Mindless snacking takes no effort at all.
It’s way too easy to reach for the leftovers on your spouse’s plate, that last piece of bread in the bread basket, a piece (or two) of candy so fancifully displayed in the lovely dish on your friend’s coffee table.
But here’s the rub: Snacking can add up to 650 extra calories a day for men and about 465 for women, according to research. And most snacks are full of added sugars and fats. (That’s why they are so tempting and taste so good.)
I’m certainly not saying that all snacking is bad—it definitely has its place and purpose, like filling in nutritional gaps, staving off hunger before your next meal so you don’t overeat or giving you an energy boost before exercise and between meals.
I was never so aware of all the snacking I was doing (I guess that’s why it’s called "mindless snacking,") until I started wearing Invisalign braces. That’s because you keep the clear aligners in roughly 22 hours a day, removing them only to eat or drink anything but clear water.
Turns out I noticed that I was removing them a lot. I wanted a snack between breakfast and lunch. And then again between lunch and dinner. Then, after dinner, I wanted another little nosh—a few hours after already eating dessert.
And let’s not forget walking through my local Whole Foods, wanting to taste the generous samples of granola/nutrition bars/cookies and other goodies on display.
Which led me to thinking: how necessary were all these snacks, anyway? I didn’t want to keep removing my braces every time I wanted to snack. If I did, I would risk leaving them out for too long, or worse, losing them if I didn’t have the case that holds them with me.
What happened next is not tough to imagine: I bypassed the snacks in the aisles of Whole Foods. I thought twice before eating that snack in the middle of the day or at night. Was I really hungry or was it just out of habit that I wanted to chew something—anything?
The key to snacking, I think, is not to avoid it altogether but to do it mindfully. Done right, snacking won’t make you gain weight—as a serial snacker, I’ve been able to manage my weight all these years.
It takes some effort. But then again, don’t most things?
Here are some easy ways to keep your snacking mindful:
Pay attention to your internal cues. Stop and ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Many times all you need is some water—thirst can be mistaken for hunger.
Maximize your nutrition. Snack on things like a hard-boiled egg with a few whole-grain crackers; string cheese and a piece of fruit; 1 1/2 cups of edamame in the pod; 1/4 cup of hummus with some baby carrots; or a 6-ounce container of Greek yogurt.
Keep cut-up fresh veggies at the ready. It’s a start to have cut-up carrots and celery in the fridge, but that’s not enough. Keep them on an accessible shelf, in a clear bag or container, where you can easily see them and grab them.
Never eat straight out of a bag. Always put the food onto a small plate—and the key word here is "small," because smaller plates lead to smaller portions. Then close the container and put it out of reach. Outta sight, outta mind—hopefully.
Don’t snack while you’re doing other things. Reading, driving or watching TV will distract you, and you won’t even remember eating.
This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.