We snack because: We're stressed
"People use food to soothe and comfort themselves when they're experiencing an emotion that they either don't want to or don't know how to deal with at the time," explains Susan Wnuk, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders and weight-related problems. That's why a looming deadline, an overbooked schedule or apprehension about an upcoming event can have us making a beeline for the pantry, whether we realize it or not.
Fight the urge: Be mindful. "Some of my patients have found it helpful to put 'Stop' signs on the door of the cupboard or fridge to help them reconsider why they want to eat," Wnuk says. "If you're not actually hungry, it helps to take a moment to evaluate any pressures or problems affecting you at the moment."
Healthy alternatives: Avoid stimulants like caffeine or refined sugar, which can cause a brief spike in energy followed soon after by an extended crash. Try foods rich in B vitamins, such as bananas, beans and lentils, which have been known to combat stress.
We snack because: We're sad
It's practically a cliche now -- gorging on buckets of ice cream after a bad breakup or a piece of cake after an unsuccessful job interview. Depression, from its most temporary to its most severe forms, has many of us indulging in the fleeting pleasures of food to fill the void.
Fight the urge: If you're constantly coping by taking comfort in food, Wnuk recommends writing in a journal to help you sort through your feelings and become more aware of your habits. "It's important to remember that food doesn't solve any problems besides hunger," Wnuk advises.
Healthy alternatives: Healthy carbohydrates should be your go-to snack for any pity party you plan to throw. Stick to whole grain pastas and breads to increase your body's production of serotonin: a neurotransmitter that naturally elevates your mood and increases calmness and happiness.
Page 1 of 2 -- find out why other moods cause us to snack on page 2
We snack because: We're celebrating
Whether it's a steak dinner to mark your big promotion or a bag of chips to reward yourself for doing the laundry, positively reinforcing good behaviour with tasty treats is a dangerous business.
Fight the urge: Keep your rewards restricted to inedible items. Going for a well-deserved massage or purchasing a much-coveted pair of shoes can bring you satisfaction without sacrificing your waistline.
Healthy alternatives: To honour life's smaller victories grab a piece of fruit. It will satisfy your sweet tooth and help you feel "treated" with the added bonus of upping your intake of fibre and essential vitamins. Try something new and exotic, or a type of fruit that you rarely buy for an added sense of occasion.
We snack because: We're bored
Eating is a convenient and affordable (and legal!) pleasure-inducing activity that we can literally engage in anytime, anywhere, so it's no wonder that so many of us turn to food -- and more often than not, junk food -- for entertainment or to break up the monotony of our day-to-day lives.
Fight the urge: Get moving. If you're mindlessly grazing by your desk or working your way through a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV, a little change of scenery might help. Go for a brisk walk around the block or do as many pushups as you can during the commercial breaks to keep your mind from wandering over to your secret candy stash.
Healthy alternatives: Replace your sugary or salty go-tos with healthier options, such as fruit and nuts, veggies and hummus or low-fat cheese in the places you’re most likely to offend.
We snack because: We're procrastinating
"I will finish this report, right after I go grab a cookie from the coffee shop down the street." Sound familiar? Food is an easily accessible diversion for those of us who have a tendency to put things off until the very last minute.
Fight the urge: "Eat healthfully and regularly," Wnuk recommends. Frequent well-rounded meals will stave off hunger pangs and sluggishness-inducing dips in blood sugar, and will remove food from the list of tempting distractions.
Healthy alternatives: Lean protein such as fish, poultry or low-fat dairy help increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine: two naturally occurring brain chemicals that promote alertness and our ability to concentrate on the task at hand.
Do you tend to crave chips? Or how about milk chocolate? Discover what your cravings say about you.
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