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5 Times Snacking Can Ruin Your Diet (Plus Tricks for Healthier Snacking)

With tempting snacks practically always in reach, it’s easy to eat too many calories from snacks despite your best efforts. Here are a few of the most common snack traps and simple ways to outsmart them.

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Snack Trap: Peer-Pressure Snacking

In one research study, 64 percent of office employees felt that coworkers brought too many cakes and treats into the office; 24 percent said they couldn’t resist them; and 14 percent felt pressured to join in eating them. It feels rude to refuse, so if everyone is sharing a celebration with cake or cookies, you join in—even though you might be watching your weight and know that this isn’t the healthiest choice.

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Outsmart Peer-Pressure Snacking

While an everyday cookie or cake habit is unwise for your waistline, a complete absence of food treats at work seems unfriendly and unnecessary. So spearhead the charge to make social time healthier. Offer to bring in lighter fare, like popcorn or veggies and hummus or other low-fat dips. And suggest that treats are trotted out for only special occasions or, say, Friday afternoons. Corral a few allies to support you in your quest for healthier eating.

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Snack Trap: Snacks With Alcohol

It’s a golden rule of imbibing: Eat something when you drink alcohol. But healthy snacks are rarely available in bars. Most bar snacks are salty—a ploy designed to make us drink more. If salted chips and nuts are your only snack option, limit the portion size by sharing.

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Outsmart Alcohol-Fueled Snacking

If you have the option, swap salted, roasted nuts for raw peanuts. They’re high in protein, magnesium, and zinc, more vitamin B and iron, no salt, and less fat than salted roasted versions. Try to eat nuts in shells, like pistachios or raw peanuts. In one study, when two groups were given shelled or unshelled nuts to eat, those who had to shell the nuts ate 50 percent fewer but felt equally satisfied. The pile of empty shells gives a visual cue of how much you ate. Another easy snack option: edamame beans. These soft, young soybeans are high in protein and fiber and a good source of thiamin, folate, and iron. Like nuts, these beans need to be shelled from their pods, so they take longer and are more fun to eat.

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Snack Trap: Just Got Home and Starving

A particular snacking danger zone occurs when we are hungry enough to eat a full meal but have to wait—like arriving home after school or work. Dinner may still be hours away, so raiding the fridge is a common practice. And the hungrier we are, the less careful we are about what to eat. We want instant gratification, so healthy snacks need to be available fast, or the temptation to pig out on cookies, salty crackers, or chocolate can be too hard to resist.

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Outsmart After-Work Snacking

Nosh on something like (say, fruit and tea) at the end of your work day—or even on your commute home—so you don’t walk in the door feeling ravenous. Make sure your home fridge contains easy, healthy snacks such as yogurt drinks, hummus and carrots or ricotta cheese to spread on rice cakes. And plan what your pre-dinner snack will be before you start eating. Finally, don’t mistake thirst for hunger. When you get home from work, first drink water or tea to see if thirst is perhaps what’s driving your snacking cravings.

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Snack Trap: “Need a Lift” Nibbles

This need to snack could stem from feeling a bit unsettled, or perhaps bored, or having to wait for someone or something. A snack fills the gap, and treats afford a bit of short-lived pleasure. But when mood-boosting snacks become too regular, they can become an unhealthy habit.

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Outsmart Emotional Snacking

First, try sucking a mint or chewing some gum. The action of sucking has a calming sensation that is hardwired into the brain from the earliest moments of infancy. When you’re an adult, it can still bring relief from tension. Or let yourself snack—but put off doing it for 15 minutes. There’s a good chance the desire will subside if you get distracted. Walk away from the kitchen and do something to get your mind off your snack craving. Do 10 squats or crunches. Call a friend, listen to a podcast, or even moisturize your hands or paint your nails.

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Snack Trap: Nighttime Munchies

Feeling hungry at night can happen when you eat dinner too early, your dinner wasn’t substantial enough, you’ve been active and need an energy boost, or maybe you’ve even created a habit of post-dinner snacking. Nighttime snacking doesn’t have to be a danger zone, but it can be if the nibbles are high in fat, sugar, or salt, or if the portions are excessive.

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Outsmart Nighttime Snacking

If you snack, make it something healthy and properly portioned instead of cookies, cake, or endless handfuls of chips. Dark chocolate can be a satisfying snack because its combination of bitterness and sweetness makes it pleasant but not so sweet that you want to eat the whole bar. Also, avoid haphazard daytime eating: grazing on bits and pieces here and there and never gaining a clear picture of the amount of food actually eaten. A nourishing evening meal—eaten several hours before bedtime to allow digestion but not so early that you become hungry again—is the best way to stay full.

Courtesy Reader's Digest

Get More Healthy Eating Tips and Tricks!

The Reader’s Digest Quintessential Guide to Healthy Eating is filled with the latest nutrition advice to help you make healthier choices, cut through nutrition controversies (Is red meat that bad? What’s the deal with GMOs?), and lose weight while eating well. Learn more and buy the book here.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Quintessential Guide to Healthy Eating