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The best ways for you to avoid that daily snack attack

Insights

Vicky Tan is suddenly baking and cooking a lot more.

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“It’s definitely keeping my mental health in check,” she says.

“I feel like I’m being more productive.”

Vicky lives on her own in an apartment in Melbourne. She’s studying a PhD in science, but can’t do any lab work with the current social distancing rules.

“Instead of doing experiments in the lab, I’m doing it in the kitchen,” the 25-year-old says.

This is Vicky’s second round of social isolation due to COVID-19 as she spent 14-days in self-isolation after a trip to China in February.

She knows she needs to keep busy, and cooking and snacking are part of her new daily routine.

“I’m usually a big savoury snacker person, but now … I’ve been baking a lot more,” she says.

“I’m trying to do a lot of different things. I’ve got my work to do, then I’m doing a little gardening … which has been great with my cooking as well.”

Turning to food for comfort and boredom

Like Vicky, many of us might be finding we’re eating more than perhaps we normally would.

Clinical psychologist Dr Christine James says there are several things going on that can trigger us to want to eat more when we’re stuck at home.

Many of us have lost the daily structures and limits of going to work or school and we’re right near our fridges all day.

“There aren’t as many opportunities to distract or keep busy … and so boredom and loneliness are real problems,” James says.

“Plus many have lost their jobs and are worrying about finances as well as health and this can lead to comfort eating.”

Why we crave cake and not carrots

Eating can be distracting and make us feel good, says James, which is one reason we can find ourselves with our heads in the fridge when we’re feeling a bit down or stressed.

“Eating sugary or fatty or high carb foods can give us a short burst of energy and can release endorphins [the feel-good chemicals] in the brain,” James says via email.

“Eating carbohydrates is associated with manufacture of serotonin [the feel-good hormone].

“[Plus] psychologically these foods can be associated from childhood with being cared for or being treated. As adults we often take on these ideas and treat ourselves with food or make ourselves feel better with food.”

Mandy-Lee Noble is a Health At Every Size accredited dietitian and says cravings can be triggered by deficiencies (low energy or low iron level for example).

But often a strong food craving can be linked to a person’s own “food rules” and association with certain foods.

“Often it’s the food they’ve forbidden themselves to eat or they’ve restricted the portions and times they allow themselves to eat that food,” Noble says.

“The key [to reducing the cravings] is not to amplify those rules, it’s actually to let go on them.”

Worried about constant eating? The key to stopping is eating (full meals)

While Vicky is mostly finding her cooking and eating rewarding, she’s a little worried about overeating when her access to exercise is reduced.

“I’ll fold up the chip packet and shove it in the corner and then I’ll just go grab it again,” she says.

“I think I’m trying to have some self-control, but it’s definitely not working.”

Noble says her advice for reducing your desire to eat is to eat.

“As daggy and boring as it is, eating regular meals when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full and eating a wide variety of food actually does a lot to resolve cravings,” she says.

James agrees that a key to reducing cravings for food is to eat well.

“Don’t diet or skip meals. Make sure you have three regular-sized meals and a morning and afternoon snack if needed,” she says.

Here are James and Noble’s top tips for dealing with food cravings:

Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for eating.

“The really important thing is to not be judgemental with ourselves or others with food,” Noble says.

“No one is bad for eating a doughnut.

“People are bad for pushing an old lady over in the street, not eating doughnuts. That just makes you human.”

–  ABC Life / Carol Rääbus

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