We’ve all been there. You’re watching TV, working, or chatting with friends, nibbling on popcorn, cheese, or a bag full of trail mix. Next time you look down, the bowl or bag is empty. And you probably ate a few more servings than you even realized. It’s the habit of mindless snacking that can easily rack up your sugar or calorie count for the day, especially if you’re reaching for candy over chopped veggies. So, Aaptiv asked nutrition experts to reveal their best strategies to curb the mindless snacking habit.
Stick to portion sizes.
“Never eat from the container,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color. “Whatever the food is—chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack bites, ice cream—always put the portion you’re going to eat into a bowl or other individual container. That way you can polish off the whole thing and know that you haven’t eaten something that serves ten people.”
Keep water handy.
Having water within reach means that you can use H2O as your reminder to slow down, Largeman-Roth says. Being mindful of your liquid intake isn’t just good for hydration, but should also help you cut back on mindless snacking and overeating. Just take a sip before you take another bite. Plus, bathroom breaks serve as welcome snack breaks, too.
Set aside time for eating and just eating.
Tell yourself you’ll watch your favorite show after you’re done with a meal, says Ashley Koff, RD, nutritionist for Espira by Avon. Another idea is to set an alarm or allocate time in your calendar for when you should take a break and eat, she says. Aim to get in a solid snack or meal every three hours. Even if you carve out five minutes, you’re more likely to cut back on mindless snacking in that time.
Opt for more protein.
Snacking on foods filled with protein will keep you fuller and satisfied for longer. Look for snack options that are high in protein and fiber, which also helps keep you full. Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, suggests something like almonds as a top go-to. Other options include lean cold cuts like turkey and chicken breast, cheese, and peanut butter.
Skip the utensils. You have permission to eat your snacks straight from your hands. “This helps engage all [of] your senses and improve meal memory,” says Shira Lenchewski, RD and author of The Food Therapist. Even better: Use your non-dominant hand to do so. This helps you eat slower, actually pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth, and cut back on mindless snacking.
Second guess your next move.
Before you reach for that third or fourth bite, take a second and ask yourself if you really want food right now, say Alissa Rumsey, RD, intuitive eating coach at Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “The point isn’t necessarily to not eat, but it’s to ensure that you are being intentional with the eating,” she says. “By taking that pause, your snacking will be more mindful.”
Put a number to your hunger.
“Think of hunger and fullness on a scale from one to ten—one being ‘I’m so hungry I’m going to pass out’ and ten as ‘I’m so full I’m going to be sick,’” says Rumsey. Check in with yourself to see where you fall before a meal, during it, and then again when you’re finishing. “If you’re feeling stressed, maybe you need to take a brisk walk or do a few minutes of deep breathing,” Rumsey says. “If you’re lonely or sad, call a friend or listen to your favorite funny podcast. Start a good book or watch a movie if you’re bored. Find something to meet the thing that you are really feeling, instead of filling the void with food.”
Avoid eating on-the-go.
“Take time to actually sit down and eat your snack in a comfortable environment so [that] you can better listen to your hunger and satiety cues, rather than being distracted by everything else going on around you,” says Abbey Sharp, RD, blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen.
Have a little competition with others.
Who will be the slowest eater? That’s your new party contest. Sharp recommends that you strive for the title, “the slowest eater in the pack,” anytime that you’re eating with a group. This helps you recognize whether you’re full or not.
Sip, rather than snack.
“A lot of times, we snack out of boredom or stress, so a good habit to get into is to find a zero-calorie drink that will give you a pleasing taste in your mouth,” says Kelly LeVeque of Be Well By Kelly and spokesperson for Now Foods. She suggests adding a vitamin C pack to water or opting for an herbal tea with Tulsi, an adaptogenic herb.
And remember, a healthy diet is only half the battle—don’t forget about the exercise. Aaptiv can help keep you accountable, so you never miss a workout.