Many of us struggle to avoid snacking on foods we know we shouldn’t have too often, and for many it is harder over the holiday period. By getting a bit of insight into your cravings and habits, and having a strategic action plan ahead of time to help manage them, you can help to reduce the negative impact on your health.
Below are some strategies that might help to reduce excessive snacking or help you overcome bad habits.
Control your environment
Make it easier for yourself to avoid overeating the wrong kinds of foods by avoiding having them around you. Just because it’s Christmas, do you really need to have three extra packets of biscuits in the cupboard? Relying only on willpower
is hard, and no matter how much willpower you have, you’ll eventually reach for the easy/most appealing food options, especially when you’re tired/stressed/bored. If you share your home with others, perhaps you could ask them to keep their treats out of your sight. Make sure there are plenty of healthier options to choose from.
Work out your triggers
Cravings for food and drinks happen when we encounter specific environmental cues such as a specific location, sight or company. For example, is sitting down in front of the TV after dinner your trigger for suddenly feeling like chocolate? Or does driving past the convenience store suddenly make you think you fancy a pie?
When you’ve identified a trigger, have a plan in place for an alternative action when you encounter that trigger. For example, when you sit down in front of the TV, plan to bring out that healthier snack platter you prepared earlier.
If you notice an urge to snack, try to wait for five minutes before you act on it. This isn’t about exercising willpower, but about pausing just long enough to allow you to evaluate all your options, and make a rational decision, rather than a reactionary one. It puts you in charge.
You might still decide to have the snack, but at least you are mindful of it.
Work out your motivation
Are you actually hungry? Or are you bored/stressed/procrastinating? Does a healthy food meal seem appealing, or is it just the chips/chocolate that you know are in the cupboard?
When you feel a craving for a snack, choose an enjoyable alternative activity that doesn’t involve eating. As cravings are often psychological rather than physical, the feelings don’t usually last longer than about 20 minutes. If you’re not really hungry, the craving may dissipate if you keep yourself occupied.
Eat the right foods during the day
If you try to avoid eating at meals to keep your calorie intake down, by the time the snacks come out you’ll be hungry, and then they really look appealing! Fill yourself up at meals with lots of high fibre, low calorie-density foods, and good quality proteins, and you’ll find it much easier to say no (or just have one!).
Satisfy your craving with a healthier substitute
Delicious food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. By making your favourite foods with healthier ingredients, you can really reduce the negative impact on your health and waistline. Think whole, real foods rather than processed: like sweet fruits instead of sugar, nut butters and avocados instead of butter, whole grains instead of refined. It doesn’t mean you don’t need to be conscious of your portions with these foods, but at least you know they come with a big dose of goodness too. Why not try out the chocolate mousse recipe in this newsletter?
Be kind to yourself
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for eating. If you overdo it, it doesn’t mean you’re bad, it just means you’re human. And it’s the holidays!
Pro Nutrition SA Catrin Daly, Dietitian