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Put an End to Mindless Snacking

Five tips to break bad habits—and drop the pounds now

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We snack a lot more than we think. Over time, even occasional snacking can take a toll on our waistlines. Luckily, making a few small changes in our daily habits can stop—and even reverse—this diet damage. Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and president elect of the Society for Nutrition Education, offers up five tested ways to break your snacking habits and help get you on your way to a lean, healthy body.

  1. DRINK WATER
    "It's very easy for us to confuse dehydration with hunger," says Wansink. "We know our body's craving something and we just assume it's food, but frequently it ends up being liquids, especially in active people. I would guess seven times out of 10 what they think of as hunger is really just a slight dehydration." You don't necessarily have to drink pure water, but make sure the beverage is low in caffeine and sodium. "Caffeine and sodium dehydrate you even more, giving your mouth a feeling of thirst, which can lead you to snack," warns Wansink.
  2. DON'T MAKE IT EASY
    Mindless munching is often a result of easy snack-access. To slow yourself down, Wansink suggests making snacking a challenge. "Put in some interruption that can make you think twice about how much you want to snack. If there's a bowl of candy sitting at your desk, you don't think twice, it's there. But if you put barriers in your way, it'll really test how much you want this." There's proof in the pudding. In a study Wansink did with a candy dish, office workers ate 125 calories less when the dish was just 6 feet away from them than when the dish was at arm's distance. Those seemingly trivial 125 extra cals can add up to a whopping 11 lbs in just one year.
  3. MAKE TRADEOFFS
    A great way to reduce careless snacking is to make up some sort of condition every time you have cravings. "For example, you can have anything you want from the vending machine if you are going to work out that day, or if you have a light dinner, something where there's some sort of trade off that you have to make," suggests Wansink. "If you regularly stop by 7-11 on the way home and buy a Slurpee, start taking an alternative way home to reduce that temptation. Or say 'I can get that only if I run an important errand on the way home.' That way, you break that habit, or diminish it so that you're at least getting something done when you snack."
  4. DON'T BURY THE EVIDENCE
    Some guys like to stuff their empty bags of chips and candy wrappers into the very bottom of the trash in an attempt to forget that they ate them at all. Don't hide the wrappers! Leaving the candy wrappers on your desk at work or the chicken bones on your plate during the football game is a good way to remind yourself to slow down. Wansink also suggests staying mindful of this when you drink: "When you're partying with other guys and you're having fun, it's often easy to forget how much a person's drank, whether it's beer or soda. An easy way to keep track of things is to put the bottle-top in your pocket. That way, once you feel them, it'll remind you how many you've had that night. It's an easy way to keep track of something that it's easy to lose track of."
  5. HAVE YOUR CAKE, BUT SKIP THE BREAD
    Eating out at restaurants can easily throw off your weight loss goals. Thankfully, there are easy tips we can follow to eat well and still enjoy ourselves. "First, we are horrendous bread eaters, so don't let the waiter bring the bread basket," advises Wansink. "The second thing is, order something that you really want. Eat all the meat and veggies, and don't have the carbs if you don't want them. But don't skimp on an entree by trying to get something you think is healthy because it's just going to backfire in the long run. Finally, remember this rule of thumb when eating out at a restaurant: limit yourself to the entree and just two other things—it can be two drinks, a dessert and a roll, or it could be 2 rolls—it just can't be all of the above."

Related articles:

Diet Screwups: How to bounce back from overindulging

The Lowdown on Sweeteners

Tips for keeping your weight-loss plan on target

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