I stopped snacking mindlessly for one month, and this is what I learned
My answer to the ever-present question of “Are you hungry?” was always “I could eat.” Catch me at a party and I’m either the girl by the snack table or the girl by the house dog (sometimes both). I don’t necessarily have to be hungry to snack, which means I’m not particularly mindful about my snacking.
I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with snacking, but I think we all know that mindlessly snacking can occasionally lead to over-eating. For example, a 2014 Nielsen report found that 41 percent of North Americans ate snacks instead of dinner at least once in the previous 30 days. I was not a part of this survey, but I can guarantee that I fall into this category (possibly yesterday with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia).
The issue with snacking is not the act of, but rather when we let our minds wander and end up filling up on snack food instead of the proteins our body actually needs.
I decided to stop snacking mindlessly for one month because I was tired of going to bed full of chips and ice cream instead of a tasty homemade stir fry or pasta dish.
I never wake up with a satisfied tummy—and having an un-satisfied tummy is a horrible way to wake up. I hoped this challenge might inspire previously hidden mindfulness within.
With that quest in mind, I proceeded to spend the month of April trying my hardes not to snack, and boy howdy was it a serious exercise in restraint and mindfulness.
Half the battle with Week 1 was remembering to *not* snack. During my first seven days of this fiery journey, I was kicking it at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Austin. They have two children under five—and kids under five have a lot of snacks.
I was tempted by my niece’s “raspberry friends,” Baby Mum-Mums, tiny cucumbers, and I even went for one of my infant niece’s Pouches quite a few times. I also made the reckless decision of treating the family to two large bags of Cheetos a few days before my challenge began (they were on sale, so what was I supposed to do?). Conclusion? It’s really, really, really hard not to snack when there are snacks everywhere.
At the end of the week, I was working on a turning ordinary HEB cupcakes into Pikachu-style cupcakes so my five-year-old niece could take them to school. The whole thing required some last-minute DIY. And what was I to do when they dropped on the floor or counter? I couldn’t give that to a kid, because germs and stuff. So I wiped it off and ate it. Immediately, it hit me again. I couldn’t escape the snacking.
The journey continued to be difficult, but this time the ever-present snacks wasn’t the only problem. Stress did me in.
As a freelance writer, times can be tough and money can be tight. At the same time, I was dealing remotely with an extra stressful housing issue back in Los Angeles. Additionally, kids are tiring, guys. I seriously don’t understand how parents do the whole watching-over-new-life thing day after day without completely losing it. Though my nieces aren’t my children, and the family dogs aren’t my dogs, when chilling at my family’s house I’m involved in their lives. Both humans and canines make me so, so sleepy. Sleepiness has a tendency to add to the stress problem.
The way I usually deal with stress is to munch, munch, munch. This kind of snacking goes down often before I even realize what I’ve started. I run to the kitchen, blinded by anxiety, and shove down five to six pieces of deli turkey before I even think about the consequences.
It turns out willpower is the tool I really lack, so the hardest part of Weeks 1 and 2 was being conscious about my intake and not snacking if I didn’t actually need to. I was still learning to be more mindful. Being self-aware is hard, guys.
I returned to Los Angeles on a Wednesday night and for the next few days hit the ground running with work and getting my house back together, so there was no time for grocery shopping. Instead, I was relying on the mountain of ramen I had for survival.
I was also a takeout girl for a few days, and while that lifestyle choice isn’t ideal, not having any snacks did feel good. When I would finish a meal, my stomach felt more satisfied. I’m not sure if that’s because I was way more mindful of my hunger or because my body was finally feeling satisfied.
Towards the end of the week, I finally got myself together and bought groceries. I was careful to only purchase the essential veggies, proteins, grains, and fruits I would need for meals. I learned that it’s a lot harder to snack when there aren’t any snacks around.
On the final week of my challenge, I was definitely getting better at not mindlessly snacking, and I was feeling the benefits. One such benefit, believe it or not, was time. I work from home, so a mindless snack serves as a great tool of distraction. Usually, I head to the kitchen to refill my water or make some hot tea and return to my desk with a bowl of trail mix. It’s not a huge deal, but there’s always a little prep involved in these snacks.
Time is money and snack time doesn’t make money—it just makes me full before my official meal. Besides, if we snack while we work, we’re not really paying attention to what we’re eating, and we’re not able to enjoy our food.
Even though I had my mindless snacking on lock-down by not buying distracting snacks, Week 4 had another challenge I hadn’t anticipated. I took on two cooking tasks for different friend occasions: one was a veggie lasagna I prepared to thank my friends for watching my doggy pal Genevieve while I was in Austin, and the other was some baked apples for a friend’s birthday barbecue.
With both recipes, I found myself constantly nibbling at the ingredients. It would start as a quick taste to make sure what I created was ok. But like with most semi-illicit activities, it wouldn’t end that way. Suddenly, I was full of samples before dinner even began. When I realized my stomach had stopped grumbling, I felt a sort of sorrow—how can one be mindful all the time about everything?
It seems like mindfulness is the key to a balanced life. As the Greater Good Science Center out of University of California: Berkeley teaches, “Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them.” As someone who tries to be mindful about snacking, this decision to not blame myself when I do slip up feels important.
To me, complete mindfulness feels unattainable. There’s simply far too much going on all the time in this noggin of mine. That being said, I think it makes sense to start small and work my way up. Eating is a life-giving element, so mindfulness while eating seems like an apt place to start.
I definitely didn’t master mindful snacking on my one-month journey. I think it might take more time to become more aware of my habits. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully grasp it, but I have high hopes. At the very least, it was worth a try.