Do you walk past the fridge and mindlessly grab something to snack on? Are you guilty of reaching for food in times of stress? Or maybe you can’t bear to see an unfinished plate and continue to pick at food when you are full? Maybe it’s about time to be more mindful of when and why you reach for food and tackle those bad habits that are scuppering your weight loss.
As children we were always encouraged to clear our plates – if we didn’t finish our meal, terrible things would happen. We would be bribed with no pudding, no playing outside with our friends or being told we would be put to bed. On the flip side, if we were sad or in pain, kindhearted adults would try to make us feel better by offering us a sweet treat. Whilst our parents intentions were only the best, this ‘food training’ in our formative years could be the catalyst for an unhealthy food relationship in our adult lives.
We’ve all been there … we are sat watching a movie or socialising with friends or loved ones and to help us power through is a great big pile of snacks and treats. Before we know it, the bowls are empty and to your horror you realise you have single-handedly munched through a family size bag of something with far too many calories.
So what can we do to ensure that our healthy meals and weight loss goals are not being scuppered by mindless snacking?
Remove the Packaging and Control the Portion Size
By removing any packaging we can give ourselves a lot more control over the snack. We often buy larger packs of treats because it’s convenient and better value for money, but without self control these large packs are danger zones. Break the treat down into smaller portions and control your calorie intake. There is no need to cut your favourite treats out of your diet completely if you control the portion size and how often you indulge.
Use Smaller Plates and Bowls
Trends in crockery over the years have seen us purchase larger plates and bowls. Sadly this has meant larger portion sizes as we fit more food onto our plates. By swapping to smaller plates and bowls, but still piling them high with your favourite snacks, you can ensure you are eating less, but at the same time tricking your brain into sending you that ‘cleared plate’ signal.
Swap Snacks for Healthier Choices
There are lots of swaps you can make before you have to swap chocolate for carrot batons … let’s not be too hasty here! There are lots of low-fat, low-salt or lower calorie crisps (potato chips) on the market and with everything displaying nutritional information on the packaging, it’s easier than ever before to make better choices.
To be healthier, try mixing up your treats by snacking on carrot sticks, but dipping them into a small portion of peanut butter. Or how about celery dipped into a lower calorie soft cheese? If you fancy something with a bit of spice, how about peppers dipped into a salsa? Maybe get naughty with a small portion of dark chocolate and some almonds. Find a combination that you enjoy and then make sure it’s your go-to snack when you visit the fridge or larder.
Slow Down and Enjoy your Food
Why the rush? If you want a treat that badly, slow down and enjoy every mouthful, especially if you have managed to cut the portion size. Many of us are time-strapped and eat on the go, using food and snacks as fuel but forgetting to enjoy them. Slow down and enjoy the flavours and sensations as you chew your food. Give your brain a chance to process what’s going on. Allow your mind to focus on the food you are eating, the texture on your tongue, the flavour and overall yumminess (yes, yumminess is a thing).
As well as slowing down, put down your phone and switch off the TV. You have chosen to enjoy a snack, so it deserves your full attention. Not only will you be more aware of what you are eating, but your brain will be able to send you that all important signal, acknowledging an intake of fuel to keep you going until the next meal.
Hungry or Bored?
Are you actually hungry? That’s what you should be asking yourself when you reach for a snack. Pause for a moment and think about how you really feel. You could actually be a little bored or maybe worried or anxious. If you are at work and on a break, it doesn’t mean you must eat something. If your tummy is rumbling and you need something to keep you going, dive into a snack that will do the job, but do it because you need to.
Sometimes you aren’t hungry at all, but need a distraction. Go for a quick walk or just get outside in some fresh air. A little bit of exercise will not only make you feel better, it will also burn off a few calories. That’s a win-win right there.
Quite often we mistake thirst for hunger and grab food when in fact our bodies were asking for a drink. You’ll have heard this many times before, but have a drink when you are hit with an attack of the munchies. Most of the time you’ll forget all about feeling hungry and will get back to whatever it was you were doing before the snack attack. Keep some water close by and have a sip when you think you are hungry … and if the munchies are still niggling you in 20-30 minutes time, then you know it’s time for a bite to eat.
What do we mean by eating mindfully? It’s about why you are eating, making conscious decisions about what you want to eat and how it makes you feel. For example, you will think that a huge grab bag of peanut M&Ms will make you feel so much better if you are having a tough time, but once you have eaten the whole bag you will be burdened with guilt, regret and disappointment. Instead you could have put a small portion of them in a bowl, eaten them slowly with no distractions and enjoyed the treat.
Eating mindfully is about making good decisions about what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat. By applying all the tips in this article alone, you will have all the skills you need to make informed decisions that allow you to enjoy a snack.
Tap into your Control Room
Are you an emotional eater? Maybe you use treats as a pick me up when you are feeling anxious, tired or hormonal. Maybe it’s time to tap into that control room in your mind and reprogram your relationship with food. You don’t need to clear your plate. You don’t need to grab chocolate when you are feeling sad.
Make some changes in your snacking control room – retrain your brain so that you reach for podcasts, books, music or hobbies when you think you would normally reach for snacks and treats. Take a bubble bath, go for a walk or phone a friend. Teach yourself some new habits.
Snacking is all about balance. Next time you get the munchies, don’t deny yourself a treat – allow yourself to enjoy anything you like. . Just don’t let your snacking get out of control. The trick is balance. Quite often, the reason why our weight loss or maintenance is not working is down to our snacking choices and habits. Use the comments to tell us about your successes and tips – we’d love to hear from you!