Cantalope, strawberries, and blueberries
Nutrition,  Wholesome Living

A Pandemic of Snacking

Last night at dinner, my husband asked if we had any apples. I said we usually do, but right now we are out of them. Then I asked why, and he said he thought eating an apple would be better than continually eating 3 or 4 packs of peanut butter crackers each day. I quickly agreed and said I would definitely stock up on the apples next shopping trip. In the meantime, I gave him some healthier options that we do have: bananas, baby carrots and hummus, mandarin oranges, nuts.

As a Health Coach, I have found various challenges for my clients with working from home (WFH), but one of the biggest is the accessibility of the pantry. When we go to the office, we can pack our snacks, and if we don’t raid the office kitchen, our food intake is fairly structured. Now that so many of us are at home almost all the time, it is a lot harder to resist the call of snacking.

Stress Eating

Right now, it makes sense that you may not be eating (or sleeping, or exercising, or socializing…) as you normally would. With our world in turmoil, stress levels are high. And even before the pandemic, 38% of Americans reported stress eating at least monthly, with as many as 50% of them reporting stress eating every week.

So stress plays a role in snacking, but so does ease. Let’s face it, eating tastes good. Some snacking is fine and can even add more nutrition to your diet. Even an occasional unhealthy snack is ok too. However, snacking all day isn’t doing your health or your waistline any favors. But beating yourself up for not eating perfectly may actually lead to MORE overeating. Instead, let’s focus on some ways to improve how you are eating (and snacking!)

Tips for Limiting Unhealthy Snacking
hummus with pita chips and carrots
  • Visibility: One of the best ways to improve snacking is to make sure you have several healthy options available AND fewer unhealthy options. Visibility matters also. If you are buying less healthy items like chips and candy, store them someplace that you won’t see them. Research demonstrates that we are more likely to eat tempting food that catches our eye. And the farther away the better. Store them in the garage, or in a cabinet that you can’t reach without a step stool and you will be much less likely to indulge.
  • Planning: Act like the you are going to work in the office. Pack your snacks in healthy portions and have a separate place for them other than the pantry. For things that need to be refrigerated, like carrot sticks or cut-up fruit, put them at the front of the fridge so you will see them right away,
  • Prepare: In that vein, make sure you have fruits and vegetable washed and cut up. When was the last time you cut up a watermelon during the workday? But if the melon is cut, you are more likely to choose it. For items that are easy to overeat, like nuts, put a handful in a small jar or other container instead of grabbing from the bag.
  • Wait: If you find yourself at the pantry door an hour after your last visit, vow to wait 15 minutes. If you still want a snack then, go get one, but you may find you are distracted by something else.
  • Have one, not ten: If you decide you really do want that Oreo, have it, but have 1 or 2, not 8 or 10. And make sure you eat mindfully, enjoying the taste and texture of the snack, whether it is sweet, salty, or savory. When you savor the experience, you are more likely to be satisfied with less.
  • Make rules: Perhaps say no to a snack until you get a quick chore done, such watering the plants, paying a bill, or cleaning your desk. Or try adding in some rules that are good for you before you can have a snack: 10 pushups, 25 sit-ups, or a short walk is the price. Even if you do snack, at least you gotten in a little additional exercise. Other options might be drinking a glass of water, or taking 5 deep breaths before picking out a snack.
  • Track: For many people having to record what you eat makes you eat less. And, by tracking your snacking, you will have a better handle on how much you really are eating.
  • Eat nutritious meals: Try to make sure most of your meals are healthy and with a good mix of protein, healthy fats, and carbs. Eating balanced meals will keep you full longer.
  • Cook healthy snacks: We have several recipes here and on instagram. And if you need some easy, healthy ideas, refer back to our blog post from last August
rice cake with pesto and pepitas
  • Reflect on why: Are you eating to make a problem go away (that won’t work), out of boredom, sadness, loneliness, etc.? Sometimes this reflection will help you resist, but if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Sometimes having that awareness will help you next time.
  • Self-compassion: It’s easy to have a lot of negative self-talk when we eat from the pantry for the 3rd time. But, that negative talk actually releases dopamine which perpetuates the cycle. Instead try self-compassion. Here’s how that might play out: Mindfulness: “I’m so anxious being cooped up in my house right now. And those chips are really calling my name…”Common humanity: “That’s okay. Plenty of people have a hard time saying  ‘no’ to chips.” Self-kindness: “Take a deep breath. Whether or not I choose to eat right now, it’s going to be okay.” Or, if you already ate more than you wanted to, it might look like this: Mindfulness: “I feel guilty for eating a half bag of chips.” Common humanity: ” I’m not alone. A lot of people are struggling with the WFH & snacking issue.” Self-kindness: “Move on. So you ate too many chips. It happens and it’s not a reflection of who you are as a person. I will try to do better next time.”

Is there a magic bullet? Nope. And what works for one person may not work for you. Try out some of the different strategies in this blog and see if any of them help you (and let us know!). And, don’t forget the apples the next time you go to the store!

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