Popping snacks that are easy to grab.
Knee-jerk reactions to feeling bad.
A tired slump that needs some waking up.
There are so many good reasons to snack.
Hey, snacks are fun. Until they’re not. The problem comes when we get that never-empty-belly feeling that follows us, and our snacking habit, around all day. At that point, eating begins to feel more recreational, or even compulsive. We are neither hungry nor satisfied and are not even sure what we ate. This is mindless eating.
When a person is always falling back on habit behaviors, it is for a reason. Before we can expect to be mindful, we need to quiet the noise. Feeling tired, distracted, and emotionally unsettled are barriers to mindful eating. The remedy is to clarify our focus and align our day around that purpose. If we are wanting to cut back on mindless eating, it might require that we go to bed earlier or cut back on our to-do lists or put our phone down. There is no separating how we feel from how we behave.
People have an endlessly useful tendency to engage in habit behavior. This is a good thing. Did you ever watch a three-year-old put on pants? It requires a lot of planning, and many errors along the way. Habit behaviors are useful, but they also require regular reflection to be sure the habit responses are helpful.
Mindful eating means that we interrupt the habit and eat with intention. This requires that we notice how our context influences our behavior. From there we can redirect our response to put our intentions and behaviors in alignment.
Noticing the contexts in which we snack provides an opportunity to make a change. Rather than simply responding to feeling exhausted with snack grabs, we can notice the feeling of exhaustion and actively decide on a more helpful response.
Below are some replacement strategies for interrupting mindless eating habits. Consider how certain responses might work better with particular contexts.
Wait to snack. That’s it – just wait. See how you feel in an hour and then have the snack if you still want it.
Healthy substitutions. This means having raw fruit/veg instead of the typical snack grab (like a bag of baby carrots next to your computer, or a car apple thoughtfully placed in a cup holder). This is actually a very helpful replacement for two reasons. First, we get to eat more fruit/veg. The second way eating fruit/veg can be helpful is for the way it makes our bellies feel. Fruits and vegetables make our bellies feel a very particular way – never stuffed, but also not hungry. This feeling will have tremendous motivating effects on other helpful weight loss habits we are trying to acquire.
Done at dinner. Setting an intention to do something differently can be very effective. If there is a mindless snack habit haunting you in the evening, you can intend to be done eating when dinner is finished.
Brush and floss after eating. This is a very cool strategy because it utilizes stimulus modification. When you have a fresh mouth, it is a reminder that you were intending not to snack.
Are you ready for something different?
Valerie A. Evans, Ph.D. is a licensed and board certified behavior analyst and small business owner.
Valerie worked as a behavior analyst in school and home settings and also as a consultant. She began her career working with adults with intellectual disability, a population of consumers that has special meaning to her. In addition to her clinical experience, Valerie worked in research labs as a student and also held a position as Research Associate for the School District of Philadelphia.
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A New Way to Love Your Body