If your usual eating habits have been a little off this year, you’re not alone. Since the beginning of the pandemic, reaching for stress-comforting snacks has happened to all of us when hunger strikes.
But if your pandemic anxiety-driven hunger has morphed into a “hangry” hunger related to anger or frustration, your waistline may suffer. Hangry hunger is how many people describe their need to snack or “graze” consistently during the day. A bite here, a bite there used to soothe emotions, is not a good solution for dealing with negative feelings.
Unfortunately, constant, steady snacking throughout the day is not a friend to maintaining or attempting weight loss, pandemic or not. On the one hand, snacks can be a good mini-meal and a quick, pick-me-up energizer 1-2 times during the day. But when it is happening more frequently, then it becomes a problem. Snacking mindlessly on foods whether you’re hungry or hangry is a common reason why people gain or struggle with losing weight. Every little bite adds up and all those extra calories show up on your hips, thighs, abdomen and other areas you’d rather they not appear.
Excessive weight gain is a major contributor to many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension. By becoming more mindful of what and how often you snack, this can significantly help curb excess calories and weight gain.
How to control snacking
- Write down every snack you eat
Keep a snacking log noting the portion size eaten and calories. Look up calories using calorie counter websites and apps – here are some to choose from: MyFitnessPal, Fat Secret, and Sparkpeople. Research has shown people who write down what they eat have more success at losing and maintaining weight.
- Record what triggers your snacking
You’d be surprised at what can be causing you to be a steady snacker. It can range from the following:
- Emotions – boredom, stress, sadness, happiness, frustration, tiredness, comfort
- Availability – the food was there so you ate it
- Craving – you know how good a food tastes
- Activity – Certain activities making you want to snack such as watching TV
- Analyze your snack log each week
After a week of recording your snacks, analyze it for the following:
- How many times you snack each day
- What types of snacks you are choosing
- What is the typical portion size
- How many calories is just the snacks by themselves, not counting meals, adding up to
- Triggers for your snacking
It can be an eye-opener realizing triggers for your snacking habit and snacks you’re choosing to steadily munch on each day and how it sabotages achieving a healthy weight. Now it’s time to have a game plan in mind. Here are goals to work on steering you away from steady snacking to more reasonable snacking:
- Preplan snacks – when to have them and what to eat
If you want to gain control over mindless snacking, actually scheduling in what time of day to have a snack can keep you focused on sticking to your plan.
- Never eat snacks directly out of the package – place them in a bowl or plate
- Enjoy snacks seated at a table
- Choose sugar-free gum instead of candy from a candy dish
- Have healthy snack foods available in the house
- Keep snack calories between 100-200 calories
- Choose snack foods with less than 3 grams of fat and with at least 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein
Other goals to work on gaining control of out-of-control snacking are:
- Limit TV viewing to less than 2 hours a day
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night
- Choose activities that reduce stress. Try deep breathing, going for a walk, reading a book, doing yoga or pilates, or listening to music
- When hunger cravings are calling, drink water. Drinking water may reduce cravings and appetite as well as help with weight loss.
- Distance from the food craving. For example, take a brisk walk or a shower to shift your mind onto something else. A change in thought and environment may help stop the craving.
- Chewing gum can help reduce appetite and cravings
- Avoid getting extremely hungry by eating regular meals and having healthy snacks at hand
- Stress can induce food cravings – minimize stress by practicing deep breathing, meditating, exercise or taking a walk
- Do not go to the grocery store hungry. Prevent cravings from happening at the store by shopping only when you’ve recently eaten.