Snacking is completely fine, so long as it’s done right! Including a healthy snack between your main meals is a great way to avoid getting super hungry at mealtime. It can also help to add extra nutrition to keep you going. Of course, what you snack on makes a difference so make sure it is still nutritious such as fruit, veggies, nuts, wholegrains and reduced-fat dairy.
Here’s a simple guide to smart, healthy snacking, and how to know when you probably don’t need a snack, even if you want one.
When is snacking a problem?
If you find yourself thinking about snacking all day, grazing on snacks when you’re not hungry, eating until you’re over-full or reaching for snacks in response to emotions or situations, you might need to put in place some strategies to help out.
First off, keeping a food and thought journal can really help with your awareness of your snacking behaviours, help identify areas to work on and potential strategies to use. This simple exercise is just about writing down what you’re eating, when, where you were, who you were with, gauging your hunger and fullness and your emotions. It allows you to identify your patterns.
Here are some useful questions to ask yourself when filling in your food and thought journal:
1. Are you snacking in response to genuine hunger?
a. If so, this is fine, but make sure what you’re snacking on is nutritious and filling to keep you going to your next meal.
b. If not, you can then ask yourself further questions.
2. Are you snacking in response to situations or people you are around?
For example, every day at a certain time at work a group goes out to grab coffee and everyone grabs a donut so you automatically do too without thinking about it.
3. Are you snacking in response to emotions? Is it because you’re bored, tired, stressed, upset?
If this is the case, it’s important to develop other ways of coping with certain emotions. While emotional eating is OK occasionally, it becomes a problem if it becomes your only coping mechanism and stops you from addressing the underlying issues and putting into place strategies to help you cope.
A simple strategy
Before reaching for a snack, stop and take a moment to think. Am I hungry? If your answer is yes, go ahead and reach for some fruit, veggies, yoghurt, nuts or wholegrain crackers.
If the answer is no, then ask yourself: What it is that I really need? Could it be a walk to re-energise yourself, a call to connect with a friend to talk about a problem, or finding something engaging to do, like reading, if you’re bored?
If it is just a piece of chocolate you really want and you can’t stop thinking about it, allow yourself a small piece, savour the taste, enjoy it and eat it mindfully. If you constantly restrict yourself it will only make you want it more and you’ll end up eating a whole block – plus all the other snacks you tried to distract yourself with!
Smart snacking really comes down to being mindful, in tune with your body and knowing what it is you really need.