At one of my consulting jobs it struck me that one of my co-workers is constantly eating. I have no problem with people eating on the job, sometimes you just need to have lunch at your desk because you do not have a designated break. In the afternoon when your blood sugar drops a bit, sometimes a snack helps perk you up. This is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the person who is constantly chewing.
I decided to do a search of research on snacking behavior as well as emotional eating. I found out that research into snacking has been going on for years. The questions still remain: How do we define a “snack”? Is snacking helpful to promote a better diet? Does snacking affect our weight? and on and on….in other words, we really do not have any conclusive answers because snacking, believe it or not, is complicated. I thought snacking was a good topic to write about because so many of us do it and wonder if it is a good idea or not.
If you are a someone who snacks, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- what are you snacking on?
- how often are you snacking? are you a constant nibbler or do you have just one snack in between your three meals a day?
- are you skipping meals and only snacking?
- where are you eating your snacks?
- what are you feeling when you are snacking? or NOT feeling?
- who are you with? or are you alone?
- what are you doing when you are snacking?
- how hungry are you when you are snacking?
- how do you feel after your snack?
Being an intuitive eater, listening to, and taking care of your body may take some work for those who have been dieting. It is really important to NOT be judgmental as you are working on being the healthiest you can be and instead, just allowing yourself to reflect on your behaviors. Snacking is just one of those behaviors that for some take no thinking at all. For others who have not found peace yet with eating or their weight, it is important to not judge but just reflect and try to understand your habits so that you can make decisions that make you happy and feel good. So, when it comes to snacking, this sometimes can take some work and some experimentation, and this is okay.
When I see that person in my office who is constantly chewing, it reminds me of when I used to smoke cigarettes. Way back in college, I remember clearly the way having a cigarette filled in some kind of space that I did not know how to fill. It was hard for some reason, to just do nothing. I remember clearly after I quit smoking that I had to learn to just sit there. Now of course, I love just sitting and thinking (not a lot of time anymore!). But back then, it was a skill I needed to learn. For some people, munching on something serves the same purpose: filling in space that they do not know how to deal with. Maybe it is boredom. Maybe it is avoiding having to think about something else, something that is not fun to think about. Emotional eating, very common and very normal on occasion, however when it is a daily, 24 hour behavior then there may be unhealthy consequences. Some people are happy and content with nibbling constantly while others are upset at themselves. If you find yourself unable to stop nibbling and you are not happy about it, then seeking help is important. If, on the other hand, you are happy and healthy, and are fine with your nibbling, then whatever works for you is what matters.
So does this mean we should not snack? Does it mean we need to only eat “healthy” snacks? Not at all. Everyone is different, but we all have certain nutritional needs, as well as foods we love and do not like. To be healthy and happy, personally, I do not know how anyone can last from lunch until dinner without a snack. But that may not be you. Some people love having a large lunch and really do not get hungry until dinner time. Other people can’t eat a large lunch and so have that drop in the afternoon and feel better after a snack. A snack may sometimes be “healthy” and contribute to your daily nutritional needs (like a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese). Some studies actually found that people who have snacks do have better nutrition.
But then again, sometimes you may want to have one of those brownies someone brought in with a cup of tea. Does that matter? Not at all. The question is, how do you feel? If you are a dieter or someone who confines themselves to only “good” food, then eating a brownie instead of the yogurt and fruit can play head games on you. You may feel as if you have broken out of your “diet jail” and then go on to overeat the rest of the day (what some researchers refer to as the “what the hell” effect). Or, you may restrict at your next meal because you feel guilty. Both behaviors are not a healthy response. The reality check is that eating a brownie instead of your usual yogurt and fruit is likely the same amount of calories, maybe less protein and unlikely to hold you as long, but no huge effect at all on your weight or your health. As long as you are eating balanced meals most of the time, your choice does not matter that much. The question is how you feel. Satisfied? Happy? Listen to your body. Of course, if you are on a special diet because of some medical condition, that is a different story. Talk to your dietitian about how to fit in foods you love.
Besides hunger, or emotional eating to fill in the time, why else would you grab a snack? Sometimes, it is simply an environmental trigger. Maybe that person in my office has been snacking at her desk for so long, she just needs to sit down and see her computer, and it triggers her to munch. It may not be emotional eating or boredom eating at all. It may simply be a habit. If you find yourself grabbing the same kind of food (or drink) in the same place day after day, it could simply be habit. How do you break it? Substituting a different habit, one that is healthier, such as having a bottle of seltzer or water, or herbal tea instead of the usual snack food that you really are not hungry for. Or getting up for a walk around the office to stretch. Or not keeping the snack foods at your desk and putting them in the break room or kitchen so that when you actually truly are hungry, you go get it. This is not about restricting, but all about listening to your body and hunger and taking care of it. Mindless munching is not intuitive eating.
- take time to pay attention to your habits
- take time to plan your meals and your snacks
- take time to enjoy your snacks…..catch yourself mindless munching
- create a healthy environment-have snacks that are healthy and that you also enjoy available
- allow yourself to enjoy any snack you truly want as long as you listen to your fullness and feel satisfied, not stuffed and regretful-remember, when you constantly restrict yourself, food becomes more important, so instead, if you are hungry for a snack, have one, the one you really want
OK, time for some popcorn………….