When the pandemic hit last year and the sudden changes in the kind of life we started living, most people’s mental health was affected. Like everybody else, I was affected too. However, I found my solace in snacks. Tired? I snacked. Happy? I snacked. Sad? I snacked. Bored? I snacked. Have to deal with something? First snack. Snacking helped me cope with the loss, the helplessness, and to some extent, even the guilt. If anything, I became a habitual snacker.
I snacked all the time — before the meals, after the meals, along with the meals, in between the meals. In short, I had this craving of putting something in my mouth all the time. So I tried chewing gum and toffees for a couple of weeks to get over the constant itch. But, unfortunately, it didn’t help because I found myself snacking over them instead. Until December last year, I tried all possible ways to quit snacking. Every time I tried cutting myself off of snacks, I was terribly failing at it. I even stopped buying them or stocking them at home. That didn’t help either. I would eventually cave within ten days each time. Then, I would start binge snacking all over again.
The excess carbs and sugars in snacks had started to take a toll on my health. I had gained a lot of weight, and my skin was also affected. That’s when I knew I would need professional help. I booked an appointment with a nutritionist, who is also a close friend of mine. I confessed my shame to her. After listening to my rant patiently, she told me something that shocked me: there is nothing like giving up on snacks at one go. That never happens. That is why my brain was unable to let go of my craving.
It turns out, to give up on snacks, you do not stop eating snacks.
This ‘snack detox’ worked for me this time because, instead of fretting over what was causing the issue (snacks), I dwelled on why I was doing it (my boredom) and how could I get over it (not quitting them entirely). My snack detox, or smart snacking, as some people say, was an easy three-step process. So, let’s have a look at it one by one.
Week 1: I tried understanding WHY I was snacking
The reason why I became so dependent on snacks in the first place was my boredom. Because of my confinement at home and the social distancing, I became close friends with the snacks in my cupboard. Going to the local supermarket and hoarding snacks for the entire month bought me relief and, to some extent, even happiness. Midnight strolls towards the fridge and finding a bucket full of ice cream became the highlight of the day.
Snacking helped me cope with my emotions — especially at the start of the pandemic. I didn’t have to internalize the sadness about being away from my loved ones or the uncertainty the future holds. I didn’t have to think about how the pandemic would affect all our lives and whether or not we would survive it. Most often, I was not hungry. I just felt incomplete and hollow while snacks filled me (both figuratively and literally).
Understanding these reasons behind my binge snacking habit helped me redirect myself to address those issues first. This first step helped me enormously to focus on what was stopping me from quitting my snacking habit and therefore made the whole process a lot easier.
What I did
Starting from the first week of February this year, I started engaging myself in other productive habits. I cut down the time I spent watching any series or movies — because that is what usually pulled the trigger on binge snacking. I stopped blocking my emotions and thoughts. I started journaling instead. Not only did this exercise help me focus on my feelings, but it also made me forget about the open bag of chips in the first drawer on my left.
Also, because I didn’t want to go back to the gym yet, I started jogging in the park down the lane. It wasn’t easy initially, especially with a mask on, but the surge in endorphins after the workout made it all worth the effort. I felt a lot less lethargic, incorporating just these three new changes in my daily schedule.
Note, I hadn’t given up snacks. In fact, I ate everything the same way I was eating before. The only change I had made was to invest my time in other activities that would cut down the time I spent snacking. Boredom was one of the root causes of me binging on snacks. So, I stopped being bored.
Week 2: I started paying attention to WHEN and HOW MUCH was I snacking
When I took up snacking as a hobby (no kidding), I would snack all the time — irrespective of the amount and gaps between each snack. If I felt like eating a bag of chips, I ate. If I craved chocolate, I placed a piece of chocolate on my tongue. If I felt like eating the clouds, I immediately dug out a packet of mini marshmallows — you get my drift.
Now please don’t think I was on a death wish. No. Each time I ate little. I would eat only a piece of chocolate each day — not the entire bar. I would eat a small bowl of chips when I craved. Similarly, I popped only a couple of marshmallows when I felt like having some. Because I had a tiny amount each time, I thought it wouldn’t impact my health much.
I was delusional.
It turns out, every time you eat something, no matter less in quantity it is or how small the bite is — you are causing a change in your metabolism. That is, any food of any amount causes the blood glucose (sugar) levels to shoot up. When this happens, insulin is released. Insulin is a hormone that absorbs carbohydrates from food and transfers them to different cells to give energy. Any excess carbohydrate and energy derived from it get stored as fat. This means, whenever insulin is released, the body goes into a fat-storage mode. Likewise, when you do not eat anything, there is no insulin release, and hence the body is in fat-burning mode.
I didn’t know this when I was a snacker. I kept justifying my habitual snacking with: little snacks here and there wouldn’t do any harm. Until it did.
What I did
So every time I put something in my mouth, insulin is released. The thing about the rise in insulin levels is that it is followed by a drop too. When there is a sudden drop in blood glucose, the body craves another snack. There is an urge of hunger for more junk. When this becomes habitual, frequent cases of indigestion, bloating, and weight gain happen. I know this because I experienced this.
In circumstances when this habit is not controlled, diabetes follows. Thankfully I managed to open my eyes before that. I changed the frequency and timings of snacking. First, I made a deal to have my snack about three hours after I had a meal. This is important because this will give my body enough time to deal with my last meal. Also, at every meal, I made sure that I ate until my stomach was full to be less dependent on the snacks throughout the day.
At the same time, I increased the amount of water I had throughout the day. Every time I had a craving for a snack after a meal, I quenched my urge with a glass of water. I discovered that most of the time, I was thirsty and not hungry. Trust me: this simple habit works wonders.
Week 3: I started giving more thought to WHAT I snacked
Whenever I felt like caving into my lust for snacks, it’s a particular snack that I usually craved. But when I wouldn’t find that specific snack at home, I would try compensating that craving with some other snack available at that time. The funny and sad thing about this substitution game is that the appetite never goes away. Because even after a bowl of ice cream, my craving for cake would remain.
What I did
When I decided to change my over-snacking tendencies, I adopted a new habit: I would pause for some time and think about WHAT I was craving.
For instance, when I craved chips, it meant I was craving something salty and crunchy. The same way when I wanted to have a bowl of ice cream, it was its cold and creamy texture that I wanted my taste buds to experience. So I started substituting these unhealthy snacks with their healthier versions.
- I started baking thinly sliced potatoes with salt to make homemade chips and store them in airtight containers. I ate this every time I wanted something salty and crispy.
- Likewise, I started satiating my cravings for ice cream with Greek yoghurt.
- I stopped microwaving packed popcorns. Instead, I started buying raw popcorn kernels and started preparing popcorn at home.
- I stopped having store-bought granola bars and started preparing them at home. Preparing them doesn’t even consume much time, and they were much tastier. I did the same with cookies and other snacks.
Honestly, I like the substituted versions better than the original junk I consumed.
The best part about listening to what texture or flavour I was craving at the moment was that I felt satisfied after the snack, even if I had yoghurt and not ice cream. Snacking based on what my taste buds wanted at that moment made me feel full and thus helped me reduce the frequency of snacks I had throughout the day.
In short, I stopped snacking just for the sake of it.
Ways in Which Snacking Smart Affected My Lifestyle
Like previous times, I was a little sceptical of whether or not these changes would be helpful because I always found ways to get back to my old habits. More importantly, I was unsure of whether or not I would be able to continue these habits. However, when I started incorporating these changes, I knew I would be able to do. My surety came from the fact that I was not giving up on snacks this time.
It has been five months since I have started snacking ‘smart,’ and I can proudly say that not giving up on snacks is one of the best decisions of my life. My week one of snacking ‘smart’ was the first week of February, and I have continued the same till today. I incorporated new habits the next two weeks after that. With the new habits, the frequency of my snacking decreased from 9–10 times to 4–5 times a day in a span of six weeks.
One of the main benefits I experienced after successfully quitting snacking was the change in my mood and energy levels. I felt much lighter, much happier, and more motivated to complete my other tasks. More importantly, I felt active throughout the day and slept better at night. Plus, losing that extra four inches I had gained last year made me more aware of myself, and I liked it. Along my journey of snacking smart, I also realized that I could save a lot of money and discovered that I enjoyed preparing snacks as much as I love having them.
Like any journey you undertake, giving up on snacks can be challenging — especially when you are a binge snacker like I once was. But know that restricting yourself from snacks doesn’t mean that you cannot find the little joys they give you in other foods. Try snacking ‘smart’ based on the tips I mentioned above.
However, remember that our bodies and our cravings are unique. Listen to what your body is asking of you and make adjustments in your snacking habits accordingly.
You can do it!
What are some of the healthy eating habits that have helped you overcome over-snacking? Do let us know in the comments section.
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