Personally I think it perfectly impractical to assume that any of us can survive through lockdown without sufficient snacks, myself heavily included. Despite being a Nutritional Therapist I do not possess the superhuman powers of self-restraint around food, but I do, however, possess the ability (as I’m sure many of you do) to make better informed choices.
I think it would be wrong, at a time like this, to write about how we should all be smashing our health goals, eating a zero carb diet and working out like mad. Life at the moment is worrying, stress levels are high and most of us are sleeping poorly too - we simply don’t need to be adding an extra layer of pressure onto ourselves that dictates that we come out of this as “the best version of ourselves,” whatever that means.
But I get it, food is a great distraction, it lifts us up, makes us excited (the thought of a cake baking in the oven), and, dare I say it, staves off boredom. So if you feel like you’re lost in a quagmire of zero self control right now then it’s time we reframed that state of mind whilst giving you some practical snacking solutions!
Snacking and mental health
If you’re feeling anxious and low at the moment then the constant snacking is probably the result of a physiological process - not your own lack of self control. I want to start with this point because I think it’s important: if we can understand why we’re snacking and overeating then it’s going to be easier to stop. With the external world being rather unsettling at the moment, to say the least, it’s incredibly easy to feel despondent, sad and anxious. On a physiological level our brains will search for a dopamine and serotonin boost when we feel this way, to pep us back up and lift our spirits. Food, especially when it’s carbohydrate rich, is the easiest way to come by said serotonin boost, so your brain will send out signals to make you crave certain foods - sugar, mainly.
So no, you’re not weaker mentally than others, you’re just normal. But there are other ways you can get a dopamine hit and serotonin boost that don’t involve food. Next time you feel the urge to snack on something sugar rich and carb heavy (and you know you’re not actually hungry) try one of these:
Jump into a cold shower or bath (even better if you have an outdoor space, you can grab yourself a child’s paddling pool and do your cold therapy immersed in nature, a double win!) Cold water immersion has been scientifically shown to increase plasma concentrations of dopamine by 250%, and I can attest to this personally that there is no better feeling than taking a chilly dip! It’s an instant energy and mood booster.
Get moving. Not only does exercise suppress appetite, it also releases feel good chemicals called endorphins - the ‘runners high.’ If you’ve already done your once daily trip outdoors then I can highly recommend dancing around the living room to your favourite tunes, anything to get your heart rate up and put a smile on your face. Also, I always find exercise to be the best motivation for not overindulging. If you’ve just completed a 5k run and a mini circuit with some light weights (for example), it’s usually easier to feel like you don’t actually want to go and ruin your well-earned exercise energy boost with a huge sugar rush that will have you crashing an hour later, and, negating the calorie burning effects of your workout.
Why not order yourself a Presscription Juice Cleanse to pop in the fridge fro when you feel the urge to snack come on? That way you can dose yourself up with healthy vitamins and minerals and boost your overall health whilst still satisfying a craving!
Reinvent the snack
As I said before, now is simply not the time for self hatred and denial. We’re all living in a state of constant stress and our adrenal glands are likely a little tired, having to work around the clock to keep our hormonal balance in check. For most of us though, cortisol and adrenaline are still winning out and we feel wired and tired. So rather than adding to the stress on our bodies with a constant internal dialogue of “no you can’t eat that, you’ll get fat,” let’s just change what you’re consuming. Can you swap the chocolate biscuits to hummus and carrot sticks? Can you ditch the desert after supper in favour of a piece of fruit or a herbal tea?
Ultimately, my goal with all my patients at the moment is to get them feeling happy, confident and in control of their health. We know that the health of the host is our best protection against a viral infection, so really it makes no sense to fill up on sugary snacks (sugar is terrible for the immune system anyway) when you could be making decisions around food that will protect your health.
It's okay to snack, just make sensible choices when you do and try and aim for foods that will boost your mood and provide you with a dense source of nutrients. Overeating for the sake of it is unhelpful but it's certainly worth sitting with the feeling of "I need to eat something" for 10 minutes or so before you actually do, that way you can think rationally and decide whether you're actually hungry or just in need of a mood boosting pick-me-up.
Some of my favourite healthy snacks are:
(1) Apples. Apples are wonderful for your gut health, where 70% of our immune system resides. They break down to yield butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid that’s crucial for maintaining a healthy microbiome.
(1) Hummus and oat cakes. A little more carbohydrate in your life right now is no bad thing, as it will support your adrenal glands.
(3) A cold pressed green juice. Nutrient dense and packed with vitality, sometimes we mistake hunger pangs for a lack of hydration. So get the liquids in before you open the cupboard door.
(4) A teaspoon of almond butter. It’s very easy to overdo it on the nut butters, keep in mind that a tablespoon of almond butter is approximately 6 almonds, that’s plenty!
(5) Dark chocolate, above 80% cacao solids. You can be fairly sure that any chocolate that’s 80% or more will be low in sugar, and also contain more of the calming magnesium from cacao (rather than sugar and milk solids as found in milk chocolate). Don’t overdo it as it’s relatively high in caffeine, but it’s a great option for when you need that chocolate hit!
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