Ever polished off that bag of Doritos in front of the TV without even noticing? Then you may have engaged in mindless snacking. With so much information in the media around snacking it can be hard to know right from wrong.
I have decoded the science of snacking and how to manage those pesky cravings…
Do you need to snack?
We are all unique and requirements vary between individuals, therefore snacking may be beneficial for some yet unnecessary for others. If you go for long gaps between meals, your blood sugar levels can drop which can hinder concentration and leave you feeling irritable, tired and ‘hangry’. Snacking can, therefore, be beneficial to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable.
However when mindless snacking occurs, which can often happen when we’re under stress, bored or exposed to distractions such as watching TV, we may be consuming unnecessary calories, fat, sugar and salt.
Why do I have cravings?
Whilst hunger is our body’s natural reaction to needing nourishment, cravings, on the other hand, are specific for certain types of foods. Cravings tend to be psychological rather than physiological, for example, brain imaging studies have shown that foods such as sugar can induce euphoric feelings.
Interestingly any emotion, whether negative or positive could potentially trigger a craving. Social cues such as Christmas and birthdays where we are exposed to certain foods can drive our cravings, but so can personal cues such as nostalgia.
How can I satisfy both my cravings and snack in a more measured way?
It’s completely normal to have cravings! We are surrounded by food and we can’t always control our environment. Rather than fight them, try some of the tactics below:
- 1. Label your emotions
When a craving hits, notice how you feel. Label the emotion whether that’s boredom, anxiety or even stress. Once you’re aware of how you feel, engage in a positive distraction technique for 30 minutes where you are fully immersed in the moment. Not only will your distraction technique help to regulate your mood in a healthy way, some say that cravings will also disappear within this time frame.
- 2. Have three balanced meals per day
By having 3 healthy meals a day, you can reduce the risk of developing blood sugar imbalances. When our blood sugar drops, it can trigger us to crave ‘quick fix’ foods for an instant boost.
- 3. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep!!!
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Research has shown that we tend to consume 300-400 more calories when sleep deprived, and are 40% more likely to choose starchy, salty and sugary snacks. Put simply, when we’re tired our defences are down and we’re more likely to make unhealthy choices.
- 4. Buy small packs
The larger the pack the more we eat – it’s just a fact of life. If you have that craving but struggle with portion control, this can be the perfect way to satisfy your taste buds in moderation.
- 5. Eat mindfully
If you’ve ever polished off a whole bag of crisps in front of the TV without realising… then you have engaged in mindless comfort eating!
Mindful eating is one of the strongest tools to have in your box when it comes to snacking the healthy way. Mindful eating isn’t about restriction or cutting food groups, instead, it increases awareness overeating habits and can be key to managing hunger and fullness cues.
When we eat mindfully we tend to feel much more satisfied with what we are consuming, therefore we are less likely to overdo it when it comes to comfort food. Try eating slowly, chew thoroughly (15-30 times), eat without distractions such as the TV and savour the flavours.
Preparation is the key to success
If you have the right food to hand you’re more likely to make healthier choices when those sugar cravings hit. Whilst many of us have sugar cravings, we rarely indulge in consuming neat sugar off the spoon. Instead, we crave a combination of sugar with fat which provides the moreish effects.
If opting for a healthier sweet snack, choose a mix of sugar and fat for their satisfying properties – try apple (sugar) dipped in nut butter (fat), or a banana (sugar) with Greek yoghurt (fat). You could also swap your 3 pm cake or biscuit for PRESS London all-natural energy bars. Not only are they super tasty, but they are fibre and protein-rich which can help to keep hunger at bay.
Lily is a London Nutritionist who graduated from Newcastle University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Food and Human Nutrition (AfN accredited) where she was awarded the Sage Faculty for Excellence Scholarship on an annual basis. She then went on to complete a 2-year post graduate Diploma in Nutritional Therapy and is currently working towards her MSc in Nutritional Medicine (AfN accredited) at the University of Surrey. Lily’s extensive knowledge of the science of food and health, enables her to regularly write for The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan.
Her frequent TV appearances include ITV’s This Morning with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, and ITV’s primetime series Save Money: Lose Weight with Dr Ranj Singh. Lily’s passion is to simplify the science around nutrition, to provide health hacks and smarter eating strategies to empower people to enjoy a healthy and successful lifestyle. Her specialities lie in workplace wellness, implementing nutrition focused wellbeing programmes within corporate organisations across the UK.
Lily also sees individual clients from her clinic in Chelsea and a private medical practice based in Notting Hill.