From stress and boredom to thirst and low blood sugar, there are many reasons that lead to those between-meal nibbles. Whether you’re a mid-afternoon cruncher or a midnight muncher, read on to learn about some effective ways to prevent unhealthy snacking.
A slice of leftover birthday cake in the office kitchen, a few generous handfuls of potato chips during the big game, a candy bar for an "energy boost" before a deadline at work -- snacking can get the best of even the most well-intentioned dieter. From stress and boredom to thirst and low blood sugar, there are many reasons that lead to those between-meal nibbles. Whether you're a mid-afternoon cruncher or a midnight muncher, read on to learn about some effective ways to prevent unhealthy snacking.
1. Brush Your Teeth
There may be many activities you typically avoid before eating, but brushing your teeth is probably at the top of the list. Toothpaste is far from a tantalizing appetizer. It's probably safe to assume that pretty much nothing tastes appetizing with a mouthful of freshly-brushed teeth, so let that work to your advantage if you're trying to avoid snacking. When you feel the urge to grab that candy bar or bag of chips, reach for your toothbrush instead. Both your scale and your dentist will thank you.
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2. Avoid Social Media Food Temptations
Your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter feeds are inundated with family and friends' proud posts of their decadent dinners and desserts. And every time you watch your favorite TV show it feels as if half of the commercials are food-related. A 2009 study by Yale University found a strong link between increased snacking and risk of weight gain in adults and children exposed to food advertisements. So, to avoid temptation, exercise your right to use the remote, scroll away from the page, or completely unplug until the nagging need to nosh goes away.
3. Put Your Cravings in “Time Out”
Take 10. The urge to snack sometimes has little to do with hunger. Food may be a way to "swallow" a multitude of feelings -- boredom, sadness, stress, anxiety and more. Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, a nutrition expert and wellness consultant, suggests asking yourself if you are truly hungry when unhealthy food cravings arise and then giving yourself some time. Try taking a 20-minute walk or simply changing your scenery. Go to a different room, listen to some music, climb the stairs. The key is changing your focus and then tuning in to see if you are really feeling hunger sensations. If, after all of that, you are still hungry, try drinking a glass of water. Sometimes thirst comes disguised as hunger.
Read more: 18 Habits That Can Make You Fat
4. Give Your Food Some Love
Eat mindfully. Nutrition expert Rima Kleiner says paying attention to your food and "reframing" how you think about food are important parts of healthy eating habits. Try thinking about food for its original purpose -- providing fuel and nourishment for your body. According to research published in February 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, if you are distracted while eating you could consume up to 50% more calories. Turn off distractions like TVs, computers and smartphones, and focus solely on your food. Eating mindfully can help you reconnect with your hunger cues and assist you in determining when you're actually hungry or reaching for food for other reasons.
5. Store Any Trigger Snack Foods Out of Sight
A sure-fire way to tempt any habitual snacker is to keep those trigger foods within reach. Instead, be sure to keep healthy snack items like fruits and vegetables easily accessible. Making it that much harder to get to that bag of miniature candy bars or cheesy crackers can help you slow down and rethink that reach before mindlessly munching.
Read more: 28 Eating Secrets to Help You Lose Weight (and Save Money Too!)
6. Keep Track of What You Eat
Recording what you eat and drink can help reduce unnecessary eating. Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, a nutrition expert and wellness consultant, says keeping a food journal may help people lose weight, and keep the weight off. Sometimes knowing you'll have to see that high-calorie snack on paper later on is all the inspiration you need to refrain from indulging. If you want a quick and accurate way of keeping track of your calories, consider trying LIVESTRONG's MyPlate and its free companion mobile app to help you keep a record of what you are consuming.
7. Invite Your Cravings into Your Daydreams
It might sound counterintuitive to fantasize about the same food you're trying to abstain from, but a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University published in Science, found that imagining eating the food you're craving can help you feel satisfied enough to forgo it altogether or eat less of it. Picture the whole experience of eating the food -- smelling, tasting, chewing, swallowing -- and you might just trick your mind into thinking you actually ate it.
8. Make the Most of Your Meals
Beans, lean meats, fish -- foods like these are your friends. Amari Cheffer, registered dietitian and owner of Eat Chic Chicago, recommends packing your meals with protein, fiber and healthy fat. These food components promote satiety and help regulate blood sugar during and after eating, which helps stave off those nagging snack cravings between meals.
9. If You Must Snack, Mini-Size It
If you just can't get your mind off that tempting treat, allow yourself to indulge in a small portion of it. Cut off a fourth of that marble chocolate chip cheesecake brownie instead of devouring an entire one. Cornell University researchers recently found that those who ate smaller portions of the foods they craved reported feeling similarly satisfied compared to those who had eaten larger portions (containing 77% more calories!). So indulge a little, plus it's another sneaky way to keep your snacking from snowballing into something bigger.
Read more: Healthy Snacks Under 200 Calories
What Do You Think About Smart Snacking?
All snacking isn't evil. Healthy snacks between light properly-balanced meals can help stave off binge eating. If you give in to the munchies, try reaching for fruits and vegetables. Nutrition expert Rima Kleiner says snacking is a great opportunity to sneak more healthy foods into your day. And eating smaller meals more frequently helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and keep unhealthy snacking at bay. What time of day or situation most tempts you to reach for unhealthy snacks, and do you have any tips or tricks to mellow those munchies? Leave a comment below and share your tips with the community. Also, feel free to share your healthy snack ideas.