Distinguish true hunger
Any desire to eat that can only be satisfied by one food (e.g. chocolate, hot chips, biscuits, ice cream) is not really hunger at all. It may be a signal that your blood sugar levels are out of whack, or it might be that you’re feeling bored, depressed or angry. Once you’ve identified what’s really going on, you may still choose to eat whatever it is you’ve been craving, but the awareness may make it easier to stop after just a mouthful. On the other hand, if the real issue is emotional, you may find a more constructive way to deal with it (e.g. heading to the gym to pound a punching bag!).
Reframe your goals
Phrase your diet and nutrition goals in a positive and measurable way, such as, “I will eat at least two pieces of fruit every day”, rather than in a negative and unmeasurable way like, “I will not eat chocolate”. This is one of the basic tenets of goal-setting and visualisation, and it has been clinically proven to be a more effective way to implement dietary change. Research shows that if your focus is on food you’re trying to avoid, you’re actually likely to end up eating less healthily, not more.
Develop an action plan
Your new, positively framed goal won’t happen by itself: you need to plan how you’re going to implement it. Thinking about triggers that cause you to snack will help you work out the best way to cement new habits. For example, if your biggest downfall is snacking on foods that you can see, your strategy might be, “I will keep a big bowl of fruit on my desk to remind me to eat two pieces every day”.
Part of the reason our snacking habits wreak such dietary havoc is that we make our choices haphazardly, leaving us highly susceptible to whims. Instead, plan your snacking into your day: decide in advance what you’re going to eat, and set up a plan as to how you’re going to make it happen. Look at the list of low-calorie nutritious snacks in this article (“Amazing Treats Under 100 Calories”). You’ll find many are suitable to keep in your handbag or desk drawer, so they’re available when you need them. That way, when stress strikes, you’ll have something healthy on hand to counter the urge to indulge in something fatty or sugary.
Marry health and convenience
When buying food, convenience and accessibility accounts for as much as one third of the purchasing decision. So now that you’ve planned what you’re going to snack on, make sure it’s close by. If you’ve got a tub of low-fat yoghurt in the office fridge, you’re more likely to snack on that than walk to the sandwich shop for a sticky bun.
Keep temptation out of reach
The same principle works in reverse. If you know that you have difficulty resisting certain snacks, keep them out of the house! You’re less likely to eat chocolate at 10 o’clock at night if you have to get in the car and go to the shops to get it.
Prepare food at home
Food prepared outside the home is prepared outside your control, and when it comes to commercially-prepared food, health considerations come a distant last after profitability, popularity and how quick and easy something is to make. Unless you’re shopping at the greengrocer, odds are that most ready-to-eat snacks you buy will be laden with fat, salt, sugar, or all three.
Turn the TV off
The more you watch TV, the more you’re likely to snack, and the less likely you are to realise when you’re full. Plus more viewing exposes you to more advertising, and guess what? That makes you more likely to buy and eat junk food.
Slow down and notice what you’re eating and how your body feels. There’s a time lag of up to 20 minutes between your tummy becoming full and your brain realising that it’s had enough food. The faster you eat, the more calories you guzzle down before that signal gets through. Being distracted by watching TV or eating at your desk means it takes even longer to register that you’re full.
Think back before you snack
Research shows that vividly recalling your last meal helps to decrease your food intake later. That’s one of the reasons that eating while watching TV increases subsequent snacking – if you’re too distracted to pay attention to what you’ve been eating, it’s almost like it never happened.
Choose high fibre and protein
A nutrient-dense snack keeps you satisfied for longer, so you’re less likely to over-eat later in the day. Your best choices are snacks that are high in protein and/ or fibre. Compared to those that are fatty or sugary, these snacks also improve your glucose and insulin balance throughout the day. Include a few serves of whole grains in your main meals every day for the same reasons – they’ll help you feel full, and improve your insulin sensitivity.
Aim for adaptability
Be flexible. Life is for living, so if you really do feel like hot chips occasionally, don’t deprive yourself. You’ve got a better chance of maintaining healthier snacking habits if you allow yourself a little indulgence now and then!
When overweight people added chilli and garlic to their food, they lost an average of 17 kg over 6 months.