How to Beat a Snack Attack
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
The last seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in massive changes to our home and work routines. Stress, uncertainty, and long periods stuck at home may have you snacking or grazing more throughout the day. If so, you aren’t alone. Research shows that snack food consumption has increased during the pandemic as people seek comfort and enjoyment through savory and sweet snacks. Has a trip to the kitchen and searching the fridge and pantry become your most readily available form of entertainment? Most of us turn to snack foods during challenging times. Indulging in snacks may feel like a good – and well-earned – way to cope. But this new eating pattern can lead to unwanted pounds, and that has long-term negative consequences on your health, your waistline, and your risk of chronic diseases.
The pandemic has exposed how important nutrition is for the body, especially when it comes to the immune system. Ultra-processed, salt and sugar-laden snacks are harmful to our immune systems. But there are plenty of snack options that have immunity supporting ingredients, protein, and vitamins.
Truly being hungry is a good reason to snack, but is it the reason why you are snacking? It is a good idea to get into the habit of asking yourself why you are snacking before reaching for the pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the chips and guacamole.
Are you really just thirsty?
It's common to confuse thirst for hunger, and if you're trying to lose weight or improve your health, it's important to know the difference. Confusing these two powerful cravings may cause you to consume more calories than you need. Many of us experience similar signs of hunger and thirst – headache, fatigue, irritability, sluggishness, and difficulty concentrating. So, test it out. Instead of immediately reaching for a snack whenever you think you may be hungry, try drinking a glass of water first and waiting 10-15 minutes. If this satisfies you, you were just thirsty. If your stomach is now grumbling, you’re probably hungry, and should grab something healthy and satisfying.
Are you feeling stress?
Stress-eating is a real thing and stress drives us not only to eat more, but to eat less nutritious comfort foods full of fat and/or sugar. Stress is understandably higher now for most of us during COVID-19 as we wonder about an uncertain future and worry about job security and the health of ourselves and our family and friends. When our bodies experience stress, it increases the levels of cortisol in our blood. When cortisol levels rise, it can cause inflammation, disrupt sleep, and spur the body to seek out food it doesn’t really need. While stress might be an inevitable part of life right now, stress eating and weight gain doesn’t have to be. Changing our response to stress and adopting strategies to reduce it can keep us out of the pantry and away from those ultra-processed snack foods.
Are you bored?
Boredom may be another reason for our increased snacking during the Covid pandemic as we are unable to do all the things we used to do. Stuck at home, we can easily snack all day purely because we can’t find anything better to do. And if we are working from home and need a break, what else are we going to do than make a trip to the kitchen? Many of us have turned to baking for entertainment, and then of course we must eat the brownies and cookies we just made! Finally, eating can trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, and instead of feeling bored, we start to feel good. Whatever the reason, eating due to boredom is our way of finding something to provide fulfillment and entertainment.
These simple tricks can help keep your snacking in check and help you feel better all over:
Take a minute to ask why – On your way to the refrigerator or pantry, ask yourself why you are looking for a snack. Be curious about what’s going on in your mind and body. Adding awareness will help you to break the habit of unhealthy snacking.
Drink more water – Pour yourself a tall glass of water and add a slice of lemon. Make sure you aren’t snacking because you are confusing hunger with thirst. Consider flavored carbonated water or iced herbal tea for an alternative to plain water.
Replace your unhealthy snack with something nutritious – Craving something sweet? Grab a handful of blueberries. Want something crunchy? Try cucumbers, carrots, or jicama. Need something comforting? Make some oven roasted sweet potato fries. Here are some other nutritious snack options: apples & nut butter, roasted spiced chickpeas, hummus and vegetables, air popped popcorn, a small handful of almonds or walnuts.
Be prepared – In order to replace your unhealthy snack with something nutritious (#3), being prepared is key! Keep fresh fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator. Always have washed, peeled, and sliced vegetables in containers ready to grab.
Get outside – Fresh air, sunshine, and a little dose of nature can relieve stress and getting outside offers a safe activity during the pandemic.
Walk it off – Walking is a great way to reduce stress and alleviate boredom. Even if you only have a few minutes, taking a quick stroll around your block, listening to some music, chatting with a friend, or noticing the sounds in your neighborhood, can reduce your cortisol levels and decrease boredom. Consider joining my Walk 30 for 30 Challenge!
Meditate – Take a few minutes to clear your mind, breathe deeply, and focus on the present moment. Mindfulness meditation can significantly lower cortisol levels and halt your desire for an unhealthy snack.
Make unhealthy snacks harder to get – Of course, the best option would be to not have any unhealthy snacks in your home in the first place. However, if you live with others who keep snacks around, put them in a place where they are harder to get to. Try putting the chips on the back of a high shelf in your pantry. Don’t keep the cookies in a cookie jar on your counter. Instead, tuck them behind other things in a cabinet. Keep the ice cream in an extra freezer in the basement and uninstall the food delivery apps from your phone. If you have to get the step stool, dig behind boxes of pasta and jars of sauce, walk down to the basement, or install an app on your phone before you can snack on tortilla chips, chocolate covered pretzels, and pizza, you are less likely to do it.
Declutter - Re-arrange a closet or clean out a junk drawer. After 10 minutes, you’ll have burned some calories instead of consuming them and you’ll have an organized space to boot.
Dance - Why not, no one is watching?! Not only does dancing burn calories but it releases endorphins which reduce stress and cause us to feel calm, happy and optimistic.
Do a jigsaw puzzle - Jigsaw puzzles rose in popularity at the start of the pandemic. Puzzles are a great way to reduce stress and boredom, because they are challenging and require concentration. Immerse yourself in the intricacy of a puzzle, forget about everything else, and re-discovered the joy of piecing together jigsaw puzzles.
Make something – Keep yourself busy instead of sitting on the couch with a bag of chips. Arts and crafts projects and adult coloring books are a productive way to occupy yourself with something creative instead of something unhealthy. You could also do some meal preparation for your dinner or tomorrow’s lunch. Make a container full of cut vegetables such as carrots, celery and colorful peppers ready for snacking when the urge hits.
Connect - Play with your pets, text a friend, or call a family member. Both you and they will be happier from it!
Still feeling stuck and need some support and accountability to lose the pounds you put on during the pandemic? Have you repeatedly tried to break your sugar habit or to stop indulging in unhealthy snacks, but can’t seem to stick to it? Even when we “know” what to do to eat healthy, follow-through can be so tough! We have great intentions, big plans, and solid goals…but are still caught in old patterns. That’s where I can help. As your health coach, I offer the help you need to make lasting changes that get you where you want to be. Contact me today!