Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on May 13, 2021
Feeling Snacky?

Feeling Snacky?

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The urge for something sweet or salty can hit you for lots of reasons: an afternoon lull, a light or early dinner, or even boredom. But you can do some things to get past it or, better yet, stop it before it starts.

Leave It at the Store

Leave It at the Store

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If you know you’re likely to give in to a salty urge, don’t let potato chips sneak into your grocery cart. Instead, stock up on unsalted or lightly salted walnuts -- they have protein and omega-3 fatty acids that can be good for your heart. Same goes for a sweet tooth: Pick up some fresh strawberries or pineapple chunks, and leave the ice cream in the freezer aisle. 

Drink Water

Drink Water

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It’s a simple thing that can really help: If you drink more water, you’re likely to eat less fat, sugar, and salt, just what you want to avoid in a snack. This is because water helps fill the space in your stomach, and that can make you feel more full.

Stay Busy

Stay Busy

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Boredom can lead to mindless eating. Call a friend, read a book, go bowling -- anything to stop yourself from eating just because you don’t have anything else to do. You could even go to a movie, but walk right past the popcorn to your seat.

Make It Inconvenient

Make It Inconvenient

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Put those cookies or chips in a small bowl across the room and put the bag back in the pantry. You’ll have to get up each time you want some, and that’ll make you eat less. And it’s not just the effort to get up that makes the difference: It’s also because you have a chance to stop before you grab that next handful and ask yourself, “Do I really want any more?”

Reward Yourself

Reward Yourself

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But not with food -- make it something else you really like. Give yourself a prize for each small goal. For example, if you skipped that late-night ice cream on Friday, buy yourself some new nail polish on Saturday. Don’t hold out for broader goals like “eating better.”

Eat Healthy

Eat Healthy

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It’s not just good for you, it can actually make you snack less. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats fill you up more easily and with fewer calories. And they take longer to digest, so energy gets to you in usable amounts through the day. Junk food dumps all that energy at once and your body stores the extra as fat. This can leave you tired and hungry -- even “hangry” -- soon after.  

Exercise

Exercise

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This can serve as a distraction, and it may make you less likely to snack afterward, too. Research shows that a brisk 45-minute walk in the morning may help curb cravings and make you more active throughout the day. If walking’s not your thing, try biking or swimming. 

Stay Away From Triggers

Stay Away From Triggers

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A trigger is any situation that leads you to eat things on your “naughty list.” If you’re not sure what yours are, keep a journal and look for patterns. For example, if you’re often tempted at the bakery where you get your morning coffee, make your coffee at home or go somewhere else to get it. 

Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating

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This is paying attention when you eat -- to the flavor and feel of your food. Take small bites and chew them slowly. Ask yourself often if you feel full -- that can make you more likely to stop when you’ve had enough. A couple of other tricks: Eat with chopsticks, or eat with the hand you don’t normally use. 

Plan Your Snacks

Plan Your Snacks

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If you know you get hungry between meals, have the right snack handy. A good rule of thumb is 100 calories or fewer, and it helps if the foods have protein, lots of water, and fiber to fill you up. Measure them out and take a look: A medium apple has 95 calories, 20 grapes have 68, and a medium red pepper has only 37. A handful of nuts (15-18) is about 100 calories.

Brush Your Teeth

Brush Your Teeth

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It may sound strange, but it makes you less likely to indulge. Why ruin that minty clean, fresh taste in your mouth?

Get Support

Get Support

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Sometimes loneliness or anxiety can make you reach for comfort food that’s not good for you. When you feel that happening, call a friend first. It can lift your spirits and may help you get past the urge, too. 

Try Not to Stress

Try Not to Stress

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It can make you eat more, and it also seems to make you want foods with lots of fat and sugar -- in other words, lots of calories. The easiest fix is to stay out of stressful situations. Since that’s not always possible, it can help to get plenty of sleep and exercise, including deep breathing or meditation.

Single Servings

Single Servings

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It may seem like a smart money choice to buy the “supersize” bag of potato chips, but that makes it harder to control what you eat. Smaller bags can fix that. If you can’t resist a snack, at least you can keep track of how many calories you eat and balance them out later.  

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Appetite: “A brisk walk, compared with being sedentary, reduces attentional bias and chocolate cravings among regular chocolate eaters with different body mass.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “Eaten up by boredom: consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self.”

Harvard Medical School: “Mindful eating,” “Why stress causes people to overeat.”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.”

Mayo Clinic: “Snacks: How they fit into your weight-loss plan.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Guide to Behavior Change."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Just Enough for You: About Food Portions.”

National Institutes of Health: “Eating when bored: revision of the emotional eating scale with a focus on boredom,” “Mindless eating: Why we eat more than we think.”

National Women’s Health Resource Center: “Tips to Outsmart Food Cravings.”

Obesity: “Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older adults.”