How to Stop Snacking (or Any Other Food Habit)
It's 9 p.m. and the house is finally quiet. You were "so good" all day but now you're tired and craving chocolate. You go rooting through the cabinets and before you know it an entire bag of chocolate-covered pretzels is gone. You go to bed wired and wake up overtired and annoyed with yourself.
Or maybe you find yourself mindlessly eating your kids' leftovers when you're not even hungry. And they don't even taste that good.
Or perhaps you consistently "overdo it" on the weekends and feel awful and uncomfortable afterwards.
If any of these situations sound familiar, the good news is there is hope! These are simply patterns that we've developed. Somewhere along the line we had an emotional response (feeling tired, anxious, lonely, bored, etc.) and used food to solve it. By repeating the behavior over and over again, we've taught our brains that this is what we do. When we encounter feeling x (ex. exhaustion), we do y (ex. search out sugar).
The Three Steps to Stop Snacking
The key to stop snacking is working with our brains, not against them. We simply need to (1) become aware of the behavior, (2) allow ourselves to feel our feelings and release the urge, (3) rinse and repeat. Over time this will become automatic and your brain will stop seeing food as the solution to your emotions.
Step 1: What is the emotion driving your behavior?
What is the emotional state you're in right before the behavior tends to happen? Maybe you are feeling anxious and unsettled at night, so you reach for chips? Or maybe when you're at a party and feeling lonely or nervous you turn to the appetizer table.
If you're having a difficult time figuring out the emotion, then really pay attention the next time you're in this situation, and be curious. We mostly think of sadness (like a heartbreak) driving us to an ice cream binge, but honestly, for many of us we may even use food when we're excited or happy. We simply haven't been taught how to feel our emotions.
Step 2: Allow Yourself to Feel the Emotion
When the emotion hits and your urge strikes, take a deep breath, let your shoulders lower, and really tune into your body. How does the emotion feel in your body? Where in your body is it? Use neutral, non-scary or frantic words. Start to remind your body that this is what x emotion feels like, and it's not a problem to be solved with food. (And if you have trouble believing this, flash forward to feeling stuffed, frustrated, and uncomfortable. Definitely not what you are looking for.)
Acknowledge the emotion, and then, let it pass. Don't try to distract yourself. If you'd like, journal about it.
Step 3: Rinse and Repeat
Think about how long you've been doing this behavior. Sometimes it's been years or decades, making it a well-worn path for your brain. So while it will take some time to undo, it is absolutely possible. Over time your brain will learn a new response to any emotion that you've been using food to cope with.
Will you give this a try?