This is part 2 in our 3 part series on managing hunger, snacking, and cravings.
So much of weight loss advice repeats, ‘have a small snack anytime you get hungry’; ‘don’t let the hunger get too intense such that you overeat at the next meal.’
But I’d argue, we’ve starting snacking too much–we’ve become a culture of constant snackers. Not only does snacking this much mean excess calories (and weight), it also begins to hamper digestion, blood sugar regulation, and the body’s immune-inflammatory response. Let me explain briefly.
Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) teaches that digestion should be fully completed in the stomach and true feelings of hunger with a slight empty sensation should be experienced before eating again (allowing approximately 4-5 hours between eating). According to Ayurveda, failure to follow this eventually leads to sluggish digestion and a buildup of toxins.
From a Western biomedical perspective, snacking constantly means frequently elevating blood sugar and insulin, oftentimes even before the cells have had a chance to process and store the excess sugar. Overtime this can impair insulin regulation. Every time you eat, you immune system is activated and depending on who is consuming what, that might also trigger an inflammatory response. Therefore eating frequently means the immune system and inflammatory response never get a chance to back off, rest, repair itself, and defend other parts of the body.
These are the main reasons why I go against conventional advice and encourage people to avoid snacking, particularly if not totally driven by hunger. Not to mention conventional advice fails to acknowledge there are many triggers for a snack attack that are not hunger related.
Solutions for Every Type of Snack Craving
It’s easy to want to reach for a snack when you’re bored. It gives you something to do, raises pleasure hormones in your brain, and is enjoyable. But boredom is not a real reason to snack. This is the time to find a distraction–do a few squats or push-ups, call a friend you haven’t caught up with in a longtime, play with your kids or dog, pickup a novel that’s been lying around, or take out your hobby that you’ve been meaning to work on. There are plenty of things to keep your mind and hands occupied and out of the cookie jar.
Of all of the snack triggers, this may be the hardest to resist. Someone brings into the office amazing homemade cookies or a box of your favorite chocolate is stashed in the cupboard–the temptation is lurking in the back of your mind and in the next room. Because this one can be so challenging, you need a plan established beforehand. Perhaps you can save yourself 1 cookie for after lunch, or always have gum nearby to chew to keep your mouth occupied and distracted enough while you go back to work. As for the chocolate or other temptations at home, consider not keeping them in the house–don’t buy them in the first place; if they’re given to you as a gift, share them with friends and coworkers; donate to a local homeless shelter any temptations leftover from a party.
Especially with sweets, but this is true for any temptation (including bar snacks and happy hour appetizers you’re not really hungry for), set guidelines for how much you’re going to indulge in in any week. Then anytime the situation arises, consider calorie budget for the week and how truly hungry you are, and make sure you have an escape route from the temptation; this is not the time to rely on willpower.
Very closely related to boredom is loneliness or a feeling of emptiness. When you’re feeling alone, vulnerable, or perhaps a deep, vague feeling of emptiness and unworthiness, stuffing those feelings with food seems like the fastest, easiest, most pleasurable way to bury those feelings.
First, know that you are not alone as this type of emotional eating is very common and though it can be incredibly challenging to overcome, it is possible to breakthrough to the other side. Consider meditating on your infinite connection to the universe, journaling your feelings, calling a friend up for a supportive chat (or better yet, a walk and chat), hugging your partner, kid, or dog, getting out in nature, taking a nap, or doing something that makes you happy (living room dance party?). Even if you can only stop the must-snack-now thought pattern for a few minutes, it can help you get some clarity on why you’re wanting to snack and what you’re actually feeling. The more times you pause before snacking, and the longer you can wait, will help you develop a new habit of doing something else until the lonely, emotional eating feelings go away, and eventually one day perhaps you realize it’s not an issue for you anymore.
All too often, we mistake thirst as hunger and immediately reach for food to satisfy. Instead, drink a big glass of water and wait 10 minutes. In fact, because this is such an easy fix, you can do it anytime a snack attack hits. If your body was thirsty or merely in need of a distraction, a glass of water can oftentimes do the trick. Switching it up with sparkling water can add interest and make the water seem more filling, too.
‘Am I really hungry? Could I be hungry just an hour after such a large meal? Maybe it’s just a hint of hunger, and it’ll go away.’ When you’re not sure if you’re really hungry, drinks and time are 2 surefire ways to know for sure. Hot tea, especially a blend like Belight Tea with hunger-mitigating herbs, can help suppress the niggling feelings of hunger. Hot beverages suppress appetite more than cold ones because they raise body temperature. Consuming liquids also addresses the thirst question.
The other way to find out if you’re really hungry is by waiting it out. Don’t focus on it, but do something else and then check back in with yourself whenever you remember (at least 20-30 minutes later) and see if there’s any feelings of hunger. If so, perhaps it’s time for a snack, or to postpone it a little more with a cup of tea–you decide.
These are just a few ideas to help you overcome a snack attack, no matter if you’re doing it for weight loss or other health reasons. This isn’t to say you can never have a snack again, but rather to encourage you to be mindful of why you’re inclined to snack, whether you’re truly hungry, and what will best serve your body in that moment. Sometimes all you need is a hug or a glass of water.