Most of us mindlessly eat once in awhile. You may catch yourself snacking when you're bored, tired, or out of habit every now and then, which is fairly normal and likely won't negatively effect your weight or health. But it's when mindless eating or snacking becomes a daily occurance or happens several times a day, that it can lead to unhealthy weight gain and health issues over time. Here are some tips that may help:
When you see a food that you love, your brain signals to your pancreas to release insulin, which then makes you feel hungry. It doesn't matter whether you were physically hungry or not to start with. Seeing, smelling, or even thinking about a food can make you desire it. I call this the "see-food syndrome." If this sounds familiar, do yourself a favour and take the cookies off the counter, toss the stale donut holes out that are sitting in the staff room, and put the homemade banana loaf in the deep freeze.
I often refer to the "hunger scale" in my writing and in my nutrition counseling practice. It's a tool that can help you to become a more intuitive and mindful eater. Try pausing before you have a snack and ask yourself whether or not you are actually physically hungry. If you are, make yourself a healthy snack that contains protein and carbohydrate (not just starchy or sweet high carb foods). If you've already started eating, know that you can pause halfway through and decide to stop. Or, if you are not hungry, yet have a craving that you can't shake, portion it out and enjoy. Sometimes it's just worth it.
Sometimes without thinking, we mistake thirst for hunger, and our first instinct it to grab a snack. Before you know it, you're over-full but still thirsty. Try having a glass of water before you grab a snack, wait a couple of minutes, and re-evaluate.
Research shows that eating breakfast alone helps to tame overeating later in the day, but more recently, there is evidence to suggest that having a high protein breakfast will help stop unhealthy snacking throughout the day. So skip the high sugar breakfast cereal and opt instead for one of these higher protein choices.
Perhaps your late night TV watching snack-fest is more of a fun habit than a physical need. Some people like to keep their hands busy while watching TV, and others look forward to vegging out after a long day and indulging in comforting snack foods while watching their favourite show. I get it. But here's the thing—it is easier than you think to consume half (if not more) of your daily calories in snack foods at night. Yikes. So instead, try making yourself a hot cup of tea, steamed milk with a bit of honey, a decaf latte or a tea latte at night. A slightly sweetened hot drink will feel like a treat, fill you up, and keep your hands busy while watching your favourite show.
If you decide to have a snack or treat food, do not eat out of a bag, box or container. That is a recipe for overeating. Why? Because we tend to eat food to completion (until it's gone). When you portion your snack out onto a small plate, or into a bowl or cup, it provides an opporunity to re-evaluate whether or not you need to go back for more. It will keep you somewhat accountable.
* photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons purlgirl918