These days it is common to find yourself mindlessly wandering into the kitchen between meetings or during the afternoon to have a between-meal snack. It is human nature at times to feel the need to distract, or feel the need to procrastinate, when things are busy and stressful. A question we are often asked as nutrition professionals is how to combat this effectively? Here I will provide some insight into this time and how to approach it more effectively.
The first recognition I would make is that there are two generals, contributing factors to ‘hunger’ – one which is physiological and the other emotional or psychological. Sure, we can dive deep into conversations about this but for now we will keep it simple. The second I would make is to recognize that without proper management of physical hunger, it will feel much more difficult (if not near impossible) to manage the rest.
What do I mean by this?
Imagine yourself standing in front of an unlimited supply of your favorite snack foods – maybe it is trail mix, perhaps it is chips or cookies, you get the idea. Now imagine it had been 8 hours since you had last eaten. As you probably guessed, it would be very hard in this scenario to eat in a mindful way. (To be honest, most of us do not have to try hard to imagine a scenario like this. If we let our busy schedules get the best of us it is easy to go a whole workday without eating. We can be so invested in our work and so distracted by it that it can be hard for our body’s hunger signals to get heard effectively).
Then imagine you had just finished a full meal, and you are once again faced with an unlimited supply of your favorite snack food. How does this feel? It can be quite different from the first instance. Sometimes we notice that we do not want any of that snack at all. Here we see the power of our hunger, and how it can be a catalyst for us to eat or overeat when presented with the opportunity to do so.
So now what?
If you are new to nutrition or are trying to become more attuned to your physical and emotional hunger cues, you may want to experiment with meal timing. A great place to start is set a meal and snack schedule which allows you to eat every 3 hours. Ex: breakfast at 7, snack at 10, lunch at 1, snack at 4 and dinner at 7. Give yourself some time to play with this and adjust it based off your findings. Some people find that they do well with 4 hours between eating and can therefore effectively schedule just one larger snack during the day.
Take special note of the 3-4pm time-frame: for many this is a time when hunger hormones are highest, and when stress is peaking. Plan a snack around here to curb the hunger from escalating too high before dinner.
The second thing to play with is hydration. It is true that we can often exacerbate our desire to eat when we are thirsty. A general guide is 64 ounces per day or more, depending on things such as body size and sweat losses. Watch your urine color throughout the day and target a pale-yellow color (darker can indicate dehydration).
The last thing to do when starting to address the snacking habit is to bring some awareness to our environments and routines. Is there a room you commonly eat in when stressed out? Is there an emotion or sensation in your body you notice when the urge to snack is high? Is there a place in your house where you stash the foods you crave? Changing up where you keep food, where you consume it and when can help you take pause in your habits and bring more insight to them. Often this awareness serves as a foundation to changing our habits over time.
By Erika DeRooy, PRO Medical Dietitian Services Manager and Registered Dietitian
PRO Medical’s Registered Dietitians provide personalized meal plans and education to support you in making realistic lifestyle changes and in achieving your individual goals. We have experts in a variety of areas and provide support for adults, pediatrics and families.
Check out more tips and tricks from our Registered Dietitians here.