Rehab Your Snack Habit to Lose Weight

Do your snacks help you shed belly fat?Do your snacks help you shed belly fat?Have you replaced sit-down meals with snacks? So have a lot of people. A survey at the end of last year found that 40% of Americans prefer snacking throughout the day over three square meals. Snacks are great -- when they help you stay young and shed belly fat. The key to smart snacking is knowing when and what to nibble. Follow these 5 steps to rehab your snack habit:

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1. Skip midmorning snacks. A recent study of women on diets found those who didn't have a midmorning nibble lost 4% more weight than morning noshers. Why? The gap between breakfast and lunch typically isn't that long and you're probably not really hungry for something by midmorning -- but someone brought in doughnuts, and, well, you know how that story ends. Which brings us to our next strategy…

2. Follow the 5-hour rule. In the afternoon, the reverse is true because the break between lunch and dinner often is longer than a 5 hours. A late-afternoon snack will keep your energy up and quell your appetite so you're less likely to overeat at dinner. The same study also found that afternoon snackers tend to eat more fruits and vegetables compared to those who skip an afternoon nibble, so well-planned afternoon snacks can help boost your nutritional bottom line, too. Moral of the story: If there's more than 5 hours between meals, go ahead and have a snack.

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3. Add some protein. It keeps you satisfied and helps you build muscle so you burn more calories and lose more weight. Good candidates include plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with walnuts, a hard-boiled egg, or peanut butter on celery or whole-grain crackers.

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4. Revamp your snack lineup. Clean out your pantry, fridge, and desk drawer at work. Toss anything that has more than 4 grams of sugar per serving. Restock with healthy snack options, like nuts, whole-grain crackers, fat-free yogurt, fruit, and cut-up veggies. If healthy stuff is on hand, you're less likely to visit the vending machine.

5. Eat the same snack every day. Variety may be the spice of life, but it can spell trouble for your bottom line. A new study from Cornell University finds that the greater the variety of foods we eat, the more calories we gobble. So find your favorite snack combo and stick to that.

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