Snacking is not always necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you’re choosing to snack on and if you’re actually hungry. If you find yourself uncontrollably grabbing all the snacks right now, there could be several reasons why this is happening.
Food is comfort and sometimes it may feel that it is one of the few things that is still safe to do. Although it's ok to sometimes use food to self-soothe, using this as your main method of stress management can lead to unwanted weight gain.
There are plenty of strategies to employ when you start to overindulge. Here are my top 10 ways to avoid unhealthy snacking habits when you’re stuck at home.
1. Create an eating schedule
If your meal times and overall routine is not what it usually is, this can throw off your entire day. Lack of structure with meals leads to mindless grazing, overeating, and poor diet choices. When you don’t have a plan on what you’ll be eating next (or don’t even know what’s in your pantry!) it’s too easy to grab anything in sight when hunger strikes.
Planning ahead and creating an eating schedule so you have a structure will set you up for success. Prep your meals and snacks ahead of time just as if you were going to the office so you’re never scrambling at the last minute. Set a plan to eat every 3-4 hours will assure you don’t get to the point of being overly hungry so you can make better choices.
2. Eat balanced meals
If your meals are not well balanced, this can cause low blood sugar and intense cravings between meals. If you’ve ever had a meal and then are starving within an hour or two, that meal probably wasn’t well balanced. A balanced meal contains a lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fat. If one of these components is missing, you may find yourself reaching for snacks shortly after.
3. Drink plenty of water
We all know drinking water is important for many reasons, but many of us struggle to actually do it. A general rule of thumb is to drink the number of ounces of water equivalent to half your body weight in pounds. For example, if you weigh 150lbs, you divide that number by 2 to get the amount of water in ounces you should have per day. In this case, it would be 75 oz of water per day.
Many times you may think you’re hungry but you’re actually thirsty. Dehydration can cause the same hunger pangs as actual hunger. So the next time you’re craving a snack, drink a glass of water first and wait ten minutes. If you still feel hungry after that, you probably are actually hungry. If you don’t, you likely just needed water.
4. Learn physical vs. emotional hunger
Much of the time we’re eating, it’s for non-physical reasons. This is especially true when it comes to snacking. If you’re snacking when you’re not actually hungry, the calories can really add up. Learning the difference between the feelings of physical vs. emotional hunger can help you get a better handle on mindless snacking.
Physical hunger usually comes on gradually, is less intense, and is satisfied by many different types of foods, including nutritious foods like raw vegetables. Emotional hunger tends to come on rather quickly and is more intense for a specific type of food (usually carbs, salty snacks, or sweets). Using a hunger scale to determine your actual level of hunger can help you make an informed decision whether to have a snack or not.
5. Distract yourself
When you find yourself reaching for the snacks, distract yourself with another activity. Make a list of 2-3 non-food activities you can do instead of eating when you recognize emotional hunger is surfacing. For example: journaling your thoughts, calling a friend, drinking water, stepping outside, or taking a 10-minute walk around the block.
More often than not, you’ll find yourself forgetting about the urge to snack within 10 minutes. Keep your non-food activities list close by to refer to when needed.
6. Put the unhealthy snacks out of reach
Keep less nutritious snacks such as cakes, cookies, potato chips, and pretzels in harder to reach areas. They should be out of plain sight, not directly on the counter or in the front of your pantry, push them further back or place them higher up. By doing this, you are creating a barrier between you and the snack and you’ll have to put conscious thought into whether that snack is worth it.
7. Don’t purchase unhealthy snacks
An even simpler solution is to not purchase unhealthy snacks. If a food is not available you will have a difficult time eating it. When you go to the store, plan out the snacks you will buy ahead of time. Don’t ever go to the store hungry or you will likely end up with some unintentional purchases. Load up your fridge and pantry with healthy options so you have no choice when choosing what to eat.
8. Find healthier, satisfying alternatives
Snacking is not always a bad thing. If you tried your list of non-food activities and you’re still finding yourself wanting a snack, you can make a healthier choice, especially if you are prepared. If you’ve gone longer than 3-4 hours without eating, you may be actually hungry and in that case, snacking is a good thing.
Keep healthy, satisfying snacks — such as carrots and peppers with hummus, low fat cottage cheese, nuts, or apples and peanut butter — in the house and within easy reach. Then, when hunger strikes, you have healthier options at the ready.
9. Stop multitasking
Try your best not to eat when you’re working or watching TV. If you’re multitasking and are distracted, you are more likely to overeat. It’s also not as enjoyable and is easy to forget what or how much you ate. When you’re eating, focus on your meal and save the other tasks for afterwards.
10. Eat mindfully
If all else fails and you go for that unhealthy snack regardless, eat it mindfully. Pay attention to how you feel while you’re eating it, your hunger level, and when you’re getting full. Does it really taste that good and is it what you expected? Is it worth it to you or are you just eating it to pass the time? The more you pay attention to these thoughts, the more you’ll start to recognize how often mindless snacking may be happening and you will start to break an unhealthy cycle.
Snacks can have their place in a healthy diet, if chosen wisely and within the context of an overall healthy eating plan. Choosing more nutritious, satisfying snacks will help you meet your daily nutrient needs, but choosing processed snacks like cookies and chips can start to replace necessary nutrients in your diet.
Practicing how to listen to your body and managing stress on a daily basis will help you to better manage any snacking habits related to emotional eating. This will also help ensure that you are eating regular, balanced meals. The more you practice these healthy habits, the easier they’ll get and the closer you’ll be to meeting your health goals — one day at a time.
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