Habitual snacking can be a slippery slope. It can lead to gradual weight gain and eventual poor health. Various reports indicate that 80% of adolescents and most adults snack at least once a day. Even in between having 3 meals a day, we still feel hungry at times and end up snacking. In most cases it’s not even because we are hungry, it is largely spontaneous. A boring afternoon…some chips or a slice of leftover pizza will do. In fact, snacking has become a part of most people’s daily routine.

It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we snacked on healthy things such as nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits. But the problem with snacking is that most people reach for the addictive convenience foods that come out of packages. These foods are laden with salt, sugar and unhealthy fats, all of which are highly addictive. The packaged and fast food industry is well aware of this and continues to “feed” the problem because their profits depend on it! It’s no wonder the prevalence of obesity has increased throughout the U.S. adult population – among men and women of all ethnic groups, ages, and educational and socioeconomic levels in the past 3 to 4 decades.

The addiction starts during adolescence and continues into adulthood. The result is that the “bad calories” from unhealthy snacking go unaccounted and usually turn into excess weight that ends up on areas of the body where it’s the most difficult to get rid of. This leads to obesity, which is linked to all kinds of health risks and diseases. Like I said, it’s a slippery slope…

Some Motivators for Snacking

Stress

Stress is one of the biggest triggers that make us crave sugar-laden and fatty foods. When we are stressed, the body releases cortisol. Cortisol is the main hormone that is behind the “flight or fight” mode that we find ourselves falling into. The hormone drastically increases the sugar level in our body to give us access to more energy. It also suppresses the immune system that helps in metabolizing fat, carbohydrates and protein. In turn, it blocks the release of insulin and leptin (a protein produced by fatty tissue and believed to regulate fat storage in the body), thereby, increasing hunger. In that regard when we are stressed we are more drawn to the wrong foods.

Comfort

We snack to comfort or soothe ourselves. At times, we snack to give ourselves a “pick me up” when we are feeling low or as a reward when we feel we have accomplished something. In many situations, we picked up the habit from our childhood as we were rewarded with a bar of chocolate. It was to show a level of affection, to cheer us or simply keep us quiet. As adults, we are still using snacks to keep our mind off our emotions; we are drawn to snacks like chocolate and cakes. The reason being they taste good, therefore able to delight our senses.

Boredom

Snacking is considered a comforting and convenient pleasure-inducing activity that is legal! We can engage in it at any time and any day of the week, which is the main reason why many people turn to snacking when bored. Unfortunately, we usually reach for junk food because it is convenient and gives us instant gratification. Studies have shown that women are more prone to craving fatty and sweet foods while men will tend to crave savory items.

Because It’s There

Because food is just in plain sight, is another big motivator to snacking. When it’s right there, it is very hard to turn it down. So just moving the treats out of sight will help the compulsive snacking habit. But better still is to simply not have unhealthy packaged foods available at home.

Healthy alternatives

If you are feeling unproductive and lacking energy why not try changing the habit to healthy snacking alternatives:

  • When stressed out try and avoid stimulants such as refined sugar and caffeine as they cause a spike in energy levels in your body, which is followed by an extended crash. Try to snack on foods that are high in vitamin B such as lentils, almonds, Greek yogurt or bananas as they are good in combating stress and providing energy. Make yourself a healthy smoothie with almond milk, banana, Greek yogurt, and some berries and/or leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
  • When you are feeling low and looking for comfort in a meal, healthy carbohydrates should be your first option. They should be your go-to snack for the pity party that you are planning to throw. If you are vegetarian, try to stick to complex carbs, whole grains, nuts and seeds because they increase your body’s ability to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that will naturally elevate your mood, which will make you happy and in turn keep you calm.
  • Replace the salty and sugary snacks that you always run to with other healthy options such as veggies with hummus, nuts & seeds, low-fat cheese or a piece of whole grain toast with avocado. Did you know that on top of all the nutritional benefits, having a few walnuts a day can help you with weight control? So instead of reaching for an empty calorie snack when you feel hungry in between meals, have a handful of walnuts. It will curb your hunger and craving until your next meal because eating walnuts is associated with increased satiety.

Having the right nutrients will cut cravings

We are often drawn to snacking on particular items because our body might be missing some nutrients. The solution is to eat healthy nutritious meals 3 times a day. This will not only reduce your cravings and manage your weight, but also keep your body energized and build immunity against all kinds of illnesses.