During my last healthy habits challenge, the one question I got asked most from people was how to stop mindlessly snacking. To be perfectly honest, the whole reason this habit is part of the program is because it’s something I’ve struggled with, and I know it’s something that affects almost all of us from time to time… some more than others!
That said, when I switched to eating three meals a day and started to experiment with intermittent fasting, I realized how much more intentional I was being around food. I think I had gotten into such a habit of eating snacks at certain times that it was more mindless than truly tuned into my body’s hunger cues. This can happen when our brains associate food with the environment or time and we act out of instinct.
I’ll be the first to say that becoming more intentional around eating (especially snacking!) is not easy. It’s hard to curb mindless snacking and it takes practice, but I have some practical tips to share to get you moving in the right direction!
- Time your meals. Plan out your meals for the day — know what you’re going to eat and when. If you skip a meal, you will get hungry (and maybe even hangry) and that will increase your chances of mindless snacking. Ever been to a grocery store on an empty stomach? Did you buy snacks and food not on your grocery list? That is what I’m talking about. When your brain knows there’s a plan, you’re more likely to be more mindful around food. If you plan to snack, think about when you usually get the most hungry and have a pre-portioned snack with you. For most, that’s between lunch and dinner.
- Treat your snacks like a meal. Try to solely eat when you snack. Put it on a plate, sit at the table, put away your phone, stop working, and just pay attention to the food you’re eating and enjoy it! Being more intentional around your snacks (and meals) will help you recognize when you’re full, therefore helping to keep your snacking in check.
- If you can’t stop, use a few tricks. We’ve all had those days when we are bottomless pits. If you have the urge to continue to snack, here are my top tricks:
- Make sure you eat a satisfying snack! A good mix of protein, healthy fats and veggies is the perfect combo. Focusing on real, whole foods is key too because most processed food (aka junk food) is loaded with additives that make it impossible for you to stop munching after one bite. They’re the perfect combo of sweet or salty that have you going back for more every time.
- Stay hydrated and/or find something to sip. Sometimes we snack because we think we’re hungry, but actually our body is just dehydrated and craving good ol’ H2O. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a great way to combat this, but it can also be helpful to have some additional sipping options on hand like sparkling water, herbal teas or even my apple cider vinegar detox drinks. Lately I’ve been having a mug of Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Tea after dinner each night.
- Brush your teeth. Trust me on this one. Sometimes when you have leftover flavors in your mouth you continue to crave them.
- Entertain yourself. This will look different for everyone, but find an activity that changes your mindset, distracts you and prevents you from going into the kitchen. Get excited about reading a new book, do a yoga routine before bed, take a bath to relax or start a new craft project.
- Control the environment.
- If you can’t stop, it might be time to take drastic measures. Stop buying those snacks you cannot resist eating! You cannot eat what is not there. It may seem obvious, but storing snack foods out of sight or in hard-to-reach places can be helpful too. Out of sight, out of mind. This tip almost works too well for me. I like to store baked goods (and other snack foods) in the freezer or on the top shelf behind stuff so that if I have a craving it’s there, but it’s not out on the counter or front and center in the pantry. Often times I’ll forget all about it, and by the time I find it months later it’s no longer good.
- If you notice that there are certain activities when you always end up mindlessly snacking (watching TV, putting away dinner leftovers, post-baking cookies), you may need to change this routine. I noticed that every night when I was putting our leftovers from dinner away I was nibbling on them. It wasn’t a ton of food, but I was full from dinner so the snacking was unnecessary and pretty mindless. One easy solution that I’ve found is to ask Isaac to put away the food. He likes being helpful and it removes me from the situation.
- Combat the underlying cause. Often times we find ourselves mindlessly snacking because of certain emotions or situations (boredom, loneliness, stress). Have you ever received a heated email and immediately made a beeline to the kitchen for a treat, just to procrastinate writing the response? Start to notice when your emotions are fueling your eating and try to find a different outlet for those emotions! This one is tough (especially if you’ve been an emotional eater your whole life) and I won’t deny that it requires a ton of practice, but figuring out how to deal with emotions without using food is huge when it comes to mindless snacking.
No matter how many meals and snacks you need throughout the day, I think it’s important to be intentional around food. Are you a mindless eater? What are your best tips for stopping that habit?