The “battle of the bulge” gained a new foe this year: quarantine snacking. Sales of snack foods like cookies and crackers shot up in the early days of lockdowns, and recent consumer surveys are finding that people have changed their eating habits and are snacking more.
We don’t yet have solid evidence that more snacking and consumption of ultra-processed food this year has led to weight gain. While memes of the “quarantine 15” trended on social media earlier this year, only a few small studies have suggested a link between COVID-19-related isolation and weight gain. But you don’t need scientific evidence to know if your waistband is tighter.
Snacking is not just a weight risk
Regular junk food snacking brings many risks. Processed foods are typically filled with loads of unhealthy saturated fats and high amounts of salt, calories, added sugar, and refined (unhealthy) grains.
Eating too much of these foods can lead to increased blood sugar (which raises the risk for diabetes), constipation, or an increased LDL cholesterol level (which boosts the risk for heart disease).
What you can do
If your snacking habits are off the rails, here are some tips to get back on track.
Keep junk food out of the house. Without junk food lying around, you won’t be tempted to eat it.
Plan healthy snacks. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy snack foods such as fat-free Greek yogurt, berries, chopped vegetables, nuts (walnuts, almonds), hummus, or whole wheat crackers. Plan your daily snacks in advance, so you’ll be more likely to snack wisely.
Zero in on hunger. Before snacking, ask yourself whether you’re hungry or just thirsty. A good way to tell: drink an eight-ounce glass of water and then wait 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re still hungry, have a healthy snack.
Know your cravings. Are you hungry, or are you lonely, bored, or stressed? Food won’t fix the problem. Instead, go for a walk around the block, put on some music, or choose another activity that might distract you or boost your mood. If you still want food, eat only a small amount.
Don’t skip meals. This can make you so hungry later in the day that you’re vulnerable to devouring mega-portions of snack food to supply your body with easily digested sugars.
Don’t eat straight from the bag or carton. If you snack on an open bag of crackers or a tub of frozen yogurt, you may eat more than a single serving. Instead, portion out your serving in a dish.
Eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and pay attention to your snack. Savoring a piece of fine chocolate can be more satisfying than mindlessly gobbling down a whole chocolate bar.
Prepare for snacks away from home. Plan ahead and keep a healthy snack in your bag or car. That way you won’t turn in desperation to calorie-laden cookies or vending machines.