You know the usual suspects: your co-worker's candy dish, that bowl of salty-nutty whatever-it-is deliciousness they put out during happy hour—or the bag of crunchy puffs whose label reads "natural." Who hasn't blindly nibbled their way through what seemed like a simple snack and realized they'd just consumed hundreds of extra calories? Good news: there's hope for the mindless munchers among us. Here's how to quell your non-stop noshing once and for all.
"Skipping meals sets you up for intense cravings," says Susan Kraus, R.D., a nutritionist at Hackensack University Medical Center. Eating regular meals of complex carbs—not refined ones like white bread and pasta—with protein and a small amount of healthy fat will keep your blood sugar steady, and you feeling satisfied. When you do snack between meals, make smart choices. Foods with staying power: low-fat yogurt and granola or half a whole-wheat English muffin spread with natural peanut butter.
Keep a food log for a week, recording your moods, what stresses you out, and how hungry you feel before eating. Once you've identified the things that drive you to raid your candy stash, you can react productively instead of eating half a pound of chocolate.
Wait it out
You're most susceptible to your brain's demands during the 20 minutes after a stressful episode—the amount of time it takes for serotonin to bounce back and stress hormones to fall. If you can resist a temptation for just that long, the urge will probably fade.
The hypothalamus, your brain's control center for mood- and food-related signals, detects thirst as well as hunger. Gulp a glass of water or hot tea (make it decaf—caffeine can trigger the release of stress chemicals) and see if the craving passes.
Blow it off
If you absolutely need an oral fix, reach for sugar-free gum. Researchers in Australia measured the levels of cortisol in the saliva of study subjects and found that on average, gum chewers had 16 percent less of the stress hormone than non-chewers and responded better to stressful situations.
See the lighter side
Studies show that laughter cuts stress, releases feel-good endorphins, and burns calories—an hour of yukking it up can torch about as many as a half-hour of lifting weights.
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