Help me stop the mindless munching!
January 30, 2008 7:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop eating when I'm not hungry?

When I'm at home on the weekends, I rarely snack. However, when I'm sitting in front of a computer all day at work, I'm constantly 'hungry'. I don't think I'm really hungry, but I feel like I need food and I can't stop snacking. I drink a lot of water, and chewing gum works to distract me for a while but makes my jaw ache... At least I've stopped snacking on the work cookies and moved to bringing my own trail mix.

So the question is, how can I stop the constant snacking?
posted by lemonade to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You can't snack if there's no food available. Is it possible to simply remove the temptation so that no matter how hungry you feel, there's simply nothing you can do until you get home?
posted by modernnomad at 7:45 AM on January 30, 2008

Are you eating a proper breakfast?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:49 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Start smoking Sorry ;-)

The old advice is to go brush your teeth but I think drinking a glass of cold water does a better job - often when your body is telling you that it's hungry it's actually thirsty so keeping a good supply of water (tap, bottled) and tea very much to hand is for me the best way.

You could also keep the snack trail as "rewards" for finishing a longish piece of work or drinking x litres of water.
posted by ceri richard at 7:50 AM on January 30, 2008

Try eating something that's not very calorie dense, like fruit or veggies? It takes a lot of work to eat 300 calories worth of apples -- it's dead easy to eat 300 calories of cookies.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:51 AM on January 30, 2008

You can try cutting back on refined sugars and carbs and see if that helps. When I've restricted my refined carb intake my food cravings definitely go down.
posted by cabingirl at 7:54 AM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you could tackle the cravings another way. Try setting specific times (for example, every two hours) to take a break away from the computer, and have a small snack then. Focus completely on the act of eating - so no distractions! - and take care to eat slowly, savouring the food. Snacking whilst doing something else is a bad habit and tends to lead to over-eating.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:57 AM on January 30, 2008

I find a soft drink or coffee helps, especially if it includes caffeine.
posted by TedW at 8:01 AM on January 30, 2008

What TPS said. I have the same problem, but if I eat a large breakfast I find that next thing I know, it's lunchtime, and I haven't been hungry at all.
posted by amro at 8:11 AM on January 30, 2008

This kind of question (habit/behavior-based eating vs. alternatives) has been covered here numerous times. Please search the archives.
posted by mkultra at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2008

Is the goal to reduce calories or to eliminate the snacking altogether, regardless of calories?

To eliminate the snacking altogether, you probably need some other nervous habit. e.g. something to fidget with in your hand -- but there are different things that work for different people.
posted by winston at 8:14 AM on January 30, 2008

Yes, water. A bottle of water in the fridge at all times!
posted by LarryC at 8:17 AM on January 30, 2008

I don't think I'm really hungry, but I feel like I need food.

Breakfast, and try to resolve any psychological issues you're worried about.
posted by cashman at 8:17 AM on January 30, 2008

soups, stews for lunch. it takes at least 20 minutes for most people to feel satiation from eating. anything you can do to make your meals slow and relaxed helps cure hunger. If you have to eat whilst computing, take a 3-minute break away from the screen-and go for a few almonds, carrots.
posted by caveatz at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check out the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
posted by tiburon at 8:24 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

my new mantra is "emotional hunger vs. physical hunger." just learning to accept that i'm not really hungry has helped cut down my snacking.
posted by kidsleepy at 8:39 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

2nding what cabingirl said about carbs. you could be experiencing hormonal hunger rather than real hunger. if you're eating carbs/sugar and have a spike in insulin levels the repercussions of your blood going back to normal could be this pesky hunger.

try some protein (and fat!) heavy meals in the morning. here are two options:

-3 eggs with .5 avocado

-smoothie with protein poweder, 2 tbsp almond butter and .5 cup blueberries
posted by ArcAm at 8:40 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I do eat a big breakfast, and it's really the afternoon and monotony that gets me. I drink a LOT of water, but since the gum helps I think winston may be right and that it's a fidgiting thing.

Modernnomad, I think I will remove the food from my office--and put it in the car, just in case I have actual hunger so I won't need to resort to cookies.
posted by lemonade at 8:40 AM on January 30, 2008

I experience the same thing. It's a learned behavior. My mind / body is used to, and comfortable with a constant streaming intake of food throughout the day. I think it really has nothing to do with the food itself or a particular kind of food.

I'm working on a variety of strategies with varying success. Chewing gum, drinking water, slowly eating a really succulent snack. I think my best bet will be a combination of not having any snacks available to me, not bringing my wallet into work (avoid vending machine temptation), and substituting the activity of snacking with something else.

I think that something else = going for a walk.

I can hear my behavioral therapist voice inside me saying, "just make a conscious effort to change your behavior."
posted by indigo4963 at 8:44 AM on January 30, 2008

another vote for changing up your carb/protein mix.

Not to get all freudian, but there might also be an element of oral fixation to it, so try bringing in the super-crunchy veggie of your choice -- carrots, celery, cucumbers, etc. They have the added benefits of super-filling and low-cal, so yay for that.
posted by somanyamys at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2008

First of all, what's in your trail mix? Some mixes have a lot of nuts, granola, and dried fruit, all of which have an awful lot of calories. If you must snack often, eat something with fewer calories, e.g., veggies, Cheerios, etc.

My suggestion is to stop snacking so much. For me, constant eating became a habit, so even when I wasn't hungry at all I'd want to eat. I had to retrain my brain to not constantly want to eat. It was really hard for two weeks--all I thought about was eating. But I forced myself not to eat whenever I wanted. Discipline. It got much easier after two weeks. Now it's not a problem. I don't constantly want food. I eat three small meals and 3 small snacks. And eat beans for breakfast because they have a ton of fiber and will help you feel full longer.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:01 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing eating fewer carbs. Try eating a protein heavy breakfast -- eggs or sausage. That should keep you full much longer and less likely to snack. Keep some nuts or a few devilled eggs on hand if you do feel the need to snack. Am predicting that you'll feel much more in control of your appetite.
posted by peacheater at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find myself doing this a lot at work too, especially if I find what I'm working on boring, if it's something I'm not really interested in, or if I'm feeling sleepy. It helps if I ask myself "Am I really hungry, or just bored?". If I'm just bored, I'll try to divert the urge by finding something else to occupy my hands (doodling, desk toy, etc.) or with gum. Since gum doesn't work for you, maybe you could try sugar-free mints?
posted by geeky at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2008

I've been cutting back quite a lot on snacking lately, and water helps me a lot now that I've been good for a couple of weeks, but before that it really didn't do the trick. What DID work was tea - I keep a whole bunch of different kinds and an electric kettle handy so I can have any of my array of flavors to drink in the space of just a couple of minutes. Having flavor options definitely helps me craving-wise. Drinking lots of tea has the benefit of leaving me less thirsty for pop, too, and so cutting down on my other bad habit of way too many carbonated beverages.
posted by Rallon at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2008

i always have one of those HUGE bags of carrots around. they are great to "munch" and are healthy. i also like drinking warm water. it's more.... "interesting" to me than room temp water. (ok so i'm a nut)
posted by mrmarley at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2008

Oh, me too. All of the suggestions above are great. What helps me is deciding to eat an apple first, wait a few minutes, and if I'm still hungry go for the cookie. That way, I give myself the option of the easy, sugary treat, but by the time I've finished the apple I'm full enough not to go for it. Apples take a while to eat and are pretty filling, and I'm usually surprised at how tasty I find them even when I'm craving Little Debbies instead.

Another thing you could try is actively paying attention to how everything tastes. Usually, the first bite of something is the best-tasting; halfway through the bag of chips I'm barely aware of the flavor and I'm just putting food in my mouth. If you don't like the way something tastes, keep it in mind for the next time you encounter it. It's way, way easier for me to pass the Baskin-Robbins signs with nary a glance when I realize that I had one of those sundaes recently and it was actually kind of gross.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:34 AM on January 30, 2008

Stretch, then take a brisk walk. Back at your desk, listen to some different music, turn the light of/on, anything to alter your environment enough to provide stimulation.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2008

I've lost 8 kilos in the last 4 months, so I'm not being mean when I say, stop paying so much attention to your desires. You stop eating when you're not hungry by not doing it. But you might say, I want to eat then, I feel a desire. So? It's not going to kill you if you ignore it. Have a hot cup of something, tea without sugar, that sort of thing.

I do agree that it is important to be mindful when eating, to concentrate on every mouthful's taste, so you don't get to the end of your big bowl of whatever, and go, I don't remember eating that. With that, I try to make every meal tasty. Nothing's thrown together just so I can fill up, because later, I will want to eat something nice, if I haven't already.

But this one, this not eating when you don't need to, just don't do it. Next time you catch yourself doing, say, "Ha, that's silly," and put the chips or whatever back. Have a drink. Clean your teeth (if it helps). Distract yourself if you need to. It will be difficult but not impossible, and after a surprisingly short time, you will build healthier habits.
posted by b33j at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

For long term success learn to be mindful of what you're eating when you're putting it in your mouth. Even if you snack, be aware you are eating that snack as you ingest it. Getting yourself to stop eating when you're not hungry is a slower process this way than some "diet." But I think it has greater chance of success.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Adding to b33j's approach, I have decided to try and remind myself to "not scratch my itches" both literally and otherwise.

Just like a real itch, if you ignore it it will go away. It might be hard at first but the more you practice it, the more it really works.
posted by utsutsu at 11:14 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Room temperature glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar is a time-honored hunger pang quencher.

Grandma is almost always right.
posted by Aquaman at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2008

Nthing low carb. The relief from the desire to overeat has to be experienced to believe.

Everything else is just a head-game.
posted by callmejay at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2008

I've had great success with this book. I read it just before Xmas, and now I find I can't eat nearly as much as I used to. Even snacks.
posted by Solomon at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2008

I'll join everyone who 'nths' low carb. I've been a demon muncher for donkey's years and since going low carb the munchies have disappeared. And I've lost nearly 5 stone. I still have the odd bit of wholemeal bread and on most days, some shredded wheat, but that's it. Oh, and Solomon's book suggestion is a good one, regardless of how you modify your diet. I've got the 4 rules in my wallet.
posted by dowcrag at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2008

If I feel I need to be eating something regardless of hunger my fallback is air-popped popcorn which I eat one lone kernel at a time. I've got a popper I can use in the microwave with 0 oil so I don't have to suffer the hair dryer sound of a traditional air popper. At 30 calories per cup it's not going to make a huge impact on your waist if you stop before you make a dent in the silo.
posted by phearlez at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Put me down as another person who has found that high-protein, low-sugar snacks and meals make a huge difference in reducing mindless food cravings.

The other thing for me is completely psychological. I get most hungry at work when I'm procrastinating. Going to the kitchen to get food puts off the dreaded task for another 3 minutes, and maybe I can just read emails or something while I eat, rather than tackling the big project. Now that I've noticed this about myself, when I find myself desperate for some food at work I take a minute to figure out what I'm avoiding and then just tackle it.
posted by vytae at 1:48 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

try sucking on ice
posted by metacort at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2008

Try eating more, I eat 6 planned meals a day and find that I pretty much never snack. I prepare the meals in advance and have things like 200gms of spaghetti bolognaise or tuna mornay. Over the course of the day I get my 2000calories with hardly any bad fats. Don't avoid all fats though, peanut butter (natural 100% peanuts) or extra virgin olive oil are both good fats that will make you feel fuller.
posted by patrickk at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Trail mix is quite possibly more calorie-dense than cookies. Nuts are full of good fats, but you can't eat them by the handful.

When I was having trouble with wanting to eat, I kept a water bottle by my desk. If I actually felt hungry, I could take a swig, and the rest of the time my non-mouse hand could fool around with it, screw and unscrew the cap, slosh the contents around, try to balance it upside-down, whatever. If I just had a paper cup, I couldn't do all that -- not without needing a new keyboard, anyway.

I also love playing with sticky tack. Silly putty is a poor substitute but it will work in a pinch.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:38 PM on January 30, 2008

A mug of miso soup is good at staving off hunger & is negligible in caloric damage.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:46 PM on January 30, 2008

I've got a fun gum-chewing-alternative.

Do you like cherries? Start buying and eating cherries at home.

Save all of the stems. Bring them to work with you and try to tie each and every one in a knot with your tongue.

Unless you are already wildly dexterous with your tongue, it will keep your mouth occupied and you may end up with a new gimmicky bar trick to mildly impress new friends.

But it may not help you stop feeling hungry. It's just a gum-chewing-alternative afterall. ;P
posted by Squee at 9:33 PM on January 30, 2008

Freakanomics suggest the Shang-Grilla Diet.... it works for me too.... just be disciplined at it
posted by friedbeef at 9:45 PM on January 30, 2008

Definitely snack on plain celery all day long, it is a negative calorie food (you burn more calories chewing and digesting than you actually get for it), you really can't go wrong there.
posted by anaelith at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2008

Drinking something is a good suggestion. I also drink impressive (horrifying?) amounts of tea, and have a lot of varieties on hand. And since arriving in a country where mineral water seems to be drunk more than tap water, I find that keeping a 2L of carbonated mineral water on hand is a great way to redirect the munchies. It'll also help keep you off the sodas, and I find the bubbles make me feel more full, so I'm less interested in eating.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 6:51 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Actually, snacking and grazing all day is good for you. It keeps your metabolism up. But only if you're not eating sugary-carby-fake food stuff.

If you eat Almonds, dried fruits, carrots, broccoli, rye crackers (Finn Crisp are the BEST), cheese, stuff like that --

You'll feel like you're treating yourself, you'll have more energy, it'll satisfy your need for munchies (I especially love stuff like carrots because they are crunchy), and it might even help you lose weight (if that is a goal).

You shouldn't feel bad about how often you eat. The key is to celebrate WHAT you eat. *Think* wholegrains, real cheese, real veggies, real fruit, real shrimp, whatever. If you're doing that, you'll find that it is easier to resist all the candy, cookies, cake and whatnot floating around the office.

The best food advice I ever heard was from someone who had lost over a hundred pounds in two years. They said that you shouldn't beat yourself up for not doing what "you're supposed to do." Instead, give yourself credit for what you have changed. Didn't exercise today but had a baked salmon dinner with green beans and couscous? Give yourself credit! Last year you would have eaten two cheeseburgers and a large fry and never even contemplated getting on the treadmill. Tomorrow, you'll take the stairs.

Healthy living is about increments and small successes, not drastic changes all at once this week right now.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:50 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

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