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13 Tips For Snacking A Little Healthier

Because sometimes things get way too out of hand.

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Let’s face it, everyone has that One Snack that’s just so delicious and satisfying, you can’t help but go to town on it, even when you're not particularly hungry.

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And there's nothing wrong with that, either — we all deserve to treat ourselves. However, it's also really freakin' easy to get lost in the sauce, and the next thing you know, you've eaten the whole bag of chips AND the whole jar of nacho cheese even though you were full, and actually quite satisfied, halfway through.

TBH, I'm all of the above. So, I reached out to registered dietitians Jessica Jones, co-creator of Food Heaven Made Easy and author of 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot, and Jason Ewoldt, wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, for advice on how best to resist snacking mindlessly — because I will come for all the goodies. If you're in the same boat, here's what you should know.

1. First, make sure you're legit eating balanced meals throughout the day, because skipping meals will only make your cravings worse.

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When people skip meals, their blood sugar drops and they tend to get more cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates, Jones says. Simple carbs and sugar get those blood sugar levels back up stat, but at a price: "The problem is when we have that quick release of energy, you can potentially crash because it's not a stable release of energy into the bloodstream. Afterwards, we might crave even more simple carbs and snack foods," Jones says.

One way to prevent that cycle is eating at least three balanced meals a day, Jones says. "Ideally, you want half your plate to be vegetables, a quarter to be complex carbs, and a quarter to be protein," she says, adding that healthy fats will also keep you satiated.

Even if you're incredibly busy, Ewoldt says that eating SOMETHING (like an apple and string cheese) is better than nothing. You want to take the edge off your hunger, so that later on you're not going hard AF on a meal or uncontrollably snacking on a mountain of chips, candy, cake, or whatever other simple carbs you can get your hands on.

2. On that note, get acquainted with your hunger cues, and don't ignore them.

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Obviously a growling tummy is one of them. So are headaches, lightheadedness, stomach pain, fatigue, and, of course, feeling irritated — aka HANGRY, Jones and Ewoldt tell BuzzFeed Health.

But sometimes we don't really listen to these cues. "A lot of people, if they're working or studying, will just tune that hunger out and keep on doing what they're doing," Jones says. And that can lead to overeating when, later on, your appetite grows out of hand and you want to eat everything in sight, she says.

3. And don't fall for the myth that drinking water is going to get rid of your hunger.

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Yeah, you really can't go wrong with drinking a lot of water since it'll keep you hydrated. But if you get hungry, no amount of water is going to fix that, both experts say.

"We still need nutrition: macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals," Ewoldt says. "So you want to make sure you're eating your scheduled meals throughout the day."

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4. When an intense craving hits, ask yourself if you're actually hungry; and if you're not, do something else.

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If you're actually hungry, and all those hunger cues are sounding the alarm, then Jones says you should definitely eat (what you should eat is coming up). But sometimes, you might find in that moment that you're not as hungry as you thought — you're actually bored, tired, anxious, lonely, or feeling a whole goddamn range of emotions. And eating feels good, even if you just ate dinner an hour or two ago.

If your hunger situation is actually coming from those emotions, both experts say it's best to distract yourself with other activities that don't involve eating. Any activity you enjoy will do — though if you're tired you, should probably sleep — but if you're having a hard time thinking of something, Jones suggests writing up a list of five things so that you'll have a choice of activities later on.

That said, emotional eating isn't, like, the devil or anything. "You are going to have periods where you eat emotionally, and that’s OK. We all eat emotionally," Jones says. You just don't want it to be your go-to coping mechanism for when you're feeling some type of way.

5. Try to make your snacks more interesting, so they'll keep you full for longer.

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We're hardwired to crave sweet, salty, fatty, and high-calorie foods. "Look at chips — they're perfectly balanced when it comes to the amount of salt and crunch," Ewoldt says. And having just one bite can make you crave more, Jones says.

So try to replace these snacks with healthier ones whenever possible. "I always recommend people have a balanced snack that includes some form of complex carb, protein, and healthy fat," Jones says. Fiber will also fill you up for awhile, Ewoldt says.

Some examples: fruits, nuts or nut butter, low-fat string cheese or Greek yogurt, pea pods (like edamame), and fruits and vegetables. You could aim for a couple hundred calories, Ewoldt says, but first listen to your hunger cues. "Eat to the point of being pleasantly satisfied," Jones says, adding that while this will be different for each person, you should never reach the point of being uncomfortably full.

You can find some good snack ideas here and here.

6. If you're not ready to say goodbye to your favorite snacks, you can just try portioning them out.

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While the goal should be to snack better, you can technically still snack mindfully and reduce caloric intake on that giant bag of chips or candy or what-have-you — just portion it out instead of eating straight from the package, Ewoldt says.

This way you have a predetermined amount of food that's available to you. "You can eat the whole thing in five minutes or 50 minutes. It doesn't matter because it's already pre-portioned into a serving," he says. "Once that's gone, that tells you that you ate your snack."

But remember, processed snacks won't keep you as full as a balanced whole foods snack, so maybe don't exclusively snack on them. That said, here are some better packaged snacks for you to check out.

7. Or just use smaller dishes.

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"A lot of the time, if there's a huge portion that's presented to us, we'll eat based on what we're given and not necessarily check in with what our body actually needs," Jones says. One way to combat that is to use smaller plates/bowls; you'll only have a certain amount of food on your plate, and you'll have to actually think about whether or not you still want more once you've finished it.

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8. You can also try modifying the environment so that certain snacks are slightly out of reach.

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If you know you tend to house a whole carton of Goldfish in one go, you probably shouldn't keep that on the counter. Push those snacks to the back of the pantry or fridge, and move the healthier ones to the front.

"So if you want to snack more on fruits and vegetables, take them out of the crisper, and they're going to be right there," Ewoldt says. If you keep a bag of snacks in your car, maybe take them out — or replace them with something like a banana — so that later on, after a stressful day at work, they're not there to be used as your crutch.

9. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible when you snack.

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Because even if you're portioning out your food, you're still eating distractedly —

aka mindlessly, Ewoldt says.

"A lot of people, when they eat snacks, they're also on their phone, watching TV, on a tablet or computer, etc.," Jones says. "You're not really paying attention to your food, you're just kind of on autopilot." Before you've even had a chance to look down, you'll have eaten the whole thing, she says. And while this usually applies to the less-healthy snacks, you can still over-consume calories from healthy snacks.

10. Make a goal to really ~experience~ your food at least once a day.

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It's not as intimidating as it sounds! Start with one snack or meal a day and just focus on the food, says Jones.

That might mean not sitting at your desk or on the couch; making sure to chew your food thoroughly so that you really take in the flavors; taking extra time to finish the food by telling yourself you're going to take 20 minutes instead of five; or even setting up a certain ambiance in the room with placemats and candles — basically anything that helps you be present in the moment of eating. By paying this much attention to the eating experience, it'll be easier to pinpoint when you're actually satisfied, versus getting to the end and feeling like you could still eat because... where did the food go anyway? "You're able to check in with yourself and say, 'Hey, I'm not hungry anymore; I'm just on autopilot. I'm going to put this away and do something else,'" Jones says.

And once you've gotten the hang of this once a day, you'll start to see the same habit trickle over into your other eating times, she says.

11. You can even try your hand at *gasp* meal planning.

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Meal planning sure sounds like a daunting task, but it can actually help you keep that meal schedule on track while also making it easier to decide what to eat as you work your way through the week — the food's already there after all.

"Even though it feels like more work, it's really not," Jones says. "It'll save you stress, time, energy, and money. And you're going to be more prepared since you'll have a heathy baseline of breakfast, lunch, and dinner."

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12. Or set tiny goals for yourself, like packing one healthy snack a day.

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So if you know you get hungry at 10 a.m., you won't end up grabbing whatever snacks a co-worker brought to the meeting or left in the break room because you'll have a banana or string cheese or Greek yogurt on hand, Ewoldt says. "All those things can help to reduce mindless snacking, and you're more purposeful when you're making those choices."

13. And if you need a little more help, try writing this stuff down in a food journal.

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Food journals def feel extra — like an unnecessary step. But they're actually super useful if you're serious about managing your hunger and your diet. They help you pinpoint exactly what your triggers are, Jones says. "Even if you keep a food journal for a week, you can write down when you're most compelled to snack, what happened, what your feelings are, what your hunger levels are. And then from there, it gives you a lot of information to look back on," she says. So if you see that you're getting hungry at 2 p.m., you'll be prepared with a healthy snack.

Likewise, if you find that you're eating at that time because that's when you get out of typically stressful meetings, then maybe it'll help you realize you should do something else besides eating, like going for a walk, Ewoldt says. "A food journal is great because it's that awareness piece. It shows you what you're doing. And you shouldn't feel guilt or shame for eating a bag of chips," he says. "You should just be asking yourself why you're making these choices and if there's something you can do to change or reduce them."