1. Fix Your Own Food
Even if you need to be tied to the mast of your shopping cart (or chained to your desk) to avoid the tempting call of those cellophane-wrapped, curlicue-topped cupcakes, you must resist. Most ready-made snacks are low in vitamins, nutrients, and protein and high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, which can inhibit the body's retention of much needed calcium. (Sports and protein bars are a shining exception.)
2. Eat a Balanced Snack
A pear instead of Reese's Pieces? You think you're being so virtuous―and you are, to some extent. That pear is largely carbohydrates, but the ideal slow-burn snack has carbohydrates, protein, and, of all things, fat. Carbohydrates are metabolized first and deliver their calories fastest―just ask anyone who has binged on a handful of Jolly Ranchers, felt a sudden and frantic spike of energy, and suffered an equally sudden crash.
Say, for example, you grab a quick snack of saltines, which contain refined-flour carbohydrates: As soon as they're in your mouth, the enzymes in your saliva go to work. In about 20 minutes, the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which peaks in your bloodstream, turning down your internal hunger alarm. Unfortunately, in about another 20 minutes, that glucose is completely burnt out or stored up, so the alarm starts ringing again.
Fruit, which has more fiber than crackers, will take slightly longer to metabolize. To prolong the satisfaction, you need to add in protein and fat (they often go hand in hand), which take longer to metabolize. So eat that pear with a chunk of cheddar or some low-fat yogurt and you'll be set for a few hours.
3. Snack to Maintain Weight
Snacks can keep you from getting fat. There it is, even though it's the opposite of what your mother spent years nagging you about. According to a recent study in Scotland, eating healthy snacks helps you control both your appetite and your weight, because when you don't arrive at the table famished, you're less likely to speed-eat, overeat, or just sit there emptying the bread basket into your gullet as fast as is humanly possible. (Another theory is that eating more frequently burns calories, because digestion requires energy, at least briefly.)
Most women need about 2,000 calories a day, including snacks. Ideally, you would have five mini-meals of 400 calories, but that's not realistic. (Imagine riding roundup to get everyone to the table more often than you already do.) What's recommended is the traditional "big three," only slightly down-sized, plus two well-balanced mini-meals. (Find ideas for low-calorie snacks here.)
4. Keep Stress In Check
You may recognize the symptoms of stress: fatigue, lack of concentration, short temper, or...a minivan floor littered with candy wrappers and sundae cups. According to a study from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, students ate more snack foods and fewer fruits and vegetables when they were under pressure. What triggers a stress case's need to feed is the hormone cortisol, say researchers at the University of California at San Francisco. Cortisol is released during physical or emotional stress, and that increases one's appetite for carbohydrates, especially sweets.
5. Once a Month, Allow Yourself More
Is it that time of the month? Women are most likely to binge or overeat in the two weeks prior to their periods if they've ovulated (most women on the Pill do not ovulate). Menstrual flow is triggered by the secretion of progesterone, which is thermogenic, or calorie burning. Thus, without so much as lifting an extra three-pound weight―or finger, for that matter―your body burns more calories than it does during the rest of the month, and your hunger kicks in to compensate. In a study at the University of British Columbia, women ate an average of 260 extra calories a day when they were ovulating.
6. Crave Calcium and Shun Sodium
You need to start reaching for the right white stuff―the milk bottle, not the salt shaker. In other words, calcium instead of sodium. The recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 milligrams, and most women don't come close to getting enough. What's more, the more salt you eat, the less calcium your body retains. For instance, one 3 1/2-ounce bag of cheese puffs contains 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which will cost you 20 milligrams of calcium, something an osteoporosis-prone woman should think twice about.
7. Drink Lots of Water
You've eaten lunch. You've already scarfed your snack. And all you want to do is curl up and take a nap. When you find yourself lacking energy like this, make your way to the water bottle and down a glass. Studies have shown that fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration, and when you're run-down, it's easy to confuse thirst for hunger. Airplanes, cars, and office buildings are especially arid and climate controlled, so you may need to make a concerted effort to drink even more water than you usually do. Now, get chugging.