12 (Healthy!) Things to Do Instead of Snacking
We’ve all been there — working at your desk or sitting on the sofa and suddenly you’ve finished a bag of chips without even realizing it. This kind of eating on autopilot is what experts call “mindless eating,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. “It can cause you to consume significantly more calories and, therefore, lead to weight gain. When we eat this way, we do not comprehend the amount of food we are eating.” The good news, according to Jamieson-Petonic, is that there are ways to regain your focus and ditch the unintentional overeating. Try one of these healthful activities the next time a snack attack hits. And remember the one thing not to do: Watch TV. That activity is specifically tied to increased eating.
Take a Walk
Topping the list of ways to defeat a snack attack: Take a stroll. Research, Jamieson-Petonic states, “has shown that a 15-minute walk can really reduce cravings and change the circuit to how we eat.” Plus, new research shows that lapping the block can specifically defeat the office candy jar: Researchers from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk causes people to eat half as much chocolate as those who didn’t move. On top of that, taking a walk will make you more alert and burn off a few calories.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Hanging with your honey? Instead of letting that bowl of chips come between you, snuggle up close and let the oxytocin flow. The brain releases this chemical — sometimes called the “love hormone” — when you cuddle, hug or even just spend time with those you care about, and it is critical to humans’ emotional well-being. Best of all, a new study from the University of Edinburgh says that the hormone also regulates appetite: Triggering its release makes you less likely to crave food and more likely to desire a little nookie.
Work on a Word Puzzle
What’s an eight-letter word for “that which contributes to unwanted pounds”? S-N-A-C-K-I-N-G. Keep mindless munching at bay while sharpening your mind itself by working on mentally challenging activities like crossword puzzles, word searches, or sudoku. Taking pen in hand will do more than just help keep you away from the snack jar: Researchers at Brandeis University have found that engaging in such games, along with physical activity, helps reduce the cognitive decline associated with aging. Given that the pounds seem to climb on with the years, this is a great way to wage the war against aging on two fronts at once!
Laugh It Off
For some of us, nothing brings on the nibbles like stress. Defuse the tension — and short-circuit your snacking impulse — by watching a funny video. The benefit is more than just distracting yourself from life’s hassles (or that jar of nuts in the cabinet). A good dose of the giggles, say researchers from Loma Linda Medical Center, can increase levels of endorphins (the brain’s natural happy juice), reduce stress hormone levels, and strengthen your immune system.
Om In on Yoga's Benefits
The opposite of mindless snacking is, of course, mindful eating. And yoga (along with all its other benefits) seems to boost our ability to be conscious of what we eat, according to research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “Mindless snacking can come when our body and mind get bored or tired of sitting in one place,” says Judi Bar, yoga program manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. “When we move our bodies,” she continues, “we stimulate our blood circulation and respiratory rate, which gives us a shot of energy and awareness.” Stuck at your desk? Try this seated cat curl: Sit up straight with hands on your knees. Inhale, look up and draw your chest and throat up toward ceiling. Draw hands up along the legs toward thighs. Exhale, extend arms in front of you, and curl your spine so your mid-back touches the chair. Return to starting position, and do it again!
Keep the Gray Matter, Lose the Fat Matter
Curb mindless snacking with some mindful meditation. “Mindful eating draws substantially on the use of mindfulness,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “Mindfulness helps focus our attention and awareness on the present moment, which, in turn, helps us disengage from habitual, unsatisfying and unskilled habits and behaviors.” In addition, a new study shows practicing mindful meditation for just eight weeks — even if you’ve never done it before — increases brain density. Keep your Zen on and you’ll truly age with wisdom: Another study shows that longtime practitioners hang on to more gray matter and have stronger neural connections as they age. Need a little help getting started with meditation? Download our stress meditations app
and begin a meditation whenever you need it most!
Goof Off (Sort Of)
Stalled on a presentation and thinking a snack might spur your mental processes? Instead of scarfing down junk from the vending machine while you stare at the blank page on your screen, head to YouTube, StumbleUpon, Tumblr or another favorite website to clear your mind. It can make you more productive as well, says a 2009 study from the University of Melbourne — which found that workers who engaged in frivolous Web surfing — for less than 20 percent of the total time they were at work — were 9 percent more productive than those who didn’t. The researchers theorize that the brain works more effectively after it has had a chance to take a break from concentrating.
Strengthen Your Resolve (and Your Arms)
Working through a report and trying to resist snacking? Do a mini desk-side workout. Strength training reduces depression, alleviates anxiety, helps prevent osteoporosis, boosts your immune system — and, oh yeah, burns calories. Get started with this easy (and convenient) “stapler biceps curl — just use your desk accessory as a weight! Heather Nettle, MA, an exercise physiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Center, explains how to do the move: Sit at the edge of a chair with one arm fully extended at side, perpendicular to the floor. Holding stapler in your hand, slowly bend your elbow, keeping upper arm in stationary position. Raise stapler until it is at shoulder level, reverse and repeat.
Chat, Don't Chew
Mom always told you not to gossip, right? Well, instead of talking on autopilot, discuss the day’s headlines with someone. A study from the University of Arizona shows that the happiest people are those who have more meaningful conversations — in fact, 46 percent of their daily discussions fall under the category of “big thoughts” rather than “small talk.” So skip the idle chatter at the watercooler and throw out a meaty subject to chew over with the office brainiac. Or skip American Idol and spend the evening talking over world affairs with your significant other.
Doodle, Don't Devour
On a long conference call while the speaker drones on and on? Instead of putting the phone on mute while you polish off a bag of chips, keep your hands busy and your mind focused by doodling. Yes, doodling: A British researcher has found that the seemingly mindless act of scribbling while listening on the phone actually improves concentration and information recall among subjects required to listen to a boring phone message.
Drink to Your Health
Keeping a refillable water bottle at your desk can help keep you hydrated — and successful in resisting the urge to snack altogether. People often mistake thirst for hunger, advises Jamieson-Petonic. Yearning for something warmer? Green tea, say Penn State researchers, may actually slow weight gain, while another study says it also boosts the immune system. For a caffeine-free option, try an herbal tea — new research suggests that some brews live up to their health-food claims. Two highlighted for their benefits include peppermint tea, which fights microbes and viruses and acts as an antioxidant, and hibiscus tea, which may lower blood pressure in those with prehypertension and mild hypertension.
Brush Your Teeth
When the need to nibble knocks, take a bite out of the munchies by brushing your teeth. Besides the benefits of minty-fresh breath and a bright smile, you may just reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Research suggests that there’s a link between plaque buildup on your teeth, which contributes to gum disease, and plaque buildup in your arteries. Keeping junk food out of your mouth — and out of your system — is bound to be good for both conditions. And, of course, be sure to floss, brush and see your dentist regularly!