How to curb senseless snacking

I am often asked whether it is okay to snack between meals. Truth be told, there is no right or wrong when it comes to snacking.

If you're feeling hungry, having a small snack before your next main meal will help keep your energy levels up as well as hunger pangs at bay until mealtime so you won't end up eating all the wrong foods.

As a rule of thumb, as long as the calories from the snack is part of the total amount of calories you require for your activities, it shouldn't cause you to gain weight.

But when snacking is done out of habit or to fill a void, it disrupts one's intention to eat healthy and then it is senseless snacking.

Research shows that snacking this way can cause you to accumulate additional calories that, in turn, leads to weight gain. Plus, guilt after such snacking can precipitate feelings of hopelessness towards eating healthy.

Here are some tips on preventing senseless snacking.

Mindless snacker

You munch while watching TV, when stuck in a traffic jam, or surfing the Internet. Or you are snacking without even being aware of it.

Tips to break the cycle:

  • It helps to eat your snack at the dining table. If you are in the office, eat in the pantry. This will stop you from snacking while watching television or surfing the Internet. It also means you have to stop what you're doing and focus on what you're eating. This way you'll be more aware of the portions you eat.
  • Out of sight, out of mind! Clear the usual places where you keep snacks. This means no containers of tidbits on the coffee table by the TV or keeping junk food in the car. Food belongs in kitchen cupboards and nowhere else.

Reward snacker

You're diligent about exercising and often go for your workout or walks. But after the workout, you tend to visit the coffee shop for something you fondly call "a post-workout snack".

Unfortunately, this often turns into a full meal because you're usually quite hungry after exercising. What a shame! You've just piled back all those calories you lost.

Tips to break the cycle:

  • Don't make food a reward. Instead reward yourself with things such as a new T-shirt, haircut or a pair of shoes - anything that doesn't involve eating.
  • Replenish after a good workout with healthy alternatives such as a packet of low fat milk or a handful of nuts that has protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that are good for lean muscle tissue and hydration. It is substantial enough to keep you satisfied till your proper meal.
  • Don't carry money when going for walks or runs. This way you won't be tempted to come home with a packet of nasi lemak, kuih or something from the neighbourhood coffee shop.
  • Time your workout after a small snack. This will energise you and not make you uncontrollably hungry after exercising.

Emotional snacker

You've had a stressful day. To relax, you turn to snacking for comfort.

What starts out as a small snack ends up as a binge as you munch your way to feeling better. This vicious cycle of eating when you're feeling emotional can eventually become a crutch.

Tips to break the cycle:

  • If emotions are getting you down, look at the underlying cause. Emotional eating is just a way of masking it, not a long-term solution. There are professionals who can help you.
  • Keep a diary. It is a powerful tool that can help you channel your emotions. Rather than reaching for food, pen down your thoughts on paper when you're upset.
  • Do something to perk up such as listening to music, chatting with a friend, going for a walk or watching a movie. Once you distract yourself, the urge to snack will pass.
  • Don't keep junk food in the house. You can't eat what's not there.