How to stop mindless snacking

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We’ve all been guilty of reaching for the potato chips or snacking on chocolate without even thinking about it. The occasional indulgence is okay, but if you’re going to break your diet, make sure it’s for the right reasons and you’re really going to enjoy it! 

Mindless eating adds up, and those extra calories can start to sabotage your weight loss efforts before you know it. So save those treats for a celebration with your friends! Next time you find yourself about to eat without thinking, HALT and take a second to consider the following…

H = Hungry

Before you start eating, ask yourself if you are actually hungry. If you are, ask yourself if those potato chips will really be the best thing to fill you up. The types of processed, high-fat foods that we tend to snack on mindlessly (chips, chocolate, biscuits) tend to have a very high caloric density and low nutritional value, which means you’ll be consuming a large amount of calories before you actually feel full. By contrast, foods with a low caloric density (like fresh fruits and vegetables) will fill you up on fewer calories, as well as giving you nutritional support.

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So if you are actually hungry, look for something that will satisfy you with fewer calories. Having a small serve of oatmeal and yogurt will fill you up faster than half a bag of potato chips- and you’ll feel much better at the end of it! Foods that are high in protein and fibre are a good choice. Try some carrot sticks with peanut butter, apple slices with cottage cheese, or whole-wheat crackers with hummus. There are plenty of healthy choices that will keep your hunger at bay far more successfully than those salty, sugary treats.

A = Anxious or Angry

Anxiety or anger are also common triggers for people to reach for snacks. When you feel worked up or tense, it’s almost an impulse to grab something to munch on as a distraction. But what you’ve probably noticed after a session of stress-induced eating is that you didn’t even really notice or enjoy the taste. Why waste all those calories when you’re not even going to get the pleasure from them you might normally?

If you think you might be about to eat due to strong emotions like stress, anxiety or anger, take ten minutes to calm down and then decide if you still feel like eating. Go for a walk around the block, do some relaxation exercises, or take a few minutes just to chill and listen to your favourite music. Nine times out of ten, if you wait a few minutes the impulse will pass. 

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L = Lonely

Comfort food is another problem for many dieters. Food is pleasurable, and eating can release serotonin in the brain, so it can be a physically comforting experience that people can be drawn to as a distraction from being sad or lonely. Often the thought process is something along the lines of ‘I’ve had a bad day, so I deserve to eat this ice cream.’ You do deserve comfort and happiness- but rationally, eating fattening foods might not be the best way to achieve that. Often, it will just perpetuate a cycle of guilt and anger at yourself for breaking your diet- which in turn, can drive you to seek more comfort in food.

If you’re eating as a reward for getting through a hard day, or to make yourself feel better when you’re in a low mood, or to distract yourself from feeling lonely, it might be more useful to look for other ways to confront the real problem. Often, simple things like calling a friend or a family member can be a big help. Do something that makes you feel good- like taking a bath, watching your favourite TV show, or even treating yourself to a massage or a manicure. Look for other ways to find comfort and social support, and you can start to feel better without sacrificing your diet.

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T = Tired

Tiredness is easy to confuse with hunger. Getting enough sleep helps to regulate your appetite through the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which control how hungry you feel. So if you are sleep deprived, your hormone levels are altered so that your appetite increases. Your body might also be prompting you to eat to get more energy to keep you awake. 

In the long term, you can prevent this by trying to improve your sleeping patterns to ensure you are getting adequate rest. When you do feel like eating and you think it might be due to tiredness, take a time-out to do some relaxation exercises, meditation, or take a short nap.

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