It's not your imagination — you’re practically swimming in snack foods. According to a study from researchers at Tulane University, snack foods were available in over 41 percent of 1000+ retail stores they visited in 19 US cities. The most common forms were candy (33 percent), sweetened beverages (20 percent), and salty snacks (17 percent), often within arm’s reach of the cash register. Researchers observed snack foods in 96 percent of pharmacies, 94 percent of gasoline stations, 22 percent of furniture stores (weird?!), 16 percent of clothing stores, and 29 percent to 65 percent of other types of stores.
Basically the study confirms what we already know — snacks are everywhere you look, and other research shows that the more easy food is to access, the more we eat. One study found that in a cafeteria, if the door to the ice cream freezer was left open, people bought more than if it was closed.
So when your environment is set up to make not so healthy snacks incredibly easy to grab and eat, even if you’re not hungry, what can you do? Here are four ways to avoid getting sucked into an unwanted scarf down.
Stop, drop and roll
I know it’s easier said than done, but try to get into the habit of stopping before you reach for a snack, even if it’s free. It may be right in front of you and look tasty, but check in with your body. If you don’t have any physical signs of hunger (like a growling tummy) and your body doesn’t need the fuel, eating is kind of like throwing food away — it's just that you’re tossing it right into your fat cells instead of the trash. When you think about it that way a few minutes of sweet or salty goodness just doesn't seem worth it.
Weigh the reparations
OK let’s say you do decide to go ahead and have a snack — do a quick assessment of what you’d have to do to burn it off. If you’re not sure keep this in mind: 150 pound person would have to walk at 4 miles per hour for nearly 2 hours to burn off an average sized candy bar and a 24 oz sweetened drink. At least thinking this through might help you make a somewhat healthier decision (like pairing a candy bar or bag of chips with water instead of a sugary drink).
Use the buddy system
If there are people you spend a lot of time with let them know you’re on a healthy track and ask for their support. Setting the stage means that in the moment you feel tempted you may only need to say something like, “I want to eat that but I’m not even hungry” — a trigger to your buddy that you need a little distraction or encouragement.
It’s easier to pass up a treat if you know there’s an alternative waiting for you in your desk drawer or bag. Stash some items that’ll satisfy your typical cravings, like lightly salted nuts or a few individually wrapped tasting squares of dark chocolate. My portable snack supply has saved me countless times from indulging in foods that were much less healthy and probably less satisfying.