Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Confessions of a Compulsive Snacker + How I overcame it!
The small spread included mini cupcakes, popcorn, and a few other selections. As we all gathered around to enjoy our mimosas and discuss the year ahead, I reached for a little treat. Three mini cupcakes later, I moved on to the popcorn. It was the bagged popcorn that already comes "pre-popped." To be honest, the popcorn wasn't really all that great. So nobody really ate it......except for me. They were all perfectly content in simply enjoying each other's company whereas I kept going back for more food.
A short time later, I looked up from my notebook and realized that for the past several minutes, I had been mindlessly eating the popcorn non-stop. Without thinking, I blurted out to the table that I think I have a problem.
Suddenly, the lightbulb flashed revealing my propensity to snack compulsively.
A large bag of chips won't last 24 hours in my house. If I buy a pack of 4 cupcakes, I eat them all the same day. If there are snacks around, I indulge in them without inhibition. I snack out of boredom. I receive pure enjoyment from the immediate rush of sugar or the salty crunchiness of whatever I'm eating.
Then suddenly, and without warning, I realized that snacking non-stop is a habit that I no longer wanted to maintain.
That was a couple of weeks ago. Now things are radically different. I still snack from time to time, but now I do it like a normal person. I can even walk through the grocery store without randomly grabbing indulgent sweets. I'd like to share with you what changed in my life and maybe my experience can help someone else.
The biggest contributor that helped me break free of compulsive snacking is mindful eating. If you recall, I embarked on an experiment where make a conscious effort to chew my food thoroughly. This not only helped me to eat less, it also improved my eating experience. When I slow down to eat, I get to enjoy the flavors and textures versus when I just shoved food down my throat.
Mindful eating soon spread into my snacking life. I realized that, after eating too many sweets, my body felt a bit uneasy. It took away from the temporary enjoyment I first experienced. Mindful eating is what made me realize that I was eating popcorn that I didn't really enjoy. In the past, I would have continued just so I can experience the sensation of munching on something. Now, I'm aware that I was eating the popcorn just to be eating it.
Snacking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster.
In order to feel satisfied, I'd have to each a lot of junk food.
Then I decided to change the rules. From now on, I could only snack AFTER I ate my meal. By that point, I'm already satiated so I don't consume nearly as much. If I find myself snacking while hungry, I stop, put it away and eat "real food" before I do too much damage.
I read a book on mindfulness years ago and what I got from the book was that people who utilized the power of choice led "happier" lives. They shared a simple example where participants in a study were asked to engage in a mindfulness experiment. Instead of reaching for their typical breakfast, they were to ask themselves about the other options available to them. After they mentally reviewed their choices, they could do whatever they chose.
In the past, I didn't execute my free will. If I saw cupcakes, I reached for them whether I was hungry or not.
Now, before reaching for the bag of chips, I ask myself what other options are available.
-I could chew on a piece of gum.
-I could drink water because perhaps I'm actually thirsty.
-I could grab an apple.
-Or I could eat the chips.
If I opt for the chips, I ask myself, am I hungry or am I craving the crunchy, salty taste.
If I'm hungry, I eat something else that will be more satisfying. If it's a craving, I eat the chips slowly, savoring the experience. When I'm mindfully eating the chips, I only eat a handful before putting the rest away.
That NEVER used to happen.
My cravings now aren't as powerful as they used to be. Before my cravings powered by old habits, now they're much smaller and more manageable. I judge my cravings based on what I'm really feeling at the moment, not by how I conducted myself in the past.
My exact methods may or may not work for you. But, keep in mind that compulsive behavior usually operates from past actions repeated over and over. Once we become present to what we're doing, we open up the possibility of rewiring our brains and creating new habits.
Practicing the art conscious consumption has freed me of my compulsion. Over the next few weeks, I'll be experimenting with ways to use conscious decision making to start new habits (vs. stopping old habits). If it works, I'll share details.
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