Whether you’re trying to trim down or want to really focus on that nagging work project, feeling snacky soon after eating a meal can be both frustrating and distracting. Annoying as it is, though, the urge to continue munching is trying to tell you something.
In some cases, you’re truly still hungry. Or, perhaps something is off with your blood sugar or you’re feeling the impact of mental or emotional deprivation, says functional dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T. Even certain medications (such as some serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a.k.a. SSRIs) and hormone imbalances can impact your hunger and fullness cues, leaving you rummaging around for snacks galore between meals.
Struggle sound familiar? Use these expert-backed tips to squash those between-meal munchies so you can go about your business without the fridge constantly running in the back of your mind.
1. The obvious: Don’t skip meals
We get it, you’re busy trying to get out the door in the morning and spend half the afternoon held up in work meetings, which makes regular meals tricky some days. Still, try your best not to skip any of the three main meals of the day. Not only can eating regular meals help keep you full for longer periods of time, but it can also help prevent overeating when you do finally sit down for something to eat later on, according to Volpe. “Skipping meals causes blood sugar imbalance, which throws off hunger and fullness cues, making it more difficult to eat intuitively and to stay on track,” she explains. “As a survival mechanism, we’re hardwired to crave high-glycemic carbs when blood sugar levels drop too low, since our body and brain think we are starving.”
So, when you go too long without eating, you feel tired, irritable, and hungry—and are more likely to face-plant into something carb-heavy, which will then send your blood sugar skyrocketing, Volpe says. This then causes your body to release a surge of insulin to transport that sugar to your cells, leading to another dip. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves you constantly looking for a boost by way of a snack.
That’s why eating regular meals is a must for maintaining stable blood sugar and keeping crazy cravings at bay.
2. Get the balance of your meals right
In addition to getting those three main meals into your mouth, you also need your meals to contain the right balance of nutrients if you want to avoid constant snack-seeking. Ideally, this looks like complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins, and a serving of fiber-rich non-starchy veggies or fresh fruit, according to Volpe. Fiber, in particular, has been shown to slow digestion, which can increase our feelings of fullness, per research published in Advanced Nutrition.
“Balanced eating is key to having more balanced blood sugar levels and increasing feelings of fullness, satiety, energy, and sustenance for longer periods of time in between meals,” she says. (The MyPlate chart can be an easy visual reminder of what a balanced plate looks like.)
If you think your meals are balanced but you’re still feeling hungry between them, troubleshoot by adding more fiber-rich non-starchy veggies to your plate and increasing your protein portion by a few ounces, suggests Volpe. It’s also always a good idea to avoid blood sugar-spiking foods like refined carbs, which are a recipe for feeling hungry again quickly after eating.
3. Level up your hydration
Did you know that the hunger and thirst receptors in the brain are super close to each other? That’s why people often have trouble differentiating between hunger and thirst, explains Volpe. To ensure you’re solid in the hydration department (and aren’t snacking excessively as a result!), she recommends drinking roughly 80 to 100 ounces of water each day.
Read More: 7 Signs That You’re Dehydrated
If you struggle to get enough water in or feel like the H2O you guzzle goes right through you, consider adding an electrolyte supplement to your bottle. Not only can these handy add-ins (which are often powdered) jazz your water up with a little flavor—think Strawberry Yuzu or Mango Margarita)—but they also support proper hydration and fluid balance in the body. That’s a good thing if you suspect some of your snacky feels are actually your body’s cry for H2O.
4. Make meals distraction-free
The temptation to watch TV, scroll through your phone, or keep sifting through emails when you finally take a minute to sit down and eat your meal is real. But your attempt at multitasking can leave you less in touch with your hunger cues and ultimately less satisfied with your meal. Without that sense of satisfaction truly achieved, you’ll be more likely to want to reach for something else to eat soon after wrapping up.
It’s hard, we know, but put down your phone, step away from your computer, and really focus on your meal whenever possible. Volpe recommends taking note of how your food smells and tastes, how your body feels as you nourish, and anything else that helps you really be present with the experience. This will help you become more in touch with your hunger and appetite, which will come in handy between meals, too. Chewing your food really mindfully and thoroughly will also help you slow down and register just how satisfying your meal is.
5. Get enough sleep
It’s a pattern you’ve surely experienced before: When you’re low on sleep, you’re more likely to overeat. Turns out, there’s a very clear biological explanation for this. When you’re low on sleep, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol—which is known to impact blood sugar regulation—increase. Research also shows that sleep deprivation impacts the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. All of this is a recipe for increased snacking. In fact, one study found that people ate about 400 more calories, mostly from snacks, after a night of too-little sleep. You’re also more likely to reach for sugary foods, which disrupt blood sugar balance further, when you’re short on shut-eye.
You’ve heard it before and Volpe will say it again: Striving to get the recommended seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night is worth the effort. “Getting moderate physical activity, limiting caffeine in the later part of the day, cutting off blue light a few hours before bed, and other rituals as part of a bedtime routine can go a long way to ensure a better night’s sleep,” she notes. The more rested you are, the better able you’ll be to eat in a balanced way throughout the day.