How can I control mindless snacking from my home-based office?

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  • Mindless, unconscious snacking could be causing your weight gain.
  • Skipping meals, like lunch, could result in an increased drive to snack.
  • Careful consideration and choice of snacks might help to improve your nutritional status.

When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, many of us had to completely change our way of working, moving to a make-shift home office in a matter of days.

Along with this drastic change, came new eating habits.

The cupboards and fridge were now only a few metres away, and cooking became a way to keep busy.

Of course, we needed our coffee breaks, and this led to regular inappropriate snacking.

Now, in 2022, we have adapted to our new normal, but our eating and snacking habits created in 2020 are still with us, along with the extra weight it brought.

To help control and change our mindless snacking habits, here are some great tips you can try to implement.

1. When hunger strikes, don’t automatically head to the kitchen.

You should assess your hunger on a sliding scale of one to 10, one being not hungry at all and 10 absolutely starving.

If you rate your hunger below seven, you probably don’t need a snack.

If you feel that your hunger is a seven to a 10, you can go and find a nibble.

The all-important question is, however, what snack to go for.

2. Choose your snack wisely.

Choose a snack with a low salt, fat, sugar and, therefore, energy content. 

Healthy snacks include, but are not limited to, high-fibre crackers and rice cakes with toppings such as avocado, tuna/egg mayo and hummus.

Add to that: popcorn, fresh fruit, lean biltong, low-fat plain yoghurt, dried fruit, roasted chickpeas, and a variety of vegetables.

The table below shows how, by choosing healthier alternatives, you can easily lower your total energy, fat, sugar and salt intake. 

Snack comparison
What are healthier alternatives for snacks?

3. Practise a mindfulness technique.   

Step 1: Identify your hunger trigger. This could be email correspondence, endless computer typing or non-working-related activities like watching TV, gaming or social media scrolling.

A trigger could also be boredom or procrastination. Our habits, feelings of boredom, expectations and the visibility and availability of tempting food can be powerful triggers leading us to snack inappropriately.

Step 2: Pause for 10 to 15 minutes and use distraction by moving away from the identified trigger. Be creative and practise activities such as going for a walk, doing a word or number puzzle, or listening to music or a podcast.

Step 3: Re-evaluate your hunger after 10 to 15 minutes. You may find that with this time delay, your need to eat has completely disappeared. 

4. Be prepared and practise portion control.     

Arriving home from buying your bag of biltong, dried fruit and yoghurt, then weigh and portion it out into small containers with one snack portion in each.

Cut the cucumber and carrots into finger sticks and pop them in a container as well.

Make little medley boxes of 30g lean biltong and a few pieces of dried fruit.

Having these small pre-prepared snacks ready makes it as quick and convenient as grabbing a packet of potato crips. 

5. Make lunch a priority.     

We get so busy with work that lunchtime often passes unnoticed.

Pack a “home” lunchbox in the morning or prepare food the night before, ready for a quick warm-up at lunchtime.

Try to eat away from your work area and consciously go to eat in the dining room, kitchen or on the patio.

Eating a healthy lunch will give you the energy and satiety to continue working, thus preventing the need to snack later in the afternoon before dinner.

6. Remove visible food temptations.    

Make a designated snack box that is not transparent – in other words, you shouldn't be able to see what's in your snack box.

Place this in a cupboard that you do not open all the time.

Removing the temptations from your sight can help to reduce your likelihood of unnecessary eating these treats – "out of sight, out of mind".

Getting out of a habit can be a little challenging at first, but try to get organised, using these tips along the way.

Making a conscious decision to create healthier snacking habits can help you thrive, manage your weight and health in this "new normal" way of life.

*Abigail Park is registered dietitian

READ | How snacking before bedtime piles on the kilos

READ | A taste for sweet – the evolutionary origins of why you're programmed to love sugar

READ | Foods high in added fats and refined carbs are like cigarettes – addictive and unhealthy

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