I have met so many people who tell me they feel guilty about snacking and that they often ignore their hunger just so they don't "cave in and have those extra calories." As someone who has studied nutrition and human physiology, I can tell you that this is a bad idea. Our bodies are so incredible at giving us cues when we are in need of something, and we need to listen to them. When you feel thirsty, you don't ignore it. You have a glass of water (at least I hope that's the case). It should be the exact same way with food. If you are feeling hungry, it is because your body is in need of nutrients. Not giving your body food when you need it can result in low blood sugar levels, which in turn causes a drop in energy, and for some people, can even make you more irritable.
With that being said, it's also important for you to determine if you are actually hungry. What do I mean by that? Sometimes you may feel like eating, but it's because of boredom or some other emotional signal rather than hunger. It's important that you be able to evaluate which of these is the cause for your desire for food. Emotional eating is something we all experience at one time or another, and my general rule as always is to not deprive yourself, but to be smart about it. If you constantly struggle with emotional eating, try figuring out ways that you can satisfy that craving without overeating. For example, I often find myself wanting to eat while I'm bored working on homework (which, as a third year college student, is most of my day). Once I identified this problem, I started having hot tea instead, and even just having the flavor of tea satisfies that craving for food. If I'm working on homework and actually feel hungry, I will allow myself a small snack. It's all about being able to distinguish the different cues from your body and knowing how to respond.
So what are some of my tips when it comes to choosing snacks? Think about how long it will be until your next meal, and choose a snack based on that. And as I have said many times before... eat real food (I'm sorry to tell you that heavily processed potato chips do not fall into this category).
If you are planning on eating again within the next hour or two, but feel like you need a snack, try going for some fruit such as a banana or a handful of berries. Kale chips are also one of my favorites. These foods are predominately carbohydrates, which your body can metabolize quickly, so you won't be too full to eat by mealtime, and they are also packed with antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals.
If you are not going to be having another meal for a few hours and are wanting a snack that can hold you over for a little while, try having something with more protein or healthy fats. Here are some of my favorites:
Hummus with carrots or celery sticks
Peanut or almond butter
1/2 of an avocado
1 boiled egg
A handful of mixed nuts
One final note - just as it is important to listen when your body is telling you to eat, it's just as important to listen to when it's saying it has had enough. Avoid overeating by paying attention to the cues your body is giving you.
Please comment below if you have any questions or would like some tips on healthier alternatives to your favorite snacks!