Snacking on sweets is not a fatality that we have to give up. There are simple ways, such as visualization, stimulation of the senses, and reorganization of the food environment to help us regain control of our eating.

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While hanging out in the kitchen, you notice an open package of cookies, and you start snacking. Twenty minutes later, the package is empty. This is a typical example of what happens when we eat mindlessly. We all wish we could find a way to break this vicious cycle. But that's easier said than done. From our earliest days, we have learned to use food as a way to calm and comfort ourselves.

As adults, we still sometimes use food to soothe a feeling of distress. All it takes is a difficult emotion to start eating, without even realizing it. And fatty, sweet and salty foods tend to be even more appealing when we are stressed, in a bad mood or depressed.

Here's the good news: a mind over matter approach can help manage these cravings and turn to healthier eating in these difficult times. This will leave you more satisfied mentally and physically. Here's how to reprogram those cravings, so you can quit junk food habits for good.

Controlling the food environment

The easiest way to get out of a vicious snacking cycle? Control what you can. If you know there are specific foods you reach for when you're feeling stressed or sad, make sure you don't have those foods in the house. Sure, you could go out and buy them, but the time and energy it would take can be a barrier when the time comes.

Try to stock your kitchen with healthy foods for stressful times. When you're not at home, you can redirect your focus. If you know the office break room is always full of goodies, take your lunch outside. The effectiveness of this strategy simply comes down to our human nature to take the path of least resistance.

Do a visualization exercise

Do you have a sweet tooth? Imagine you've just had a craving for a huge chocolate cake, and think about how you feel. Do you feel nauseous? Your stomach too full? Studies have shown that a little mindfulness can reduce food consumption and even promote weight loss.

Make a craving box

Instead of reaching into your cupboards for treats when you feel like snacking, make a box filled with products that soothe all your senses except taste. You can put in a hand cream you love the smell of, a smooth rock you love to touch, soft socks, and pictures of your favorite vacation spot. This box full of positivity gets you interacting with pleasant objects before you turn to food.

Eating with family

If sharing a good meal with friends and family is undoubtedly a source of well-being, it would seem that it is also an asset for health. According to a study published in April 2021 on eating habits, eating with family members reduces the risk of obesity. In Spain, researchers from the Open University of Catalonia Foodlab surveyed 12 families with children ages 12 to 16 about their mealtimes and overall health. They found that family mealtime routines, such as sharing food, sitting around a table without digital devices, or having a pleasant conversation, were beneficial. The results were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The authors explain that taking time to eat allows children to recognize the sensation of satiety and helps prevent obesity. Through this study, the researchers wanted to understand how talking at mealtimes, as well as the way we eat in family groups, largely affects health. 

"A healthy diet is not only what we eat, but also how we eat it. The Mediterranean diet is much more than a list of foods, it is a cultural model that includes how these foods are selected, produced, processed and consumed," detailed the researcher.

To determine the degree of conviviality in the families studied, the researchers analyzed the frequency and duration of family meals, where they took place, use of digital devices, food preparation, and type of communication. When families spent less time eating, didn't sit at the table, used their cell phones or didn't chat, they also followed the Mediterranean diet to a lesser extent.

For the nutrition expert, it is essential to preserve food traditions in order to maintain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and promote the health of younger generations. So, in addition to recommending five fruits and vegetables a day, the scientist makes a new proposal: to offer at least one family meal a week.