Imagine this: One hand is in the cookie jar while the other clutches a lengthy to-do list. Maybe one hand is working diligently on a last minute report as the other five fingers grab at a bag of potato chips. Does this scene look familiar? Some people use snacking as a diversion to deal with issues that are causing them stress. Mindless snacking is also an easy emotional pick me up after a particularly bad day, long hours at the office, or a morning spent tackling the budget for this month.
Whatever the cause, mindless snacking is real. There are also real solutions.
A lot of times a trip to the vending machine is just a distraction from the countless unread emails. Make note of your hunger level before snacking. If your stomach is rumbling and your body is craving some nourishment, then by all means snack away. Snacking itself is not off limits, but mindless snacking is not serving anyone. It is helpful to keep healthy snacks like a green apple and a handful of almonds on hand when you need some extra energy. Having easy access to sugary treats and snacks high in saturated fat is never a good idea, especially in an environment that tends to cause anxiety.
Ideally, it is best to pinpoint what is causing your stress and deal with that head on. Face the laundry, job stress, and financial insecurities the same way you are about to boldly tackle that pint of ice cream. Before ripping open that bag of empty calories, try taking three deep breaths. Hold each one for three seconds and then release. If the urge doesn’t pass, then take a short walk or try drinking a glass of water. Dr. Frank Lipman points out that dehydration often masquerades as sugar cravings and hunger, “sometimes what we perceive as a food craving is really thirst”.
Researchers at Cornell University conducted an online healthy eating and weight loss challenge which focused on changing eating behaviors, a program the university called a National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC). As participants signed up, they were asked a series of questions about their eating goals, background, and well-being. Based on their answers, they were sent suggestions tailored to fit their needs and ordered to follow them for one month. These suggestions were based on Dr. Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam, 2006). The following are suggestions that the NMEC participants thought were the most effective:
- Keep counters clear of all foods but the healthy ones
- Never eat directly from a package – always portion food out onto a dish
- Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up
- Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without having something small to eat
- Put down your utensils between bites to slow down your eating
Celebrity nutritionist, registered dietician, and healthy cooking expert Keri Glassman encourages her clients to “eat empowered”, which means to focus on the positive effects of eating nutrient rich food. Basically, this is a method of retraining our body to crave what it needs. Glassman also suggests changing the language around what we eat from “I can’t eat the hot fudge sundae” to “I can eat all the blueberries I want”. Go ahead and eat your snacks, but don’t let our snacks eat you.
Mindless snacking is not going to take care of the bills or fold the laundry. It is going to add belly bulge and guilt which will probably lead you to shovel in even more empty calories by the handful. When the urge arises, step away from the cookies, put down the to-do list, and take a deep breath.
Your body will thank you.