Whether you frequently find your hand at the bottom of a bag of chips at 9 p.m. or you're face-to-face with the vending machine every afternoon at 3, one thing is clear: You're a victim of snack attacks. And you're not alone.
Since the 1970s to 2012, the prevalence of eating between meals has skyrocketed in America, with snacks providing nearly 25 percent of daily calories for the average adult, according to one study. While it may be tempting to dismiss these little extras in the grand scheme of things, the truth is that mindless munching can be a real barrier to sticking with your eating plan and reaching your goals. Whether you snack to soothe frazzled nerves, indulge your sweet tooth or fuel a long day, getting a handle on your noshing habits will ensure your snacks help and don't hinder your weight-loss success.
Before tackling those snacking habits, though, it's important to first look at the big picture. For many, snacking is less about satisfying a hunger and more about emotions such as loneliness, boredom or anxiety. Taking note of when you crave a snack and the why behind it can help you realign your thinking and replace snacking with mindful meditation, exercise or a call to a friend.
An effective weight-loss plan begins and ends with a strong foundation built upon foods that nourish the body and fuel your daily activities. To keep your appetite satisfied and in check, don't neglect the basics. Eating regular meals throughout the day that include a combination of food groups will ensure balanced nutrition while keeping hunger at bay. Making a concerted effort to emphasize filling, nutritious foods for lasting energy and decrease your intake of sugar and heavily processed foods will also boost satiety and help you stay on track. By consuming a diet that makes the most out of every bite, you can stave off nagging hunger pangs that ultimately lead to excessive snacking.
Stop the Snack Attack
As for those times when a quick bite to eat has more to do with a case of the munchies than actual hunger, these strategies will help you take control of snack time.
- Clear the counters. We've all heard the saying, "Out of sight, out of mind," and snacks are no exception. "We are bombarded all day with cues to eat," explains Isabel Maples, M.Ed., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Mindful eating helps us control our environment, instead of letting our environment control us." By placing foods you typically grab as snacks in closed cabinets or hidden in the fridge, you can better control your impulses.
- Get rid of the triggers. Do certain foods just call your name until you finally cave in? It might be time to give your pantry a makeover. Though it isn't always practical or helpful to toss every food that tempts you, there might be a few usual suspects worth putting on probation.
- Make a healthier spread. Now that you've tidied up, you've got room for some smarter snack options! Instead of fatty Brie and lots of bread, build the perfect charcuterie board with vegetables, fruits and meats that will satisfy your appetite and help you reach your goals.
- Get a handle on those portion sizes. As tempting as it is to dive right into an open bag of chips, take a moment to check the nutrition facts label and portion out a single serving. Even better? Use Ziploc bags to pre-measure your favorite snacks for the perfect portion every time.
- Give your food the attention it deserves. Whether you like to curl up in front of the T.V. with a tub of popcorn or scroll social media with sticky fingers, eating while distracted by other activities is a recipe for overeating. As Maples explains, "Mindful eating keeps our focus on the flavor and texture of food, which can help us enjoy our food more so we are satisfied with less of it."
- Freeze and bake only what you need. Love homemade treats but have a hard time stopping at just one (or three)? After you whip up the recipe, set aside cookie dough balls, brownie bites or any other baked good to freeze. You'll have a much easier time sticking to one serving and avoid feeling pressure to eat the rest before they get stale.
- Brush your teeth after eating. A minty-fresh mouth is a great deterrent for unnecessary nibbling. If you don't have a brush and paste handy, pop a piece of mint gum for a similar effect.
- Stay hydrated. Thirst is often mistaken as hunger, so make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day. Not a fan of plain H2O? Mix it up with fruit-infused seltzer, mineral water with sweet mint, tea or your favorite coffee.
- Get out of the kitchen and get busy! Sometimes when tasty temptations catch our eye, the best antidote is a good distraction. Find an activity or hobby that gets your mind off food and fully engaged elsewhere.
- Go outside. While putting a little distance between you and the fridge might be reason enough to step out the front door, studies have also shown that green spaces can decrease stress and, in turn, decrease our hormonal drive to overeat.
Changing your lifestyle and losing weight is a journey, and lifestyle change doesn't have to happen overnight. If you think your snacking might be standing in the way of your goals, take a look at these strategies and tackle one or two that you think will be the most meaningful at a time. Before you know it, you'll have reshaped both your eating habits and your waistline!