Mindful snacking may sound like a diet trend, that couldn't be further from the truth. Learning to snack mindfully is a great way to embrace awareness, satisfaction, and balance. And while mindful eating can include nutrition awareness, it involves zero restriction or deprivation.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mindfulness as the quality or state of being mindful, or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basil.
Basically, think of mindfulness as a compassionate state of awareness and intention - no judging!
Mindful Eating & its Research
Mindful eating is basically just bringing mindfulness to food, bringing awareness and attention to your eating choices and experiences without judgement.
When it comes to weight loss and mindful eating, there's mixed research. One pilot study found mindful eating can lead to "significant changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological distress in obese individuals." One review found mindful eating to be an important component of weight management programs. However a systematic review and meta analysis found mindful eating interventions to have no significant impact on weight loss compared to conventional diet programs - basically finding that more research is needed.
What is Mindful Snacking?
How does mindfulness apply to snacking? Mindful snacking involves approaching snacking with awareness, balance, and intention.
As a dietitian, I encourage you to get curious before, during, and after your eating experience to support more mindful snacking. Consider some of the following questions and prompts:
Why Do I Want to Snack?
Determining why you want to snack can help you experience more mindful snacking. What's your motivation?
- Are you hungry?
- Do you need a practical snack because it'll be a while before you have the opportunity to eat again?
- Are you looking for a break or a pause in your day?
- Is there a social situation with a snacking opportunity?
- Do you use snacking as a coping mechanism to provide distraction or deal with boredom, anxiety, or big feelings?
- Are you looking to satisfy a craving?
When you see some of those potential snacking motivations listed above, what do you think? How do they make you feel?
Many folks feel shame, guilt, anxiety, or other such emotions when they think about snacking due to social situations, cravings, or as a coping mechanism.
But the thing is, there is no morality to any of these snacking reasons. They're not good or bad, just things to be aware of. Removing morality and channeling awareness can help you be more intentional in making choices that feel good to you - no matter what that choice is.
Plus, shame and guilt are terrible motivators. They actually influence all-or-nothing thinking -- like that, "screw it," feeling when you eat a cookie and end up crushing half the box.
How Do You Want to Feel?
Mindful snacking is a great opportunity to blend cravings with intentional nutrition choices. How do you want to feel before and after your snack? What do you need from your snack?
Some example scenarios:
- Maybe you're not very hungry right now, but you're heading into a long meeting or have a late dinner. You need a snack that will practically help carry you to your next meal without getting hangry.
- Late at night or feeling anxious? You don't need jittery energy, so if you're sensitive to caffeine, skip any caffeine-containing coffee, tea, or chocolate at your snack.
- Need more consistent energy? Aim for a blood sugar-friendly snack by pairing carbs with fat, protein, and fiber.
- Not eating enough fruits and veggies? Snacks are a great way to add more to your day!
What Snack Sounds Good?
Mindful snacking (and healthy eating in general) always has room for you to eat what sounds good. You should enjoy your food! As you're choosing a snack, think about what you want:
- Sweet or savory?
- Hot or cold?
- Creamy, crunchy, or chewy?
- Solid or liquid?
And while I'm all about healthy snacking as a dietitian, I'm a big proponent of balance. You can absolutely include ALL foods, and yes, that includes less nutrient-dense foods.
One helpful key? Learning how to enjoy them in a balance that satisfies your craving and leaves you feeling good. Blending cravings with nutrition is a great way to bring balance to your mindful snacking! Here are some examples:
- Chocolate & almonds (almonds add healthy fat and a little protein and fiber)
- Tortilla chips & guacamole (guac adds healthy fat and fiber)
- Cookies & Greek yogurt (Greek yogurts adds protein and potentially fat)
Mindful Snacking with Your Senses
One of the best ways to experiencing mindful snacking is to engage all of your senses. What does your snack smell like and look like? As you start eating your snack, what tastes and textures are you noticing?
Focusing on your senses as you're eating can help you have a more present eating experience, and can also make your snack more satisfying.
Plus, as you learn more about what you find satisfying, you can learn more about what foods help you feel your best. For example, maybe you love having a smoothie or a protein shake for a snack, but struggle to feel satisfied. Understanding that you like something crunchy or chewy to help you feel more satisfied can help you know to pair that smoothie or shake with something you can chew! (And fun fact, research shows many people do feel more satisfied from a meal when they chew!)
After your snack, reflect on how it made you feel.
- Did you enjoy it?
- Are you satisfied?
- How long did your snack keep you full?
- Did you feel like your energy or blood sugar crashed soon after?
- Were you overly full at your next mealtime?
One important key is to reflect objectively. This is not a time to beat yourself up because you overate or snacked on cookies that weren't on your diet plan. (For the record, 1. it's never time to beat yourself up and 2. you don't need a diet that doesn't include your favorite foods - this is what contributes to the unproductive diet cycle.)
Other Tools to Help with Mindful Snacking
If you feel like you're still struggling to eat mindfully, or you find yourself grazing and snacking a lot (especially in the afternoons and evenings!) keep some of these other things in mind:
- Eat balanced meals with protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber. I like to include some color with vegetables in meals, too.
- Eat enough at your meals. Especially if you have weight loss goals, it can be easy to fall into a trap of not eating enough energy (calories) at your meals. This usually backfires later in the day/ evening when you get crazy hungry and feel like you can't stay out of the snacks.
- Don't deprive yourself. If you're constantly trying to swear off your favorite snack foods in the name of health, but keep finding yourself crushing half a package of chips or cookies at once, it's a red flag. Allowing yourself your favorite foods can lessen this all-or-nothing mindset with food. (You can even try some foods as part of a more balanced snack, like pairing chocolate with some nuts for added healthy fat, protein, and fiber.)
- Portion out snacks into a plate or bowl. You can always go back for more, but sitting down with a bowl of crackers instead of eating out of the box can help promote more mindful eating.
- Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Check in with yourself before, during, and after your snack and make adjustments to leave you feeling good.