We all know the feeling. That one you get when you’re avoiding catching up on paperwork, or when you’re watching TV at the end of the day. That little tickle in the back of your mind as you walk past the break room at the office. The feeling that says “Hmm…a snack would be good right about now.” Or, “I don’t want to fold the laundry…I think I’ll grab some Cheetos instead”.
Mindless munching is the downfall of every diet. Did you know that mindless snacking can add up to 600 calories to your daily intake? Think about it…a pastry at the morning meeting, a cookie from the break room, a couple of bites while you’re prepping your family’s dinner, a handful of pretzels while you’re watching TV at night...the calories add up! If you thoughtlessly snacked on 600 calories a day you’d consume 4,200 extra calories per week!
How do we combat these sneaky little unwelcome ninja calories that wiggle their way into our diets when we’re bored?
Like all bad habits, snacking is something that, with time, patience and dedication, can be changed!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Drink something.
Water, preferably. Very often, people mistake thirst for hunger. So when you’ve got the munchies, grab a water bottle. Water too plain for you? Try an additive like fruit slices, sugar-free flavoring (Dasani and Crystal Light both have some good options) or use your water to make tea! Very often, the urge to snack will be satisfied by one of these options.
2. Do something that involves your hands.
Start a puzzle, paint your nails, play a board game, do the dishes, pet your cat, weed the garden, braid your hair…whatever suits your fancy, just get those hands busy! Keeping your hands (and subsequently your mind) busy distracts you from eating out of boredom.
3. Brush your teeth, or rinse with mouthwash.
Alternatively, grab a piece of sugar-free minty gum! Not only will your teeth thank you (for the brushing, not necessarily for the gum), but filling your mouth with a clean, minty taste will help to banish the thoughts of other snacks. We all know how the toothpaste taste overpowers anything else we eat for the next hour or so.
And, if you just cant shake the munchies, that’s OK too.
Maybe you really need to eat. While avoiding mindless snacking is very important, it’s equally important to make sure that you aren’t depriving your body for the sake of trying to be “disciplined.” Really try and focus on why you want to snack. What have you already eaten today? Do you need more calories? Are you truly hungry, or are you just bored? If you determine that you do in fact need a snack, spend some time thinking about what you’re going to eat. Plan out your snack so that you can ensure your calories are healthy and worthwhile.
Make sure you surround yourself at home and at work with healthy snack options, so when you do decide that a snack is what you need, you’re fueling your body with filling, nutritious and energy-packed calories instead of the empty, sugary, unhealthy ones that will leave you wanting more.
Try snacking on baby carrots and hummus, celery and peanut butter, apple slices and almond butter, unsalted almonds or pistachios, Greek yogurt, part-skim string cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds or whole wheat crackers with a few slices of deli meat to satisfy your need to snack.
Most importantly, get in the habit of writing down what you eat. Keep a journal or a log of everything that goes in your mouth. You don’t necessarily have to write down the calories if numbers make you crazy (I know they drive me nuts!) but writing down everything you eat can help you to get a clearer understanding of how much you do actually eat throughout the day. One of the worst parts about mindless snacking is that we often forget that it happened. So keep a log, and keep it handy. Look at it occasionally to see how you're eating. Do you need to be eating more? Did you already have a snack that you forgot about? Your trusty log book will help you walk that fine line between eating too much and eating too little.
Most importantly, remember to always be gentle with yourself. If you cave and eat three twinkies after lunch, it’s OK. No one is perfect. What matters the most is how you move forward. You’ve got this!