It’s the age-old question: Am I hungry, or just bored? And it’s a question I ask myself often while staring into the fridge, wondering what to munch on next.

You see, snacking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, studies have found that you may be eating food just because you’re bored and it’s there, filling up on junk you don’t really want or need in the first place. On the other, according to Harvard Medical School scientists, it is actually better to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day than just three large ones, especially while at work.

“Snacking serves an even greater purpose when your brain is working,” says Marina Chaparro, R.D.N., M.P.H., a registered dietitian. “The brain runs on glucose as the primary source of fuel, and carbohydrates are critical for boosting productivity and energy because they are converted into glucose.” 

So how can you ensure you’re snacking properly at work — eating foods that will keep you energized and operating at full capacity? These four expert-backed tips will have you snacking healthily in no time.

Bring nutrient-rich snacks

The first step to healthy snacking is to bring your own snacks to work. The second is making sure these snacks are actually good for you, and will ultimately help your productivity.

“The key is choosing smart and healthy snacks that will keep you satisfied,” Chaparro explains, whose go-to-recommendation is known as the F-F-P Rule: fiber, fat, and protein. “Mixing a whole grain, which is high in fiber, with a little source of protein or fat, will sustain you for longer and provide you the focus and energy needed at work.  Including a high-fiber carbohydrate will give a boost in energy without the crashing blood sugar, making you feel sluggish afterward.” Some simple snack options she suggests are trail mix made with plain Cheerios, dried fruit, and nuts, or Greek yogurt topped with a high fiber granola or cereal. 

Pack a lunch

Just like with snacks, planning ahead and bringing a lunch instead of depending on what’s available — either in the office fridge or at restaurants nearby — will help you make healthier choices.

“Proper planning is the key to achieving any goal,” says Bonnie Balk, R.D., a registered dietitian. “And by bringing your home-prepared food to work, you are setting the foundation for healthy eating.”  Balk also notes that coming prepared with healthy food that you know you enjoy will make you less tempted to snack out of boredom when unhealthy food (think: tons of birthday cupcakes) comes your way.

Never meal-planned before? No problem: Balk recommends starting each week with making a big pot of quinoa, brown rice, or any other complex carbohydrate grain, buying a variety of vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, and stocking up on eggs, tuna, chicken, and salmon (with your individual dietary restrictions permitting, of course). “For the rest of the week, mix and match from each food group! One day can be a grain bowl with cucumber, tomatoes, and chunks of grilled chicken. The next day can be lettuce, peppers, mushrooms, chicken, and quinoa. Having a few options from each food group will keep lunches interesting, and prevent you from getting bored of the same meal every day,” she says.

Carry a reusable water bottle

Research shows that sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually just thirsty. Balk suggests “the water test” to see if it’s your hunger levels or just thirst that’s signaling you:  Keep a bottle of water handy, and when you think you want a snack, take three sips of your water before determining your level of hunger. Not only might you realize you are not actually hungry, but it will give you time to let your senses calm down, and let your logical brain kick in to let your snack craving subside, she explains.

And proper hydration isn’t just good for curbing cravings, but essential for overall well-being, too. Not only can dehydration cause cognitive deficiency and impair executive function, making you less alert and productive, but it can negatively impact your mood. So in short: Make sure you’re drinking enough water! Your body will thank you.

Step away from the computer and enjoy your food!

At work, it can be easy to fall into the eating-on-autopilot trap — and that can prompt mindless snacking. Chaparro advises avoiding this robotic noshing by eating away from your computer, and taking at least 15 minutes to be fully present while you eat. “Pleasure is part of why we love to eat, and taking some time to be fully aware of what you’re eating will make the experience more positive and enjoyable — this can, in turn, lead to less grazing throughout the day,” she explains.

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