It’s 11 a.m., and lunch is right around the corner, but you can’t ignore your mouth’s craving for something to crunch on. It’s 8:30 p.m., and you should be full from dinner, but your need for something sweet is overwhelming. There are probably a dozen times during the day when you want to reach for a snack, but if you are eating regular, healthy meals, you probably don’t need that extra food.
What You Should Do Instead of Snacking?
When your next snack craving hits, you can stay healthier by doing one of the following, instead:
Keep Your Mouth Busy
Think back to the last time you ate lunch with your most gregarious friend. Most likely, while he or she gabbed about this and that, you put away the complementary appetizer, your main dish, and the “shared” dessert before your friend even picked up a fork.
Your mouth can (or should) be engaged in only one activity at a time. Your talkative friend kept his or her mouth too busy to worry about eating, and you can employ the same tactics when you feel the urge to snack. Find someone nearby to gab about for about 10 minutes, or until your food cravings disappear. If no one is around to talk, you should try calling an old friend on the phone to have a nice, long chat; texting won’t work for several reasons, not least of which is its failure to engage your mouth.
When all else fails, you can keep your mouth busy with other activities besides talking, like brushing your teeth, chewing gum, vaping an e-cigarette, or sipping water. As long as your mouth is working hard without consuming calories, you should avoid succumbing to snacking.
Keep Your Fingers Busy
Even if your mouth is unoccupied, you can’t grab a snack if your hands are full. Restless finger syndrome isn’t present in the DSM-5, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a condition that contributes to mindless snacking. Therefore, making sure your hands always have something to do will help you avoid moving your fingers from a plate of snacks to your mouth.
The number of ways to keep your fingers engaged is nearly limitless. Kids have dozens of hand games designed to keep them entertained, and many require no more tools than the 10 on your palms. You can also invest in a few simple toys that occupy your fingers, such as yo-yos and cat’s cradles.
If mindless games don’t seem worthwhile, you might take up a hobby that keeps your hands busy. Knitting or crocheting both require minimal skill to start, but they are incredibly rewarding once mastered. You could also try learning an instrument that makes good use of your fingers, like guitar or piano. Once your fingers become accustomed to the new exercise, snacking won’t be nearly as rewarding as any of these other hand-heavy activities.
Keep Your Mind Busy
You can probably remember your mom’s refrain every time you wandered into the kitchen between mealtimes: “You’re not hungry; you’re bored.” Unfortunately, most adults no longer have their parents around to tell them the truth about their snacking habit, so they mindlessly munch away whenever their minds aren’t properly engaged.
Many of the suggestions in the previous to sections work to involve the mind as well as the mouth and fingers because when your brain is busy concentrating on a certain task, it can’t drift to thoughts about food. Still, if learning a skill or talking to friends doesn’t stop you from snacking, there are other mind games you can play to curb cravings. Reading an engrossing book is a good way to focus on something other than the fridge. You can also purchase puzzles, like jigsaws or crosswords, to challenge your brain as you fight off boredom.
Keep Your Body Healthy
It is incredibly easy to misinterpret your body’s signals. Cravings almost always indicate that the body wants something to function better, but it isn’t always obvious what exactly you should do. When you yearn for something sweet, it may be because your body is trying to stabilize your blood sugar ― not because you need a piece of candy.
Meanwhile, hankerings for salty snacks could indicate that you are over-stressed and need a break from work. Instead of immediately heading to the kitchen when you feel the need to snack, try to think hard about what your body is telling you. With the right lifestyle, one that contains sufficient exercise and a nutritious diet, your snacking should naturally subside.