Although common knowledge may dictate that humans only eat when they’re hungry, let’s be real: there are plenty of other reasons that we hit up the snack cabinet. Whether it’s emotional eating, snacking rooted in boredom, or just joining in on what the people you’re with are doing, all types of mindless snacking can unfortunately lead to the consumption of numerous unintentional calories — and unhealthy ones at that. Cutting back on mindless snacking is twofold in that you have to start by figuring out if you’re actually hungry in the first place and then employing mindful strategies once you’ve made the decision to have a snack. Read on for some tips on combating mindless snacking.
To Snack or Not to Snack?
Before diving straight into your snack of choice, it’s important to determine your actual hunger level, if you’re really even hungry at all. Rate your hunger on a scale, with one being absolutely famished and 10 being a stuffed post-Thanksgiving feeling. Other sensations that our body often mistakes for hunger are fatigue, thirst, or anxiety. However, the fact remains that these are totally separate from being hungry! Rating your hunger is a useful way to tune into just that one feeling isolated from all those other factors. You will quickly notice how often you’re rating yourself a one or two on the scale at times when you’re used to reaching for food. The idea is to become more aware of your actual hunger levels so that you’re able to make that rating and decide to forgo the snack before you’ve actually eaten it.
Make Snacking its Own Event
When you’ve decided that you’re truly hungry for a snack, then you should definitely have one! However, make the snack its own event so that you can really savor and remember it. This means sitting down, removing distractions (screens, we’re looking at you) and putting your food onto a plate or in a bowl as opposed to eating straight from a bag or box.
Oftentimes when you’re starving, you will eat at a very rapid pace, which often doesn’t enable you to notice that you’re full until you’ve eaten far past the point of being pleasantly sated. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that you are in fact having reasonable snacks throughout the day (when you’re truly hungry of course) to avoid overeating once you finally sit down to eat. Whether it’s a snack or a meal, practice eating slower by chewing your food more (which is good for the digestion process as well) and putting your utensil down between bites. You should begin to realize when you’re getting full sooner and will be able to stop accordingly. This may even allow you to leave a few bites behind, which you likely would have mindlessly eaten in the past.
Go to Bed
The science is in: we eat more food (and more unhealthy food, no less) when we’re sleep deprived. Aim for seven to eight hours per night and facilitate this by shutting off your screens two hours before you’d like to fall asleep to avoid blue light interfering with your bedtime. Refrain from eating very heavy foods within three hours of going to sleep to help you drift off faster and sleep deeper.
Keep a Journal
For some people, it can be helpful to keep a log of what foods they’re eating, the amounts, and the times at which they’re eating. This can enable you to determine patterns and adjust your lifestyle choices accordingly. For example, if you find that you’re always eating cookies as soon as you get home from a long day at the office, perhaps you could institute a post-work walk ritual each day that you’ll head out for before even opening the pantry.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Ultimately, if there are particular foods that you just can’t seem to stop eating despite employing hunger ratings and mindful snacking strategies, it’s probably best to not keep them at home. Although this may be annoying at first, especially if you’re used to always having your favorite foods close at hand, you will likely soon find other healthier ways to occupy your thoughts. Then, not buying those snacks will become its own habit.