Quite a lot of us have become snackers particularly during the pandemic working from home period. Many developed a habit of eating between meals.
Increasingly, it’s looking as if when we eat is just as important as what we eat, as intermittent fasting diets soar in popularity, and studies show that grazing is harmful for our waistlines, attention spans and teeth.
So does snacking make us more prone to disordered eating schedules? Or can it actually help by ensuring we never become so hungry that we overeat?
The answer depends on several factors: why we snack, what we eat, and how and when we do so.
Succumbing to temptation
Almost everyone snacks, but often not because of hunger. Cues are one of the most powerful reasons we feel a sudden urge to eat. Supermarkets position tempting snacks at the checkout. Seeing someone enjoying a food you love is another trigger.
Snacking can also be a form of avoidance: we tell ourselves we need energy, when really we want to delay starting an unpleasant or challenging task.
We may also mistake thirst for hunger. This is easily done because symptoms of mild dehydration – headache, fatigue, distractibility – resemble signs of hunger.
So it can be helpful to learn to recognise the reasons you’re craving food, and distinguish emotional signals from true hunger. Here’s how to manage your snacking habit.
If you feel a sudden urge for a snack, stop. Consider whether your desire was triggered from within or without. Try waiting 20 minutes and if you still feel hungry, have something healthy.
Learn to distinguish sensations of hunger from thirst. Try drinking a glass of water. If you still feel unsatisfied, a wholesome snack is a good idea.
Whenever you eat, focus on the food instead of eating while multi-tasking. Jean Kristeller at Indiana State University and colleagues at Duke found mindful eating – focusing fully on the taste, scent and satisfaction of the foods – not only increased enjoyment, but made it easier to control food intake.
Choose wholesome foods, such as fresh fruit, nuts, or plain yogurt and make sure they’re readily available in place of sugary snacks. Even better, follow Berkeley professor Michael Pollan’s suggestion: don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food, or anything with more than five ingredients.
Snack earlier in the day. Daniela Jakubowicz at Tel Aviv University found that overweight women who ate most of their calories early in the day lost more weight than those who ate later.
If you have children, encourage a habit of three regular, balanced meals a day and don’t offer sugary foods as a "reward" for eating savoury dishes or for good behaviour. If they tell you they’re hungry, offer them options that are wholesome and healthy.