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Breaking the Snacking Habit

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Is snacking derailing your attempts at better eating?

Maybe you've found your groove on healthy meals, but night time snacking (or snacking in general) is derailing your attempts to eat healthier. Let's try to get to the heart of what's happening and talk about strategies, starting with:

  • Take stock of what's in your house and reduce temptation by clearing out some of the foods that don't serve your goal of better eating. If you share living space with other humans, this can be tricky, especially if these are little or big humans whom you adore. Do your best to find a middle ground, as you're likely to encounter push back. You might try being strategic and thin out the snack foods over time. Slow change will be easier to stick with for the long term. You know your cohabitants best, so trust your instincts on how to proceed.

  • Start tracking what you're eating and drinking for 7-10 days. Everything. Include weekend days, as these are often a different eating routine. No fancy tracking apps required for this step, just do whatever is easiest. Snap pictures with your phone, write it down on a piece of paper, whatever works for you.

  • Next, start examining the data you collected. Could you be hungry? Especially if you're not falling into a pattern of snacking every night, take a look at what you've eaten during the day, and previous days. Maybe you skipped a meal because you were busy. Even if you had enough food to hold you over, you may feel like you need to make up for the meal psychologically.

  • Are you feeling deprived? If you look at how you've been eating and deem it perfect, that could be the issue. If you look at your food as "good" or "bad" or tell yourself that you're never going to eat or drink "x", your inner rebel may be waiting to sabotage you when your defenses are down. The end of the day is one of those vulnerable times.

  • Are you seeking comfort or reward from food? If you have loads of stress, or feel that you've earned the right to snack because of something you did, this could apply to you.

The good news: you can do something about any of the above challenges. The bad news: it's going to take time and practice to make some progress. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • If you think you may be hungry, start by tracking your food for a week or two and see if you can find obvious patterns. There may be days when you don't have time for breakfast or have to make do with food that doesn't quite satisfy your need for a balance of proteins, carbs and healthy fats. Start experimenting with strategies to better fuel yourself like meal planning, cooking extra food to provide leftovers, etc.

Real life example: You had an emergency meeting at lunchtime and hadn't packed a lunch so you made do with a protein bar you had stashed in your desk. Later that evening after dinner, you find yourself on the hunt for "something" and end up snacking on multiple things, but still feel unsatisfied. How about doubling the portions of food you're cooking for dinner to provide more "heat and eat" lunch options?

  • If you're feeling deprived, try shifting the way you look at healthy eating. What if, instead of "good" or "bad" foods, you started seeing food on a spectrum from okay to better, to even better? After all, no foods are inherently bad, but there may be better options that are more aligned with your goals that you can enjoy even though they're not "perfect".

Real life example: You've gone from a morning ritual of a large coffee with caramel syrup to a black coffee. What if you tried getting a smaller flavored coffee or asking for less of the caramel syrup and skipping the whipped cream?

  • If you're seeking comfort or reward, there are lots of things you could try. Perhaps there is a way to lessen the stress load by letting go of something that isn't completely necessary in your daily routine. If you want to reward yourself for an accomplishment, maybe an act of self care would make you feel happy. If you're experiencing some unpleasant feelings, you could try looking at them and leaning into them without doing anything other than accepting them.

Real life example: Despite a unpleasant boss and a tight deadline, you made it through the workday, managed to get the kids to their practices and even pulled off a healthy dinner. Whew! Now that the kiddos are off to bed, time to unwind with a bag of chips/oreos/bottle of wine/that chocolate you were hiding from yourself etc. What if you phoned a dear friend or substituted some tea or a good book in place of snacking?

While none of these strategies is easy, they will get easier with practice. Change takes time, so try to take the long view. Remember that you didn't establish the old habits in 8 weeks, so replacing them in that timeframe is unrealistic. Just focus on a little consistency, and practice often, until you hit the tipping point of habit change.

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