Practical tips to curb cravings and make healthy snacks that taste delicious

Sales of frozen pizza have almost doubled, according to another study and 42% admit to purchasing more packaged food than they would typically. Uber Eats has reported the most common food delivery order is chips and data from Google Trends in the UK has seen a spike in searches for cinnamon rolls and hot cross buns. Then there’s the bags of crisps, chocolate and sweets we’ve been tucking into.

If you’ve found yourself binge-munching on bags of Haribo or brushing crisp crumbs off your T-shirt before the work Zoom call, you’re certainly not the only one and we’re not judging – you do you. A recent study from King’s College London and Ipsos Mori around eating habits during lockdown found that snacking is on the up, now many of us are stuck at home.

It revealed that 35% of the British public believe they are “eating more food, or less healthy food than normal,” and 19% say they are drinking more booze (global analytics company Nielsen found that sales of alcohol has increased by 291% during the pandemic).

Psychiatrists and therapists at leading London behavioural care hospital, The Priory, agree that in this extraordinary climate, it’s unsurprising that many of us are now facing a daily temptation to over-eat or drink because of the constant availability of food and alcohol and the absence of structure, coupled with emotional triggers. Boredom and stress are playing into our desire to reach for comfort food whether consciously or unconsciously

“Certain foods stimulate the brain’s secretion of opiate-like, ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as serotonin which, in turn, drives the cravings,” explains Alexia Dempsey, an eating disorder dietician at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital. “It can be see as a form of self-soothing. In the short-term, this response can feel functional,” she says, but in the long-term, it’s not worth the post-binge come-down and munchie guilt.

The thing is, we all know the deal by now. There’s no point in depriving ourselves of the foods we love best – we should be able to tuck into our favourite treats every now and then, but moderation is key. And, from the looks of things, most of us would rather be eating healthily anyway. According to a survey last month from FMCG Gurus, a global market research and insights firm, 73% of us are keen to make “attempts,” to eat and drink more healthily in light of Covid-19, not only to boost our general health, but also our immunity.

So what can we do? Alexia suggests the following practical tips:

  • Have a plan: think about your food in advance for the day ahead to ensure you have regular meals, which will help you to avoid snacking and reacting to hunger pangs.
  • Find a balance: try to ensure your meals include all food groups, which means carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and fats where this is possible. This will help you feel full and encourage slow gastric emptying and prolonged satiety.
  • Avoid distractions when eating: eating and watching TV/using laptops and phones means that you are not engaging with your food and are likely to miss initial biological cues that you are satisfied with how much you have eaten.
  • Change environment: if you feel like ’bingeing,’ try and change environment. Whether you usually eat or snack in your kitchen, bedroom or sitting room, aim to get up and move to a different area or head out to your garden for a while.
  • Hydrate: being dehydrated can cause tiredness, sluggishness, poor concentration, irritability – and hunger. It’s easy for us to mistake dehydration for hunger. Ensure you are drinking enough fluid during the day – aim for around one and a half, to two litres.

As for some healthy snacks to swap-in. Fresh fruit like oranges, pineapple and bananas taste great and have all the vitamins and nutrients we need to boost our immunity. Likewise, nuts like walnuts, peanuts and almonds are packed full of proteins and healthy fats. You can even treat yourself to chocolate (the darker, the better) now and again and homemade popcorn is a healthier alternative to crisps as you can control how much salt and sugar you add. Apples dipped in nut butters are an easy way to curb cravings and carrot sticks with a little dip will keep you full for longer than that tube of rolos.

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