When a new report from Guy’s and St Thomas’ revealed snacking had recently increased by 40 per cent among young people, few were surprised.
Coping with the coronavirus pandemic is stressful, and being stuck at home means we’re surrounded by food all day long.
But why does the crisis make us snack more? And how can we make sure the food we eat between meals in future is good for us?
Nutritionist Jenna Hope says: “People snack more because of two reasons: Their environment and their situation. If you’re working in or close to the kitchen, food becomes much more accessible compared to when you’re in an office.
“And if your partner or housemate is constantly snacking, you will be more inclined to snack too.
“This is because part of the digestion process is looking at food and smelling it before it enters your mouth.
“So when some- one else is tucking in, it starts the digestion process in your brain.”
But the snacking spike is not just down to the fact we can go to our fridges and cupboards more often.
The uniquely stressful situation brought about by a global pandemic has a large role to play.
Jenna says: “When people are stressed they go for high sugar and fat snacks, which dampen down the release of the stress hormone cortisol. While you’re eating them, you don’t feel as stressed.”
Although some people can happily stick to eating three meals a day, lots of us are snackers who reach for the pizza.
But it’s not eating between meals that is the problem. It’s what we are choosing to eat.
Jenna says: “Snacking can help sustain energy levels and keep you motivated and focused. You’re working and using your brain so you will need energy, but it’s about picking the right snacks.”
Follow these tips to transform your snacking habits.
Create a routine
“As soon as we get into the habit of grazing throughout the day, that habit is set and we’re more likely to pick up food,” says Jenna.
“One snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon on top of regular meals should be enough.
“If you’re still hungry after that, take a look at your meals. Are you eating enough? And do your meals contain enough protein?”
Spot the triggers
Write down how you feel or what happens after you snack.
“See if there are specific triggers,” says Jenna. “Are you stressed, has someone sent an unkind email or have you just walked past the fridge to let the dog out?
“When you identify triggers and become more aware of your snacking behaviours, you can start to deal with them.”
If you fill your cupboards with crisps, chocolate and biscuits, that’s what you’ll eat. But if you keep only healthy options in your house, your willpower won’t be tested.
Jenna says: “A lot of people say they stock up on certain treats for their children or because their partner particularly likes them.
“But the truth is, no one in your house needs to be consuming high-sugar snacks regularly.
“If you want a bar of chocolate or a slice of cake every so often, that’s fine. Sit down and enjoy it. But eating it on a daily basis isn’t necessary for anyone.”
Check your hunger
“A lot of people jump up from meals and grab a sweet snack,” says Jenna.
“But they don’t allow themselves time to digest properly first. Do they really want it? Do they need it? More often then not it’s just a habit.
“Think about what you really need, in order to reduce mindless grazing and acknowledge your appetite will fluctuate so you will feel hungrier on some days.
“It’s OK to respond to hunger, just make sure you’re filling up with nutritious food rather than another biscuit.”
Eating sweet foods creates a blood sugar spike. Jenna says: “Then your blood sugar levels fall and you’re much more likely to crave sweet food again to get that energy boost.”
She suggests choosing snacks that combine protein with complex carbohydrates. “Complex carbs like oatcakes contain fibre, while Greek yoghurt is a good source of protein. They will keep you full, reduce cravings and stabilise your blood sugar.”
But don’t cut out carbs altogether. They help to produce serotonin, the happy hormone. And a bellyful of happiness is something we all need.
Visit jennahopenutrition.com for more snacking advice.