Answer this: what did you eat yesterday afternoon at break time? Don’t remember? Well, you’re not alone and this autopilot snacking could be what’s leading to your low energy, weight gain, and general ill health.
We’ve all been there . . . you’re in a hurry so you grab the quick fix candy bar or breakroom donut and eat at your desk. Or you run through the drive through and eat dinner while you’re driving down the road. These food choices are rarely healthful or nutrient-packed and your brain and body aren’t satisfied because you barely pay attention to the process of eating. Fortunately, this cycle is easy to break and it only takes a little bit of planning ahead and being prepared for when the snack attack hits.
Snacking with Intention
So let’s first admit one thing to ourselves! We like to eat (and that’s perfectly okay)! There is nothing wrong with savoring a meal or truly enjoying a sweet or savory snack – especially if it’s prepared with love. It’s a bonus if we know that snack or meal is also fueling our bodies with nutrients to make us stronger, healthier, and happier.
Snacking is not the enemy! In fact, mindful snacking has been shown to have multiple health benefits from balancing blood sugar and metabolism to combatting that dreaded mid-afternoon slump to helping with weight loss. By choosing healthful snacks packed with nutrients, you boost your energy levels between meals and give your body and brain the fuel it needs to get through the day. In turn, you don’t arrive at each meal time famished and ready to grab anything.
The key to snacking success lies in planning and intention (aka Mindful Eating). Mindfulness, in general, has been practiced for thousands of years and is a conscious decision to be fully present and aware of what you are doing so you truly experience that moment and all the sensory (and emotional) inputs that come with it. Mindfulness is the opposite of multi-tasking and strives to eliminate distraction so you fully immerse yourself in the experience. The good news is mindfulness is a basic human ability – you don’t need to learn anything new, you just need to shift your thinking patterns.
How to Ease into Mindful Eating
Practicing mindful snacking can transform your entire approach to food! Instead of just stuffing down a bite on the run, focus on the food – the texture, the taste, the smell, the satisfaction after eating. Many of us have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food – especially if we’ve been perpetually dieting and restricting ourselves from eating certain foods. Mindful eating helps overcome that barrier and helps you rebuild a more positive connection to food. It gives back control without being restrictive.
As you’ve probably already guessed, this means putting down your phone, turning off the TV or podcast, and paying attention to eating. Being present (even during the food preparation) will heighten your enjoyment of the meal or snack and even help you feel full faster because you will eat more slowly and your brain will signal satisfaction sooner.
Planning and Preparation are Key
One thing that’s guaranteed: life gets pretty crazy and it’s super easy to just grab the closest thing in a pinch. Switching to mindful snacking works by setting yourself up for success. Start with these steps:
- Be Prepared! Like a good Boy Scout, be ready for any snack craving from sweet to salty to crunchy. Stock up on a wide variety of healthy snacks (we recommend this tasty option – link to a snack box). Keep protein-packed, nutritious options at the office, at home, in the car (!) so you’re not tempted by that birthday cake sitting in the break room!
- Plan for Snacking. Plan out your meals with snack nutrition built in. Whether you choose to count calories, track carbs, or just loosely fill your nutrient quota for the day . . . plan snacks that meet your diet goals and add to your nutritional intake for the day. Avoid sugar and wasted carbs and never underestimate the power of protein to get you through a slump. Mindful eating also means not filling up on empty calories.
- Pay attention to your hunger cues. Recognize your personal signs of impending hunger – do you feel lightheaded, is your stomach growling, are you feeling tired or lethargic? Don’t wait until you are “past the tipping point” before you grab a snack. Being aware of how you feel also helps you avoid eating to fill an emotional need such as stress or boredom.
Check in before you finish the serving – you might be surprised by how much less food you actually need to feel full. Remember this: it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message of being full.
- Make a moment out of snack break. Step away from your desk, change your surroundings, put down your phone and other distractions, and savor the snack you’ve chosen for this moment. Better yet, take your snack outside for some fresh air or to a peaceful, quiet setting. You’ll feel so much more refreshed for the rest of your day.
- Eat slowly. Savor each bite, notice the textures, tastes, scents, and presentation of the food.
Fun Tip: you will automatically slow down if you use your non-dominant hand to eat! Even more fun (and kids love this), try using chopsticks to eat regular finger foods. Popcorn is an easy one to learn with and it adds another sensory (plus motor skill lesson!) to the experience.
- More than the senses. Beyond your sensory experiences of food, think about the food itself . . . the sun, soil, and water that went into its production; the connection between you and all the people involved in its production.
- Teach your kids. Learning this style of food appreciation as a youngster has so many benefits. Let the kids help plan their snacking, take them shopping so they can learn how to choose healthy options, and show them why nutrition matters.
- You can’t cheat on this “diet”!! Mindful eating is also non-judgmental eating. No food is off limits, serving size is totally up to you. Of course, only eating candy and soda is not good for your body but even being aware of that experience has value. Allow yourself the occasional treat and truly enjoy it – you will naturally gravitate towards healthier choices.
Are you interested in learning more about specific diets such as Paleo, Keto, or Vegan? Visit our resource library here to read more.