Ever ponder why your snacking habit may be leading to weight gain?
As a clinical nutritionist, it has come to me that most of us snack inappropriately and many of my patients encounter similar issues when psychologically fighting these battles. For you, this probably sounds recognizable: You’ll stop by or walk by your break room in the office and notice some chips, cookies and other candies laying out or leftovers from a catered lunch, sometimes someone offered you to try a piece of something you had no intention to do. Sometimes situations lead you to stay home and open the refrigerator door expecting something new there every time. Yet, you are not hungry, but you decide to have a bite or two. By the time, you’re back at your desk or walking away from the fridge and continuing with your day, your stomach is screaming for more even after knowing you were not hungry.
What’s going on here? SCIENCE. Body science that is.
Even before you swallow a bite of food, taste receptors in your mouth start “speaking” to your brain and communicating with your stomach which informs them that food is the way. Additionally, other metabolic changes that assist your digestive system to prepare to handle a big influx of food. Most commonly known example is that the insulin levels spiking up to keep your blood sugar from soaring too high post-feed. This tends to be all very beneficial and essential if you’re chowing down a whole meal in which these groundworks maintain your body in a delighted state of homeostasis. However, in the scenario with the office break as previously mentioned as well as other very common snacking situations… your body doesn’t know how that you only intended to have a bite, two or even three.
Your gut and digestive system react as though a large feast is on the way. That being said, the consequential drop in blood sugar can shoot your hunger through the roof which then sends you running back to find more snacks and pound the remaining cookies and chips by the fistful.
Luckily, there is some advice that I can provide that can help you…
Don’t start what you can’t stop.
When it comes to eating, it’s extremely difficult to stop once you’ve started. So, if you’re not hungry, don’t eat anything. Keep in mind, it may be especially tough to stop eating salty or sweet treats after just a bite or two. Most packaged and processed foods are made to knock into the brain’s reward pathways and stimulate you to crave more. Essentially, if a food or certain snack has sweet and salty combination flavors, it fires up sectors in the brain that scream “give me more”- making it much harder to stop after the first or second bite.
Keep them out of sight, out of mind
When it comes to food, your brain has a lifetime’s worth of experience to draw from and considering you know how a food will taste, just seeing, smelling or even thinking of those snacks can turn on the wanting sector of your brain. It triggers the kinds of hormonal responses that are known to stimulate the feel of hunger. I recommended clearing your environment of temptations and if you know a certain place contains those snacks- don’t enter! At home, keep snacks away from the counter, tucked away in cabinets. Strolling through the kitchen and having exposure to them will stimulate cravings.
Reaching for the correct snacks
Two categories of eating exist: hedonic and homeostatic
Difference between the two:
Homeostatic – refers to energy deficits, so you’re eating because your body needs energy and is requesting
Hedonic – refers to eating for pleasure
Although these types of eating aren’t mutually exclusive, it is possible to eat for both pleasure and satisfaction of your body energy needs. However, the situation mentioned above deals with eating hedonistically. You crave food because your senses were exposed to tasty goodies not because your body is begging for energy. Controversially, there are plenty of times when your body really is running low on energy; for example- after an intense workout or late in the afternoon after grinding all day at the office and haven’t eaten for hours. In such situations, the right snack can help suppress hunger until your next meal.
So the real question is… What do we eat? What type of snack should you reach for?
Proteins and healthy fats
Considering your body digests both macronutrients gradually and neither triggers the kind of hunger-stoking insulin response you develop from sugar or refined carbs. Additionally, whole fruits that are considered fiber rich carbohydrates can make a good snack. As a clinical nutritionist, my recommended snacks to patients include nuts, avocados and even peanut butter with an apple or hummus with some fresh vegetables sticks will combine the adequate protein and fat necessary to keep your insulin levels stable and refrain you from snacking resulting to weight gain!