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By: Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

is snacking good for weight loss
Image credit @Eatthisnotthat

Snacking has become a common practice for many of us. And if you’re anything like me, you love yourself some snacks! But is snacking good for weight loss, or does it hinder it? 

As a Dietitian, my clients often ask me if they should include snacks in their weight loss plan. The answer is not a simple yes or no – and depends on several factors such as your activity level, the type of snack, the timing of your snacks, and your overall eating habits and lifestyle. 

Let’s explore the pros and cons of snacking, what the research says, and learn some healthy snack ideas if you decide snacking is best for you. 

Dispelling Some Common Snacking Myths

There are a few snacking myths you may have heard before we go any further:

Snacking boosts your metabolism

You may have heard that eating every few hours will boost your metabolism. While this is a popular belief, unfortunately, there is no evidence of this.  

One study, in particular, showed that meal frequency has no effect on the number of calories you burn. What is more important to focus on is your overall total calorie intake for the day.

Another study showed people consumed the same amount of calories in either 2 or 6 meals and found no difference in the number of calories burned. Surprisingly, those who ate more frequently reported more hunger.

This doesn’t necessarily mean snacking will always make you more hungry, but it’s possible depending on how you go about it.

Snacking is bad for you

Many people have unhealthy snacking habits, but this can give snacking a bad reputation. It really comes down to what, when, and the context where your snacking is occurring. Context, emotions, and environment are everything – and this is very personal.

For example, are you snacking out of emotions or habit, or because you’re actually hungry? Snacking on whole food snacks like fruits and vegetables also has a much more positive health impact than chips or cookies.

Snacking and Weight Loss

Snacking can absolutely fit into a weight loss plan, but it’s important to understand how it can work for you. The right snack plan can support your weight loss efforts and control your appetite, but overdoing it can bump you out of a calorie deficit.

First, it’s important to remember that weight loss comes down to energy balance. You need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. Snacking can be helpful for weight loss by providing your body with a steady supply of energy. This can help prevent dips and spikes in blood sugar that can lead to cravings and overeating.

However, it’s important to note that not all snacks are created equal. Snacking on unhealthy, high-calorie foods can quickly add up and sabotage your weight loss efforts. It’s therefore important to choose healthy, nutrient-dense snacks that fuel your body without blowing your calorie budget.

What the Research Says

To answer the question “is snacking good for weight loss?” let’s dive into the research. 

Overall, the research is a bit inconsistent when it comes to snacking and weight loss. Some studies show the benefits of snacking for weight loss, while others can lead to weight maintenance and even weight gain.

For example, one study showed those who snacked in the morning experienced less weight loss than those who skipped a morning snack.

And according to Harvard, studies have shown both weight maintenance and weight gain from snacking.

When looking at the research as a whole, it’s important to look at the types of snacks eaten, the timing of when they were eaten (morning vs. night), and how much was eaten. 

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but overall it appears snacking may not be necessary in all cases, and may be based on your needs as an individual. 

How to Adopt Healthy Snacking Habits

Here are a few things to remember when it comes to adopting a healthy snacking habit:

Not all snacks are created equal

Unhealthy snacking habits can sabotage your weight loss efforts, while healthy snacking habits may kick your weight loss up a notch. Prioritize whole foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains above packaged products as much as possible.

Pre-portion your snacks

Yes, you can have too much of a good thing (although I’ve found it very hard to overeat veggies). Portion control is paramount when it comes to snacking, especially if you are choosing packaged snacks. If you’re not portioning out your snacks, it’s really easy to overdo it and blow your calorie budget.

Make sure you’re actually hungry

This is EVERYTHING. So many times, my clients are snacking just because it is there. Or it’s a habit. Or…so many other things! This is so easy to do, but always check in with yourself before grabbing a snack to tune into your hunger.

One way to tell if you’re actually hungry? Raw veggies sound delicious to you. If they don’t, and you’re craving something very specific like chocolate or potato chips, it’s likely a craving and more emotional.

Learn more about identifying the difference between physical and emotional hunger here.

Keep healthy snacks handy and within easy reach

If you want to eat healthy snacks while hunger strikes, they need to be within your reach. Your diet habits are very much dictated by your environment, so set it up for success by placing the healthy snacks front and center (and the packaged ones further back).

Stick to 1-2 snacks a day

If you need more than this ask yourself if you’re eating enough with your meals, if you’re going too long between meals, or if you’re snacking for other reasons rather than hunger. These can all be the culprit, and simply changing your meal schedule can reduce your need for snacks.

Healthy Snack Options for Weight Loss

A healthy snack for weight loss should contain a combination of protein and carbs. Here are some healthy, whole-food snack options to get you started.

1. Fresh fruit

Fruits like apples, berries, and bananas are low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients, making them an excellent choice for a healthy snack. I love a cut-up apple with peanut butter or a handful of berries with a cheese stick for protein.

2. Raw vegetables

Veggies like carrots, celery, peppers, and cucumbers are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Pair them with a healthy dip like hummus or guacamole for a satisfying snack.

3. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, and chia seeds are high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber, making them a great snack option that can help you stay full for longer.

4. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is high in protein and low in calories, making it an excellent snack option that can help you stay full and satisfied.

5. Hard-boiled eggs

 Hard-boiled eggs are a good source of protein and can make a satisfying snack that can help you stay full and satisfied.

These are just some basic things to keep on hand. Get more healthy snack ideas here – 25 healthy snacks for weight loss.

Bottom Line – To Snack or Not to Snack?

When done right, snacking can fit into a weight loss plan – if it doesn’t drive you out of a calorie deficit. It can help regulate your appetite, prevent overeating, and keep your energy levels steady throughout the day, no matter where you are.

The decision to snack or not to snack is very individual. For example, if you’re someone who likes to have small meals, has a sensitive stomach, or is very active, incorporating healthy snacks into your routine can optimize your health goals.

But if you like to have large meals, don’t typically feel hungry between meals, or are more sedentary, snacking may not be necessary. And in this case, snacking may actually hinder your weight loss efforts.

In conclusion, snacking can fit into a weight loss plan when you choose healthy, nutrient-dense snacks and practice portion control. As a dietitian, I encourage you to consider your overall diet, exercise habits, and lifestyle when it comes to weight loss. A balanced approach is key to achieving long-term success.