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I am a firm believer in snacking when you are hungry – as long as you’re munching on healthy foods and they fit within your calorie budget – things like Greek yogurt, nuts, or fruits and veggies. The typical junky snacks – chips, cookies, or candy – I think of as treats that you should only have occasionally. But what do you do if you are snacking too much and going over your calorie limits, even when you’re not hungry?
Here are five ways to break your bad snacking habits from Rebecca Gladding, M.D., co-author (with Jeffrey Schwartz M.D.) of the new book, YOU ARE NOT YOUR BRAIN.
Make mental notes
One of the first challenges in dealing with any automatic habit, like snacking, is that you often are not aware of what you are doing. To combat this lack of awareness, start making mental notes throughout your day. Say to yourself what is happening as it is happening. For example, as you walk into the kitchen, say, “I’m opening the fridge to see if there’s any ice cream in there.” Similarly, if you’ve just had dinner and are about to open the cupboard, say to yourself, “I am looking for the cookies and I am not hungry.” Also, notice the urges and call them what they are; say: “Oh, there’s that urge to snack again!” The key is to keep making mental notes throughout your day so that you remain aware of how often your body and brain are directing you to snack even when you do not want or need to.
Assess your physical and emotional state
Once you are aware of the thought or urge to snack, ask yourself if you are keyed up from anxiety, stress or anger, slowed down from depression or fatigue, or trying to power through a monotonous task. Simply notice the sensations, urges and cravings in your body, but do not act on them. If you are able, wait a few minutes and see if the physical and emotional sensations change. Often, the cravings and urges abate with time.
When the urge strikes, say to yourself: It’s not me, it’s the brain!
Like most people, you probably believe that the thoughts that enter your head and the urges you feel mean something – that they represent you and who you are. The truth is that many of the urges, cravings and desires you experience in the day are not necessarily representative of you or your goals in life and do not need to be followed. Rather than viewing them as true and important, think of those thoughts and urges as bubbling up from the brain and remind yourself of all the other urges and thoughts you resist throughout the day.
Refocus your attention and use the 15-minute rule
Rather than giving in to the urge, try to wait 15 minutes and go do something enjoyable that will captivate your interest. Go for a walk, call your friend, play a game with your son or daughter, read a book, spend time on a favorite project, finish up the work you need to complete. If you can last 15 minutes, try another 15 minutes. In most cases, if you wait long enough, the craving will eventually subside.
Put it all in perspective
Realize that you are not your brain and that you do not have to follow every urge your brain sends you. Feeling tired, anxious, stressed, angry, bored or depressed is a part of life and indicates that you need to deal with something or change how you are approaching a situation. Going to a quick fix like food only temporarily solves your immediate problem and often makes things worse over the long term. Remember, you define your goals and values, not your brain, and you can make choices that are best for you – thereby rewiring your brain and creating healthier future responses.