Whether it’s nerves from news headlines, boredom from being cooped up at home, or anxiety about kids going back to school, emotional eating seems to be at an all-time high right now.
But is emotional eating the same thing as snacking? It can be. When we start snacking unnecessarily (due to boredom, stress, anxiety, depression, happiness, frustration, etc.), it may be time to identify the specific emotions that are causing these coping behaviors.
Even after realizing the emotional triggers, though, it can be hard to undo the learned coping mechanism of emotional eating.
Once you’ve taken action to reduce your emotional eating, there are some additional steps you can take to keep yourself from snacking without cause. And that’s an important distinction to make: there’s a difference between planned snacking and mindless snacking, or snacking out of habit.
Use the tips below to avoid unnecessary snacking (or emotional eating).
How to Stop Snacking
1. Time Your Meals
Plan out your meals for the day—know what you’re going to eat and when. If you skip a meal, you will get hungry (and maybe even hangry), which will increase your chances of mindless snacking (and choosing unhealthy eats) later on. Have you ever been to a grocery store on an empty stomach? Did you buy snacks and food not on your grocery list? Same concept. When your brain knows there’s a plan, you are more likely to be more mindful around food. If you do plan to snack, think about when you usually get the most hungry and have a pre-portioned snack with you.
2. Stay Hydrated
Oftentimes, we snack because we think we’re hungry when in reality our body is just dehydrated. That food you’re craving when you’re dehydrated is really a craving for water. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a great way to combat this, but it can also be helpful to have some additional sipping options on hand like sparkling water, herbal teas, flavored seltzer water, or even an apple cider vinegar drink.
3. Brush Your Teeth
Two reasons for this. Brushing your teeth rids your mouth of harmful, tooth-decaying bacteria. But, perhaps more importantly, tooth brushing quite simply makes most foods taste bad after the fact. Many of us tend to crave foods or snack more at night; sometimes when you have leftover flavors in your mouth you continue to crave them or crave their counterpart. Adding this hygiene-friendly habit into your nightly routine will help to kick the cravings and nighttime snacking, which ultimately staves off overnight oral bacteria. Win-win!
4. Get Moving
This will look different for everyone, but find an activity that changes your mindset, distracts you, and prevents you from going into the kitchen. Get excited about reading a new book, do a yoga routine before bed, go on a long walk, take a bath to relax, or start a new craft project. Whatever it is, find an activity—through mind or body—that takes your mind off of snacking.
5. Control Your Environment
If you know there are snacks you just can’t resist, don’t bring them into your home. You can’t eat what isn’t there! The adage out of sight, out of mind works particularly well when it comes to mindless snacking. Similarly, if you notice there are certain activities (watching TV, putting away dinner leftovers, post-baking cookies) that result in unnecessary snacking, it might be time for a change in routine. You may notice, for instance, that you nibble on dinner leftovers when you’re putting them away. It’s not a ton of food, but if you’re satisfied from dinner then it’s unnecessary. Solution? Have someone else put away the food.
Ultimately, we should be striving for true satisfaction in the food we eat. Meals—and necessary snacks!—should be enjoyed and leave us feeling better than before we consumed them.
Maybe you truly are hungry and need a snack! If that’s the case, make sure it’s a satisfying one. A mix of protein, healthy fats, and vegetables is the perfect combo. Focus on real, whole foods; the processed ones (even if they are labeled healthy and packed with protein) are often loaded with additives that make it impossible to stop munching even after you are truly satisfied. Instead, opt for yogurts, nuts, seeds, and veggies to satiate that hunger and leave you nourished.