If you have ever looked down and discovered that those few chips you were going to eat somehow turned into you inhaling the whole bag, then you need to keep reading! In this article, I talk about how to stop mindless snacking so you can start losing weight.
Overeating is the cause of weight gain, so getting control of that is the most important step in losing weight. But, if mindless snacking is something you struggle with, that isn’t always so easy.
Mindless snacking is what happens when you sit down to watch a movie with a bag of popcorn intending to only eat a little bit… but when you look down after the movie is over, the entire bag is empty.
You didn’t notice that you were eating the whole thing.
You might also find yourself grazing all day long without noticing. You stop by the pantry for a few crackers here, a few handfuls of trail mix there, and so on and so forth. Next thing you know, halfway through the week, you’re wondering where all the snacks went.
When you don’t even realize you’re doing it, it can be really hard to stop. Well, don’t worry! In this article, I’m going to walk you through how to stop mindless snacking.
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How to Stop Mindless Snacking
Become Aware of When You Do It
The very first step in learning how to stop mindless snacking is to become aware of when you do it. You can’t change any behavior that you’re not fully aware of.
To become aware of your mindless snacking means that you notice when you are doing it, as you’re doing it.
So instead of looking down and realizing that the entire bag of pretzels is gone and you can barely remember tasting it. You notice each time you choose to reach for another handful to put in your mouth.
Let’s go over how you actually become aware of when you are mindlessly snacking.
Turn eating into a conscious activity.
The first part of becoming aware of when you are mindlessly snacking is to turn eating into a conscious activity. That means you are mentally aware of when you’re choosing to eat.
The best way to do this is to start planning what you’re going to eat each day. You simply write out a little 24-hour meal plan. Nothing crazy or extravagant. Just write down what you think you will eat over the next 24 hours.
This allows you to set an intention for what you eat that day. Which will help turn your brain on to notice if you’re following the plan.
Track your food.
The next part of becoming aware of mindless snacking is to track your food. You write down everything you eat during the day.
And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING you eat. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you finished off your toddler’s Peanut Butter & Jelly crusts 3 times that day, you write it down. (Been there, done that!)
If you ate a whole sleeve of Oreos because your boss asked you to work overtime, you write it down. If you only ate the food that you planned for yourself that day, you write that down too.
This part of the process isn’t about judging your food choices. It’s about noticing the ones that you make so you can start recognizing patterns.
Recognize patterns in your eating
Once you have been planning and tracking your meals for a few weeks, you will start to notice patterns. This is really important when you’re trying to stop mindless snacking because it’s a habit that you have become so used to doing you don’t notice it anymore.
Once you have spent this time planning and tracking your food, you are going to be able to actually notice when you are falling into that habit.
Maybe it happens in the evenings when you sit down in front of the television. Maybe you mindlessly snack while cooking dinner for your family. You might do it every time you pass the vending machine at work.
Whatever the case may be, you are starting to recognize your patterns for mindless snacking, which will help you stop.
Start to Recognize Your Mindless Snacking Triggers
The next step on how to stop mindless snacking is to start recognizing what triggers you to start. Since you have now addressed the patterns of when you do it, now you can start investigating what gets you started.
You need to ask yourself two questions figure out your triggers:
How do I feel before I mindlessly snack?
What is going on around me before I mindlessly snack?
How do you feel before you do it?
The first question you ask yourself is, “How do I feel before I do it?” Very often there is an emotion or thought that comes up before you start snacking.
It flashes through your brain so fast that you often don’t even recognize it. That’s why the first step is to start becoming very conscious and aware of your snacking.
This allows you to slow the process down enough that you can actually start diving into what’s driving you to eat.
You may be feeling: bored, anxious, angry, sad, tired, content, frustrated, etc. The list of possible emotions are endless and vary from person to person.
The best way to discover which thoughts are coming up for you is to resist the urge to snack and grab a pen and paper. Write down the question “How do I feel?” and just write down whatever comes to mind.
There is no right or wrong answer here. You just need to discover what background thoughts are coming up that urge you to eat.
What actions precede your mindless snacking?
The next step on how to stop mindlessly snacking is asking yourself “What actions happened before I wanted to snack?” Now that you know the thoughts that are coming up, you want to take it one step further and address what actions caused those thoughts.
You need to write down what is going on around you that triggered the thoughts that made you want to eat.
This might be something that you did. It could be something that someone else did or said. It could be a singular event or something that happens every day.
A Quick Example
Here is an example from my own life. I’m sitting down after a long day at the computer. It’s finally time to relax. I finished dinner 20 minutes ago and ate until I was satisfied.
And then the urge to eat comes up. I immediately want to get up and go scrounge in the fridge or the pantry until I find something to satisfy my craving. Preferably salty and carb-related. (Those are usually what I crave.)
Instead of giving in, I stay at my desk and grab a pen and paper and start writing.
“How do I feel?” – tired, worn out. I just want to relax. It’s been a long day and I deserve to relax. If I go get a snack I will feel truly relaxed. I’m not hungry exactly, but I feel like I just need something. Maybe a little treat to help me really feel relaxed. I want to be officially “off duty” for the day. A snack will help me feel that way.
“What happened before the urge to snack hit?” – I finally sat down at the computer and decided I was done for the day.
The habit and pattern: I want to snack when I sit down at the computer in the evening to relax and unwind.
My thoughts: I will feel truly relaxed if I eat and snack as much as I want.
The actions that triggered me: Sitting down at my desk and deciding I was done working for the day.
Create a Pattern Interrupt
Now that we have dived deep and fully recognized the pattern, the next step on how to stop mindless snacking is to interrupt it. As I said before, mindlessly snacking is just a habit that you have reinforced so many times it’s become automatic.
Now that we’ve slowed the process down enough that you can notice it and pay attention to it, you can now start changing it up.
You have a few options for how to do this. You can avoid the actions that trigger the urge to snack, practice new thoughts about the trigger, or practice a new action when the trigger comes up.
The most successful option would be to use a mix of all three. If that sounds a little overwhelming for now though, just pick the step that sounds the most doable and work from there.
Avoid the trigger.
The first part of the mindless snacking habit is the action that triggered you to snack in the first place. So that is often the first place people like to start when breaking the habit.
Your triggers may be something as simple as walking by the fridge in the evening, or it might be a little more complicated like mine. (Searching for something to help me feel truly relaxed after a long day.)
Either way, you want to see if there is a way to avoid the trigger. For example, you could stay out of the fridge in the evening if that’s a trigger for you. I could choose somewhere else to relax if I’m used to eating at my desk.
If you often stop at the vending machine at work on the way back from the bathroom, try a different route. Even something as simple as a change of scenery or sitting in a different room while you unwind in the evening can be enough to snap your brain out of that habit loop.
Practice a new thought.
The next option for interrupting the pattern is to practice new thoughts when you encounter your snack trigger. Instead of continuing to think the thoughts that make snacking sound like a good idea, you focus on thinking thoughts that remind you why snacking is a bad idea.
So using my example of wanting to snack when I sat down to relax, the thoughts that came up for me were all about how snacking would help me truly relax. My brain was telling me all about how snacking until I felt super full was the epitome of relaxation.
Even as I type that it doesn’t sound true, but it’s a thought that comes up often in my brain.
So here are some new thoughts I wrote out to replace my snacking thoughts:
The only problem food solves is hunger.
If I’m not hungry, my body doesn’t need food. What do I really need right now?
What are other ways that I can relax?
Will snacking help support my goal of a healthy weight?
What will I wish I had done when I wake up in the morning?
Thinking thoughts like these help ground you in the moment and get your brain past thinking about food. It also helps disrupt the mindless snacking pattern so you can make better choices.
Practice a new action.
The next option to breaking the mindlessly snacking pattern is to practice a new action. When you get triggered and the thoughts come up, instead of giving in and snacking, you choose to do something different.
You can get up and take a quick walk around your house. You can choose to do something that will occupy your brain and get you to stop thinking about food.
You can journal, read a book, exercise, go talk to a friend, check in with an accountability partner or group, find some other activity or task that doesn’t include reaching for the snacks.
When I was working on my late-night snacking, one of the tactics I used was to get up and go brush my teeth when the snack cravings hit. It helped get my brain out of the mindset that it was time to eat. Plus, I was all minty fresh and I knew my food wouldn’t taste as good anymore. 😂
Create a new routine.
Once you have identified which of these options you want to put in place, you start to establish a new routine. This new routine is going to start replacing the old routine that led to the mindless snacking.
I have found it very helpful to write down the new routines that I want to practice. The act of writing it down fully cements it into my head.
If you want to really hit the ground running, tell someone else about your new routine. Studies show that sharing goals with others really ups the likelihood of you following through.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The last step in learning how to stop mindless snacking is to practice, practice, practice! I cannot say this enough: it’s going to take time to master this!
A habit or pattern that you have followed through on so many times that you do it without thinking is not going to go away overnight. It’s going to take a lot of practice to work through it.
You may hit a few roadblocks or stumbles along the way, but if you commit to figuring it out, you will master it.
When you are trying out new routines to break the cycle of mindless snacking, I suggest you stick to a new routine for at least 2 weeks. That should give you enough time to see if it’s working for you.
If not, tweak your routine and try again! Sometimes a small change can make all the difference between something being successful or not. But you will never know if you give up when it starts to feel hard.
Conclusions on How to Stop Mindless Snacking
So those are the steps on how to stop mindless snacking. I have used these steps to break my own habit of mindless snacking and it’s what I teach my clients in my coaching program.
If you focus on becoming aware of your mindless snacking, recognizing your patterns and triggers, and then creating new routines, I know you will be successful in breaking this habit. And then you will be able to move toward the healthy and fit life you deserve.
If you feel like you would benefit from help working through this process and getting better control of your eating choices, reach out to me on Facebook or email me at Candice@littlestepsbighappy.com. I would love to help. 💖
Looking for more healthy eating tips?
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- Overeating vs. Satisfied: How to Tell if You’re Eating Too Much
- 7 Tips to Manage Food Cravings and Sustain Your Weight Loss
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I’m a busy mom of 3 turned Health and Fitness Coach and Self Defense Instructor. I help inspire other moms to reach their health, fitness, and weight loss goals. You can usually find me chasing my kiddos around, training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or sneaking away to read romance novels. About Me