Choosing the right snack is important to avoid overeating, perpetuating a junk food habit, or just keeling over from the lethal cupcakes-ice cream-cookies combo at those office birthday parties that get us every time. Okay, I exaggerate—cupcakes have never harmed anyone—but it’s not a good feeling when you’re still experiencing the aftermath of a feast days later.
Get back on track—and, no, because you started the week off on the wrong foot does not mean you just keep on pushing through, calorie bomb after calorie bomb, and start over next week. Every day is a do-over day. When it comes to eating right, you get unlimited chances. I know. I’ve taken hundreds of “do-overs” and I’ll be taking more—it’s the vicious cycle that food lovers just have to deal with. You will, however, feel great when you give yourself that second (or hundredth) chance—it counts for something… your health, your sanity, a piece of mind.
In honor of Heart Health Awareness month, do yourself a favor and snack right with some of my personal tips.
1. STOP: Ignoring your body when it’s hungry because it’s not “time to eat” ADOPT: Low-fat, high-protein snacks and eat whenever you want
You eat breakfast every day. Yet, you find yourself hungry hours before lunch. Relax. That’s normal and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. A low-fat, high-fiber breakfast revs up your metabolism. It might not necessarily keep you full until lunch, but it’s good for healthy weight loss and long-term health.
Eat when you’re hungry (Having several small meals a day is just as good for you as the standard three meals a day. What matters is total calorie consumption.). I’m serious. This tip applies to the pre-lunch munchies and the mid-afternoon crash. Low-fat, high-protein snacks keep you full longer—it’s not always about low calories. My personal favorites are: 0% Fage Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and fresh berries, hummus and whole wheat pita and edamame (find these packaged in your frozen food aisle).
2. STOP: Impulsive eating as a result of emotions or boredom ADOPT: Self-control, self-awareness and self-reflection (and some key kitchen staples)
When you feel hungry, have a plan of attack. The first step comes from within. Step back and ask yourself if you really want what you’re about to eat, and if you do, why? What is it about the snack that makes you crave it? Is it because it’s sweet, salty, rich, crunchy, creamy, or just available? Get down to business and identify your habits to take control of it. Conscious eating is key.
Here are some of my favorite snack substitutions, based on flavor and texture, because it’s usually something about the food that we crave, and not the actual food.
Sweet: Small sweet potato (Microwave for a sweet, warm, healthy treat); Silk chocolate soy milk (Yep, it’s good and it works for sweet cravings, especially after dinner)
Salty: Cottage cheese and berries; edamame (salted); string cheese
Rich: Mini Babybel cheese; Tzatziki (made with fat-free Greek yogurt) with pita chips
Creamy: Peanut butter on Wasa crackers; hummus and carrots
Crunchy: Terra vegetable chips; Snapea crisps (The vegetables in these make them more substantial than rice cakes or soy chips)
Note that these snacks are not low-calorie options. They’re nutrient-dense and will keep you full longer which prevents you from reaching for a snack every hour and losing track of how much you eat. These nutrition-filled snacks are better for you in the long run. It’s your job to maintain the suggested serving size if you’re watching your weight.
3. STOP: Turning to the vending machine ADOPT: Desk-side snacks
Your cravings run rampant at work because your brain is working in overdrive. And some days, you’ve even forgotten to eat lunch. When your body is begging you to nourish it with something right away, many times, we go for the fastest, most convenient, and cheapest option: the vending machine. And most of the time, the split-second decision of what to spend your pocket change on is not always the best one.
I’ve got a solution: Always have a stash of desk-side snacks. It’s practical, economical, and your body will thank you.
My file drawer contains: Flavored sparkling water (sometimes, you’re really just thirsty and some water will provide a quick pick-me-up), green or mint tea (great for metabolism and the afternoon slump), almonds, peanut butter, crackers, instant oatmeal (believe it or not, it makes a great snack), and lastly, Kashi TLC Oatmeal Dark Chocolate cookies (the fiber, whole grain, and plain ‘ol good stuff in this cookie puts Famous Amos to shame when you need a little sugar).
Sometimes a bite, or a taste, is all you need to fulfill your cravings. And, if it’s not, just make sure you’re not eating straight from the package. This way, you can monitor how much you eat. If you’re snacking and still find yourself hungry, you’re probably not eating enough nutrient-dense foods.
4. STOP: Drunken late-night munchies ADOPT: Healthier drunken munchies
After a night out, it’s a given that you want something delicious to top off an evening of revelry, which usually translates to something carb-filled, greasy, and that has been sitting out all night waiting for you to stumble in and claim it. Mmm, delicious.
If you notice a trend in all my tips, it’s that you should always have good options, aka healthy kitchen staples, on hand at all times, especially for late-night munching. The last thing you want to do is go home and cook something. But if you can make it home, you can probably manage to microwave something (I would recommend not using a stove). Plus, it helps with the hangover.
Make a faux pizza. Let’s be honest, in your state, you’re not exactly looking for a gourmet Batali pie. Take whole wheat pita bread. Top it with shredded cheese and deli meat or veggies. Microwave for 30 seconds. And voila… a homemade pizza pie made to order.
Were you eyeing that slice of cake left over in your fridge? Save that for when you didn’t just consume a day’s worth of calories in drinks. Get your sweet fix by making a mini toasted peanut butter, banana wrap (using half of a whole wheat wrap) to fill you up instead. Just one is all you need.
And remember, in sobriety or not, snacking is a good thing when you use it as a way to nourish your body. Keep this in mind and snack away. I promise you’ll feel great.