this to gain insight on when and why you want to munch between meals.

More: What Time of Day Are You Overeating?

Distinguish Between Grazing and Snacking

To graze is to eat small quantities of food, frequently but in irregular intervals, according to OxfordDictionaries.com. This is not the same as snacking between meals and can lead to overeating—without a regular eating routine it's easier to make excuses for why you're having another handful of chips: I didn't have lunch so I can have more.
Focus on breakfast, lunch and dinner and snack only when you're truly hungry—use your journal to make this distinction.

More: How to Determine Your Ideal Meal Frequency

Choose Whole-Food Snacks

Always choose clean, whole snacks. A good rule of thumb is to look at the top ingredients on the nutrition label—the higher the ingredient is on the label, the more of it is in the item. Leave healthy snacks like fruit, hummus, nuts, raw veggies and Greek yogurt at work, in the car and at home.

Staying hydrated will help to keep you full, so keep a water bottle with you at all times. 

Your body needs fuel and energy throughout the day, even after meals. However, you may not always need the food when you want to snack. Quiz yourself before eating and always have healthy options available. This way, when you're truly hungry you can fuel your body with something nutritious. 

More: 5 Whole Foods That Should be in Every Athlete's Kitchen

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