When dieting leaves you feeling hungry, it's hard to resist the call of the vending machine — or the lure of the drive-thru on your way home. And while caving into cravings won't help you reach your goal, you shouldn't feel guilty about eating when you're truly hungry. Instead, reach for a healthy snack that will still allow you to lose weight, and plan your meals to minimize between-meal hunger.
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Snacking for Weight Loss
While you might be tempted to skip meals to lower your calorie intake; instead, plan your diet to include one or two small snacks throughout the day. Snacks keep your appetite in check, so you're less likely to gorge on food at your larger meals — and they present an opportunity to boost your nutrient intake and nourish your body.
Keep snacks under 150 calories, and make sure they're packed with nutritious ingredients. Make your snacks as satisfying as possible by eating them slowly — this gives your brain time to send out hormonal signals that you're full — and serve your snack on a plate or in a bowl, instead of eating from the package.
Make sure you also count snacking-related calories in your daily meal plan. For example, if you're eating 1,500 calories a day, budget 150 to 300 calories for 1 to 2 snacks, and eat three 400- to 450-calorie meals for breakfast lunch and dinner.
However you decide to split up your meals and allot your calories, make sure you're getting the minimum recommended calorie intake of 1,800 calories for men and 1,200 for women. Otherwise, you risk putting your body in "starvation mode" and slowing your metabolism, and you increase your risk of a nutrient deficiency.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies offer a diet-friendly way to address hunger pangs. Produce is packed with water and generally low in calories, which makes it a low energy-density food. Filling your diet with low energy-density foods generally means you'll feel fuller on fewer calories, which can help you lose weight.
That doesn't mean you're stuck eating celery sticks, though. Try eating a small green salad made from spinach, red pepper and a few sliced strawberries, or top your salad with roasted peaches or pears for a sweeter-tasting bowl. Most vegetables are very low in calories, so you can pair them with a flavorful topping, like garlic hummus or a homemade dip made from Greek yogurt and chopped fresh herbs. If you're snacking on fruit, use low-calorie seasonings to add flavor — add a pinch of sea salt to chopped cantaloupe, dust your apple slices with a little cinnamon, or sprinkle sliced strawberries with a pinch of cocoa powder.
If you can't travel with fresh produce, don't worry — canned produce might offer weight loss benefits, too, notes a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2015. The study researchers looked at the diets of more than 5,000 children and adults, and found that higher canned fruit and veggie consumption was correlated with lower body fat. Try a serving of canned fruit, packed in water, to keep hunger at bay.
Try Egg-Based Snacks
Endlessly adaptable, eggs can fight hunger pangs when you're feeling famished. They're a great source of protein, a nutrient that triggers feelings of fullness after you eat, and each egg supplies 6 grams of high-quality protein. You'll also get essential nutrients, including 13 percent of the daily value for riboflavin and 10 percent of the daily value for bone-building phosphorus.
If you need to eat on-the-go, try a snack of 2 hard-boiled eggs — it boosts your protein intake by 12 grams, and contains less than 150 calories. Or make diet-friendly deviled eggs — instead of mixing the cooked yolk with mayonnaise, use Greek yogurt instead; then top your eggs with paprika and cayenne pepper.
Alternatively, you can make a simple salad more filling by adding sliced egg, or simply serve a single egg with a side of sauteed, roasted or raw veggies. Keep the calories low by skipping the cooking oil; cook your eggs in a nonstick pan, or try boiling or poaching them instead.
Healthy Turkey Wraps
Give the traditional wrap a lower-calorie makeover by using low-sodium sliced turkey instead of a tortilla. An 8-inch wheat tortilla has 146 calories — almost your entire budget for a snack — while a slice of low-sodium deli turkey has just 32 calories. Wrap the turkey around lettuce and sliced tomato, and add a slice of dill pickle for added flavor; because these fillings are very low in calories, you can eat a few wraps without blowing your diet.
Just make sure to choose low-sodium turkey, and limit your pickle intake to 1 or 2 slices per sitting. Regular deli turkey — and dill pickles — are high in sodium, and going overboard on high-sodium foods can trigger water retention, which makes you look bloated and makes you temporarily gain water weight.
Nut-Filled Energy Balls or Bars
Store-bought energy bars seem healthy, but they're not always the best option when you're on a diet. Some bars come packed with added sugar — sometimes in a "healthy" form, such as honey or brown rice syrup — while others come loaded with additives and fat, as well as lots of calories.
Control your calorie intake and combat hunger by making your own energy bars and energy balls. Simply mix medjool dates, raw almonds and other healthy add-ins — such as unsweetened coconut, unsweetened dried fruit or other nuts and seeds — in a food processor, and shape the resulting mixture into single-serving bars or balls.
For example, an entire batch of energy balls made with 1 cup of chopped dates, and a half-cup each of almonds and peanuts contains 1,243 calories. Shape your dough into 12 energy balls for a 105-calorie snack, or shape it into eight energy bars for a 155-calorie snack.
While nuts can be high in calories, they're packed with protein to manage your appetite. And people who eat nuts are more likely to stay at a healthy body weight. If you don't have time to make nut-filled energy balls, travel with an ounce of nuts — such as almonds or pistachios — to snack on when you're hungry.
Crunchy Popcorn or Rice Cakes
If you typically crave crunchy, salty fare, go for air-popped popcorn or rice cakes as a healthier alternative. A cup of air-popped popcorn has 31 calories, so you can enjoy 3 to 4 cups of popcorn without exceeding the 150-calorie snack limit. Add flavor with a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt and a little cayenne pepper, or use curry seasoning for a spicy snack. If you want a sweeter option, go for dessert-inspired popcorn by adding pumpkin pie spice and powdered stevia, or try sprinkling your popcorn with cocoa powder, cinnamon and stevia for a "Mexican chocolate" flavored snack.
Rice cakes can also satisfy your craving for crunch and, at 70 calories per serving of two brown rice cakes, they won't break your diet. Add a teaspoon of almond butter to each rice cake and sprinkle with cinnamon for a sweet-tasting snack, or top each rice cake with a slice of low-sodium deli ham, a slice of dill pickle and a squirt of mustard for a more savory snack.
Greek Yogurt With Fruit
If you're craving something creamy, eat a Greek yogurt parfait. Greek yogurt has a thicker texture than regular yogurt, even if it's low in fat, so it offers a more satisfying snack option. A 6-ounce serving of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has only 100 calories, which leaves you a little wiggle room to add toppings.
Assemble your snack by mashing a half cup of fresh raspberries — which contain 44 calories — and alternating thin layers of Greek yogurt with layers of raspberry puree. A dusting of cinnamon or a few chopped mint leaves add flavor without many calories.
In addition to adding natural sweetness to your parfait, raspberries offer a significant amount of fiber — 4 grams, or 16 percent of the daily value per 1/2-cup serving. That's beneficial when you're trying to lose weight, because like protein, fiber triggers "full" feelings.
Make-Ahead Mini Quiches
Part of losing weight and preventing unintended overeating is planning ahead — making large batches of single-serving snacks, like mini quiches, can keep you on track.
Typical quiche contains a pastry crust that can be high in calories and fat, so keep your mini quiches diet-friendly by making them crustless, and bake the mini quiches in a muffin tin for easy portion control. Load them up with vegetables to make them more filling without adding calories, then add just a touch of cheese for flavor. A mini-quiche made with an egg and an ounce of cheddar cheese has 130 calories, and some chopped spinach and red pepper can boost its flavor without exceeding your 150-calorie limit. Or make a higher-protein mini quiche by adding a chopped slice of deli chicken — 11 calories — or half a turkey sausage, cut into pieces, for 44 calories.
Staying Full Between Meals
You can certainly reach for healthy foods when you're hungry and still lose weight. But if you're feeling hungry all the time, that could be a sign you're eating the wrong foods at mealtime. If you're not already keeping a food diary, where you record what you eat during the day, start writing down what you're eating at each meal. Make sure you're including vegetables at every meal — even breakfast — and that you're including sources of lean protein — like eggs, beans, skinless poultry or fish — at your meals to keep you feeling satisfied. If needed, switch out refined carbohydrates, like white bread, for 100 percent whole-grain versions to help manage your hunger.
Make sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day as well. Water doesn't have any calories, so can sip it without sabotaging your weight loss, and it can stave off dehydration, which can sometimes cause cravings that feel like hunger. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses daily, and carry a full water bottle around with you so you can sip throughout the day.
- Penn State University: Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Canned Vegetable and Fruit Consumption Is Associated with Changes in Nutrient Intake and Higher Diet Quality in Children and Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010
- Harvard Medical School: Extra Protein is a Decent Dietary Choice, But Don’t Overdo It
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: Eggs, Turkey, Tortilla
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: Almonds, Greek Yogurt, Raspberries
- Linus Pauling Institute: Nuts
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: Cheddar Cheese, Chicken Breast, Turkey Sausage
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool (Dates, Almonds, Peanuts)
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool (Popcorn, Rice Cakes, Ham)