Are you having trouble figuring out how to stop snacking? Do you reach for the potato chip bag every time you walk by? Snacking can be a hard habit to break and there are many reasons for this, which will be addressed below. Over snacking can sometimes be related to emotional eating, which will also be addressed in this article. If you feel that you are snacking too much and are having a difficult time making changes, keep reading for suggestions and solutions.
The Reasons for Snacking
There are lots of reasons you may be snacking. Here are a few.
Habit - You're not actually hungry, but your 10:00 snack breaks up your morning routine and gives you something to look forward to. Maybe you have been buying boxes of prepackaged crackers for years to keep at your desk, without stopping to ask yourself if you still like or need them. It could be that you were raised in a house that always had an after-dinner treat in front of the TV, so you're conditioned to expect it. Without the dessert after dinner, you might feel deprived or that something is missing even if you don't always even want to eat the snack.
Thirst - The thirst sensation is actually often mistaken for hunger. This is very common. It can be confusing if you are not attuned with your body's hunger cues. So, instead of reaching for calorie-free water, we consume unnecessary calories through snacks.
Boredom - We can't think of anything else to do, so snacking seems like an easy choice and it the moment, it feels satisfying. This is also where mindless eating can happen. You are studying or working with your computer and you may not realize how many calories you are consuming with the big bag of chips you brought from the kitchen.
Addiction - Some have said that sugar is eight times more addictive than heroin. It's no wonder you physically crave that doughnut. You're not hungry, you're not bored, but you believe it will taste so delicious that you just can't resist. Sugar is a powerful agent. It immediately sends "more, more!" signals to the brain. Think of the difference in a box of Girl Scout cookies and a bag of baby carrots. Most people can eat a handful of carrots and feel satisfied but it is a little harder to just eat two cookies and put the box up, feeling satisfied.
Emotional Response - Binge eating disorder is a fast-growing diagnosis. Many people are using food as a comfort source and a way to feel soothed and calm. Many reports that even though eating past fullness feels physically uncomfortable, it makes them feel calm. It does not have to be to the point of binge eating disorder to be an emotional response. Maybe you're sad, so enjoying a yummy snack will boost your endorphins and make you feel happy for a little while. Or maybe you already feel happy, so food is a reason to celebrate. This isn't surprising because as a society, we offer food as a way to show love and comfort. If your friend's father dies, you are likely to take food to her house. Many of us have closely tied our emotions to our food consumption and find it very difficult to separate the two.
How to Stop Snacking
Plan your snacks - Stop snacking by snacking? You bet! Some level of snacking is healthy to keep your hunger at bay and regulate your blood sugar throughout the day, and it's important to learn how to do it in a healthy way that doesn't have you eating mindlessly or gorging on nutrition-devoid foods late at night. Instead of eating when you're bored or hungry, pre-plan your snack times, your snack foods, and snack amounts well before it's actually time to eat them.
Use coping skills- As stated earlier, snacking is often an emotionally based response, or what we do when we have nothing else going on. If you find yourself wanting to get a snack, stop for a minute and check in with yourself. Are you actually hungry? It can be really helpful to get a piece of paper and write about how you are feeling, or what you had just been thinking about. This will help you see if you are eating because of an emotional reason.
If the craving is really strong, set the timer for 10 minutes and distract yourself for those 10 minutes with a healthy coping skill. You can tell yourself that after the timer goes off, you can eat if you still want to. This is called delayed eating and it works, even if you end up eating, because you will learn how to get more attuned to your hunger cues and learn the times when you are likely to use food to self-soothe. You will also probably eat fewer calories if you delay eating.
So, those coping skills- Instead of immediately going to snacks, try to do something you enjoy. Coping skills vary based on personal interests, but some examples include coloring, hiking, drawing, listening to music, or watching TV. If you do one of these before reaching for a snack, that craving will likely go away by the time you are finished.
Choose filling foods - All meals and snacks should come loaded with protein, fiber, and even healthy fat. These things take time to digest, give you a sense of satisfaction, and keep your stomach filled up until your next meal, eliminating hunger pangs between meals.
Drink plenty of water - Water also contributes to a feeling of fullness and healthy digestion. It also keeps thirst and dehydration at bay, which can often be mistaken for feelings of hunger and contribute to your desire to snack. And if you're considering drinking a calorie-free flavored beverage instead, skip it. Artificial sweeteners found in diet drinks have actually been shown to lead to food cravings and obesity.
Set a short-term goal - Instead of trying to psych yourself up to eliminate snacking forever, instead set a short-term, achievable goal. Set a goal like, "I will resist snacking for one work week." This is much more manageable, measurable, and motivating than trying to make a significant permanent change with no room for error. After the week is over you can re-assess and decide if you want to keep going or reintroduce snacking.
If you've tried to control your eating and continue to struggle, professional support may help you on your journey to health. If you have found that a big portion of your over snacking is because of emotional reasons, you can set yourself up for success by working with a counselor trained in this area. There are many self-help books on the topic of emotional eating, but it is a hard thing to overcome on your own. If you are an emotional eater, likely the food is not the problem, it is the feelings that make you feel you need food to soothe yourself. This is hard to figure out on your own without help. BetterHelp.com provides counseling in a convenient and affordable online format that can help you identify the emotional reasons behind your constant snacking - and help you figure out how to stop and how to heal what led to the overeating so that you can leave this problem behind.