You’re sitting at your desk, you feel the tug of the fridge. You sit down with the kids, that open packet of chips is calling you. No matter where you confine yourself in your house these days the food sitting in your kitchen is a tempting distraction for the monotony of isolation.
When we’re out running errands or at the office it is easy to forget about meals until our hunger pangs or scheduled break remind us to eat. Now that we are stuck at home most of us are realising that without the regular structured routine our boredom/stress/non-hungry eating is becoming rampant.
As a dietitian who has been working closely with singles, couples, and family through this last year that was COVID, I am all too familiar with the common complaints of COVID weight gain, usually from the continual grazing during the day.
It might be several crackers here, a slice of cheese there, maybe just a snack size chocolate, but day in day out over several months, this will start to add on the kilos. When you total all the little bits eaten across the day it can equate to a whole calorie blow out on top of your regular meals.
Then we must think about our appetite hormones, sleep rhythms, and mental health as well. Continual grazing can impact this as well. If there is no end to a meal or snack session your body won’t know what it’s meant to be doing. Should you be hungry? Should you be awake or sleepy? Should you be burning energy or storing fat? There are metabolic and hormonal changes that occur with undefined mealtimes which will have an impact on our health and wellbeing.
Tips to help break the grazing habit while we are stuck at home
1. Routine, Routine, Routine
If you were going to make one dietary change during lock down, it should be establishing a regular routine of eating times. This helps structure our endless days at home and promotes your body to get into rhythm to help you feel when you are truly hungry vs just bored and non-hungry grazing.
2. Break up meals and snack times
Aim to have a two-hour break between each snack or meal. This will give your digestive system enough time to empty your stomach, which helps to bring down insulin levels. Allowing insulin levels to drop back down before the start of your next meal will help your appetite hormones stay in sync with your day and reduce the likelihood of non-hungry eating. In addition to this, letting insulin levels drop back down will also help reduce weight gain.
3. Stock up on nutrient dense nibbles
So you’ve decided to open the fridge or cupboard to satisfy the your peckish itch, lets put in something that will nourish your body and not lead to the ‘oh what the hell’ spiral of regret. If you plan ahead and have quick options on hand that don’t cause as much damage as the chocolate coated nuts you will be better off in the long run. Stock up on high fibre snacks to help keep you full, these can include unsalted whole nuts, wholegrain crackers, veggie sticks and hummus, air popped popcorn, whole fruit etc.
4. Portion size it out
To prevent the endless graze, avoid taking the whole packet with you! Get a small bowl and serve up a small amount. The effort of having to go back into the kitchen to get more will reduce the likelihood of a blow out grazing session. Another way to achieve this is by buying foods that already come portioned out, such as a snack size packet of chips, individual serve of crackers and cheese, or a small tub of yoghurt.
5. Deflect the grazing mentality
Check in with your stomach. Is it hungry, or satisfied from your last meal/snack? If you’re not feeling physically hungry and it is boredom/emotion driving you to the fridge, take a moment to pause and think about a different activity that could put off this feeling to eat. It might be as simple as making a herbal tea or drinking a glass of water, taking a walk out in fresh air, hanging with the pets, listening to some music… etc. When you first start deflecting non-hungry eating it can take a lot of mental energy to redirect, but with continued practice over the weeks it can become more second nature.