So Mia on her press said something that got me to thinking and sharing my own view – we’re talking the boredom factor of snacking. I touched upon this in one of my first updates, but I’ll expand upon it because it truly is a huge factor in why I gained as much weight as I did and why I’ve been able to lose the weight fairly reliably.
When I started on Weight Watchers I identified three main problems with the way I was eating. Those three are:
- Boredom/Comfort Eating
- Portion Control
- Food Types
Each of these issues deserve their own posts, so I might just leave the last two, though pretty self-explanatory, to another time. The one that we’ve been talking about is the boredom or comfort eating that many of us are guilty of.
I don’t think people, myself included, make an effort to pay attention to what they’re putting in their mouths until they’ve trained themselves to do so. Eating is borne of necessity; we tend to respond to a stimulus, sate it, and then forget about it until the next compulsion – hunger or craving – comes along. Unless you’re a foodie, I’ll run the danger of making the broad generalisation that most people normally just put whatever they can in their mouths without truly stopping to think about what is in it, how that impacts your health and well-being and if you truly even need it at all in the first place.
It’s sort of the difference between a reflex – taking blinking for example – and actually performing the function intentionally. How many times have you had a meal while being distracted by the phone, TV, family or work? You just perform the physical actions while your attention is elsewhere, and then you’re surprised to notice your plate is empty and you’re feeling stuffed to the gills (or actually still hungry?)
This form of eating without thought extends into the boredom or comfort zone, which is worse because we’re generally not talking the hunger stimulus when we comfort or boredom eat, we’re talking the craving stimulus. When I say craving, it doesn’t even have to be for food itself; it just could be for a certain taste, a drink, or just something to do.
I’m not saying that everybody sits on the couch and devours bags of potato chips and buckets of icecream non-stop all day. Certainly some people do, but others have snacking that is prolonged over a longer period of time, and can even be on healthier alternatives. Sitting down to watch a movie? Get a bag of popcorn! Sitting at the computer checking Facebook and emails? Why not have a few chocolates with you? It just ties in with the lack of conscientious observation which follows through into the other two problem points I brought up above: portion control and the types of food we snack on.
It took a lot to actually sit back and realise that this was a major problem of mine. Let me tell you: it’s one thing to be told that what you’re doing is harmful, but it’s an entirely different thing to notice it yourself and realise you have a problem. I believe it’s a denial thing, especially when it comes to behavior that has been going on for quite some tim, and that isn’t as obviously destructive as, say, a drug habit. I’m snacking, so what? You’re snacking too! And these things are sooo good!
I’ve never been a big junk food foodie. Compared to some others I know, I’ve maintained a fair diet of vegetables and fruits, I don’t eat out much, I don’t drink a lot of sugary beverages or eat tons of chip and candy. What was the problem is I was eating what I had on hand at the time, pretty much non-stop. If it was there and within reach, I had the physical compulsion to snack on it and keep my mouth busy as I went about my day. It gave me something to do, even while my attention was turned to something else entirely. It became like an unconscious function I performed without real thought or control. Automaton eating, in other words.
So here is my confession, my eye-opener of the day: I am guilty of possessing fully functioning and discerning taste buds that I allowed to dictate my eating habits. I let those little guys decide when and what I was eating, not my head and certainly not my stomach.
So I would snack on things – chips, Starburst, yogurts – without really paying much attention to what I actually needed at that time. I wasn’t addressing hunger, rather I was addressing the craving for the taste of the food, or to alleviate the boredom I was feeling for lack of something to do. I became pretty adept at ignoring my own body’s signs that I’d eaten enough. It did not matter that I felt more than full to capacity; in fact, I didn’t care and I ignored it intentionally. I had some tasty Pringles in the cupboard and I wanted to treat my taste buds to them, no matter what the boss downstairs had to say about it. And when the boss finally said knock it off – I was full to capacity – I ignored him and kept spoiling the taste buds upstairs.
So once I realised what I was doing, I began to control the impulsive eating by the following:
- Point Counting
This one ties in with my Weight Watchers program, but it applies to anybody; it’s no different to counting calories or simply stopping to examine what you’re eating and having an understanding of how much you can healthily consume. Over time, I’ve learned roughly how much I can eat over the course of the day to make sure each meal is filling and satisfying. If I see something I crave that is too much points wise, I either make a conscious decision to fit it in and adjust my later meals to allow for it, or I simply pass it by.
With a 22 point goal for each day, a 6 point sugar cookie might be deliciously tempting, but I’m not keen to blow nearly a third of my allocated points on it. Why, that 6 point cookie is as much as one of my full lunch meals! I’d rather an alternative to satisfy my sweet tooth, such as a banana (0 points), that lets me have other tasty things later on in the day. A banana, too, is far more filling than a single cookie is.
- Controlling the Portions
This is a trick that many people recommend to help cut down on snacking, and it works for me. If I have pre-packaged food and I’m about to sit down and snack on it, I will pull out a bowl or a plate, set out a measured serving (or however many servings I’d like) and then put the rest away out of reach. Practice out of sight and out of mind. And by the time I’m done, I’m usually sated enough that I can’t be bothered getting back up and putting effort into getting seconds.
I do this, for example, for my grapes and my rice crisps snacks. I have two big bags of crisps sitting now in the cupboards, but I always make sure to set out my snack serving, put it in a bowl, and put the rest away. This prevents me from digging into the entire bag, losing track of my consumption and over-eating. It also aids in me keeping track of my points.
This also works for bigger main meals, where instead of having a buffet style of eating or placing the food on the table to pick at and graze upon, I fill up my plate in the kitchen and then go sit down to eat. I prep my plate by roughly dividing it into portions, with meat being no more than 1/4 of the plate, and vegetables the rest.
I’m starting to sound like a harpy when it comes to water, but the affect of having water on hand daily is incredible. At all times, whether I am at home or out and about, I have water with me to reach for. It has come to replace my compulsion to reach for and consume something. In a way, I’ve replaced those snacks with the unconscious urge to drink frequently. This is not a bad thing, and is far preferable to the alternative. Water is calorie free and good for you, so why not?
I liken it to a smoker who is attempting to quit, and carries around gum or candies to help overcome that desire to put something in their mouths in place of a cigarette. The water does the same thing for me. If I didn’t make the conscious decision to keep it near me, I’d likely find something else to busy my hands and mouth with – like Pringles.
- Regular Eating Schedule
I have pretty funky sleep schedules, but they generally follow the same pattern every day. Even if from one day to the next I wake up with a 3 hour difference, when I get up I break my fast by drinking a big cup of cold water, and a yogurt snack. Then I’m generally full until my body speaks up and asks for lunch. This particularly happens after I do my daily walk; when I come home from that, my appetite kicks in with a vengeance and I get to indulge in a big tasty fresh salad with low fat dressing, bacon bits and seasoning.
That keeps me full until I prepare dinner – healthy grilled or baked chicken with two to three fresh vegetables – followed by a tasty snack like a fruit smoothie or a Weight Watchers fudge ice cream bar. (Oh those are so good.)
By keeping up a generally similar eating habit from day to day – not just in timing but in quantity and quality – my body has become used to it. Not only that, but I’ve become more sensitive to the time of day and the sensations I feel. Am I actually hungry, is it time for a proper meal? Or do I just need a small snack to tide me over until then?
- No Food Before Sleep
This is a big one, and has come to us over time as an extension of the regular eating schedule mentioned above. It certainly is a big adjustment I’ve had to make along with my bored snacking. With Boo eating healthily at work and me eating after my walks, we’re both generally quite hungry by early evening and we’ve taken to preparing and sitting down for dinner anywhere from 5pm to 7pm at the latest.
What this means for us is that we eat our fill early in the evening, which leaves us free to enjoy the rest of the night together to do what we please. I’ll also mention this is also when we frequently treat ourselves with ice cream bars after dinner, so then we really lie around like fat cats after a banquet.
In this way, having eaten by 8pm and with our bedtimes ranging from 10pm to midnight, we have 3 or more hours to properly digest our food. This cuts down on the indigestion and bloating one might feel going to bed on a really full stomach, but also just signals our bodies that we’re done eating for the night.
If we get hungry after dinner, which is getting rarer and rarer for us, I will say we do indulge in some healthy snacks like a sweet fruit smoothie. If we’re close to our max allowed points, however, it’s usually just an extra cup of water or point free piece of fruit to get that full feeling and to suppress the sensation that we need to eat.
This is a big one – we do not deprive ourselves! By maintaining a careful count of our points and spending them over the course of the day, we do leave extra room for us to have our little treats from time to time. I don’t want to feel like I’m on a ridiculous diet that cuts everything good out of the world and that I’m restricted to bread and water for life. I still get to sit down and eat what I like in moderation, as a conscious mental choice and not just a compulsion.
Take for example earlier this week, I had my dinner and a ton of points left over, so I got to snack on some popcorn and an ice cream afterwards and still be under my allotment. This came from eating an extremely filling but very low point tuna fish salad I had made earlier in the day (and gorged myself on). With the tuna fish using up only 6 points, I had 16 points remaining to go silly. And I did. I never regretted it and I still lost weight.
It’s good to treat oneself, and still manage to lose weight. I just keep in mind the portion control, not to make it a regular habit and I should be good.
- Food Diary
I don’t think any of this is possible without a diary; I keep one religiously that I made for myself, and I do one from time to time for Boo. He has the luck of being a man and having a ton more points than me to work with, so I tend to give him a running guesstimate of his points, while I actually have to write mine down to see what I’ve got to work with.
That said, as tedious as it sounds, I find keeping a food diary keeps me on track more than anything else: more than a weight ticker, an application or the scale numbers. It helps me to focus my attention on what I’m eating on a day to day basis, how much of it, and how much I have left to eat. It ties back into the unconscious snacking I’m guilty of – I’m forcing myself to actually pay some attention to my eating habits.
I’d recommend a food diary to anybody, not just someone on Weight Watchers or a similar program involving calorie intake. Even if those factors don’t come into play, a food diary may just help someone become more aware of their intake and make more conscious decisions on what they eat, how much they eat, and when.