Post No.: 0867
Most people snack not because they’re hungry but because of habit or the occasion, like when watching a movie or when someone says, “Try these!”
Workplace snacking is more to do with feeling stressed and wanting something that gives a hit of dopamine pleasure to mask that stress. It might then become a habit at one’s desk because there are always snacks within reach.
But when we’re truly busy and fully mentally engaged in a task – we won’t think about snacking whatsoever (although the opposite problem can be forgetting to eat at all).
People who watch TV excessively aren’t only more likely to partake in mindless snacking – they’re exposed to tons more tempting junk food commercials, plus it’s a sedentary activity itself. Limiting the amount of time children spend in front of screens is thus vital. If you just want something in your hands as you watch TV then instead of reaching for and mindlessly grazing on snacks – try something like knitting or playing with a fidget toy. It’s better to not constantly snack so that your gut bacteria can have a regular rest.
But if you feel you must get your canines around something then rice crackers can be an okay option – they look substantial but are low in density, they won’t make you feel full but plain ones are low in calories, and they’ll give your hands something to grab and your gnashers something to chew on to fulfil that habit.
Many packaged Oriental snacks seem over-packaged for such tiny portions (like what’s literally equivalent to two crisps in one wrapper) – on the one paw this is seriously environmentally unfriendly, but on another, getting a flavour hit and savouring the snack is often enough to feel satisfied without over-consuming. Opening these tiny packets can sometimes be much harder too!
Many people (and dogs!) see food and snacks as the highlight of their day, hence they focus too much on them. But then they often don’t count the snacks they eat inbetween mealtimes as consumption, thus deluding themselves regarding how many calories they’re consuming. It’s crazy that some snacks are really the size of meals or half-meals to some people, like bacon sandwiches!
It’s best not to call anything that’s more than a mouthful just a snack. Actually, all intake counts as intake! We can eat junk and not become overweight if we don’t eat a lot of it. The problem is, however, ‘empty calorie’ sources like crisps/chips and sweets/candy don’t make us feel full unless we consume lots of them (which might contribute to the feeling that ‘snacks don’t count’ like meals) hence we tend to overeat them.
We should also really treat treats as treats rather than expected or everyday things. And sit at a table whenever we eat, as if having a meal. Post No.: 0856 mentioned how the consumption context affects our perceptions. Eating family meals together at the same table at the same time is important too. When living alone, we can feel less inclined to cook proper meals because of the lack of economies of scale when cooking just for one. So getting together with others to eat can help reduce our chances of gravitating towards highly-processed convenience foods or snacks. We could cook a big batch and freeze some of it to serve ourselves on later days though.
Having regular meals at regular set times each and every day helps reduce snacking habits because our bodies, and minds, will know exactly when the next meal is coming hence we can hold off for a few minutes knowing that we’ll be fed with a proper meal shortly.
Try to always plan a balanced meal before you exercise too, for eating afterwards. This’ll stop you from snacking or eating any old junk after the tiring exercise, which could undo all the good you’ll have done!
Kids love eating food with faces… as long as they’re cartoon faces! Appealing (especially well-known and popular) characters adorning unhealthy food packaging and TV commercials attract children to nag their parents to buy those products. According to a small Yale University study in 2010, many will even claim that processed snacks accompanied with cartoon characters taste better! This effect didn’t occur with natural carrots though – suggesting the power of advertising to influence young minds, plus the ineffectiveness of convincing them that natural foods taste better when using such characters; even positive hero characters. But, hey, as long as parents buy and consistently serve their children fruits and vegetables at home – it won’t matter if they think one carrot tastes slightly better than another.
Fruit can be marginally less convenient than processed snacks but they’re far more nutritious in the range of vital nutrients they offer, and really tasty – as long as they’re in season and ripe. Many are still quite sweet and full of sugar, but never as calorie-dense as confectionery made using refined sugars and fats.
Fruit is more fragile when travelling, has a far shorter shelf life (unless dried, tinned or frozen), most cannot stand for long once peeled or cut, and they’re often wet and sticky to handle, thus, compared to processed snacks, they’re not as convenient and aren’t served as much on buffet tables at parties to become associated with celebrations (although cutting and serving up something large like a melon is often an occasion done with family or friends). Processed snacks are often given as treats to children when fruit is not, so an association is made there too. Processed snacks are also easier to select than fruit because they’re all standardised in quality, and the lack of confidence in selecting ‘the best pineapple’ or how to store or prepare certain fruits discourages some people – hence education here could help. Some cite the cost compared to processed snacks, but fruits offer a more valuable range of nutrients for the price if we look at more than just the calories.
Use fruit as an ingredient – so if a fruit is too sour or bitter then match it with other things that complement it, like sweet fruits with cheese or game meats, or there’s nothing wrong with fruit with a bit of biscuit or chocolate (rather than biscuit or chocolate with a bit of fruit!) Some fruits (and vegetables) are still exotic and the variety is enormous – although watch out for the air miles when imported and what’s in season, and allergies and intolerances. So like physical activities, everyone should be able to find at least one fruit they personally like. Bananas are my personal favourite – few can say that a ripe banana isn’t tasty and convenient :).
So some problems are of culture (the occasions and associations) and some are just an issue of education and exploration. It’s true that, in a world absent of processed snacks – fruits were and are one of nature’s snacks! Woof!
If your child is fussy with certain fruits and vegetables, maybe allow them to play with them in a non-meal setting. During this time, they’re not really allowed to eat them because they’re simply learning that they’re safe by gradually building up their exposure to them and their curiosity. Like most things, it won’t work for everyone, but it might for your child.
The instinct to desire a variety of colours, shapes and textures of foods perhaps evolved to get us to consume a wide variety of natural foods, like fruits and nuts, in order to obtain a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals. But modern snacks hijack this (crude) instinct when they get us to desire to consume more, for instance, sugar-coated chocolate sweets that come in a variety of bright colours but are all nutritionally identical, even if they might come with different flavoured essences. We feel compelled to try at least ‘one of each’ – even when our rational minds can tell that they’re essentially the same biscuits in the selection box but just different shapes and maybe chocolate ratios(!) – but they don’t give us a wide variety of micronutrients hence it leads to excessive calorie consumption.
Wearing glasses with blue lenses whilst eating your dinner, or artificially colouring your food blue, could make your food less appealing though because the colour is often associated with mould.
Exercising self-restraint is still something we must personally do, and is the most ideal solution if you’ve got the self-discipline. But failing that, we can make the home environment a healthier place by not stockpiling unhealthy snacks so that we cannot reach for them when feeling bored; or by not storing them within visible sight or within close, free or easy accessible reach if we do buy them. Remove the easy temptations that lead to the behaviours that lead to the undesired outcomes. We do make the conscious decision to eat and when, but what and how much are strongly influenced by unconscious physiological processes, like our reward and energy reserve reporting systems, and surrounding environmental temptations. Our willpower needs plenty of help.
Make your immediate environment support your desired goals via nudging, by placing the fruit bowl in full view and keeping it regularly brimmed with a variety of interesting fruits. However, too many families do this but grow to ignore it because they know exactly where the processed snacks are(!) This leads to so much food waste too as fruits and vegetables go off, or are assumed to be off, then discarded before eaten. But families wouldn’t do this as often if there weren’t any processed snack options in the house at all. Make something impossible or difficult to do and it’ll be impossible or less tempting to do, no matter how much people want to do it! (The easy and fast online ordering of snacks does make unhealthy snacking more possible though!) Don’t serve your children something or give them so much of it, and they cannot eat it or so much of it.
Totally banning processed snacks from the home can backfire though because children may feel deprived then overeat those snacks whenever given the chance outside of the home. Children can have even greater access to unhealthy snacks from school tuck shops than at home. And banning these from being sold at schools can potentially lead to a ‘black market’ of unhealthy snacks getting traded just outside of the school gates!
It feels worse to have something taken away from us than to never have had it in the first place, due to loss aversion. So it’s difficult to remove something when a culture has gotten used to that thing. It’s like regular British citizens don’t generally fret about not having easy gun ownership, but citizens from places where gun ownership is common will generally consider it ‘a breach of their fundamental rights’ to now have their guns taken away! So banning can work but only before the thing being banned becomes a cultural norm. This suggests that it’s better for kids to not be aware of the existence of processed snacks at all until older. But this is probably practically unrealistic unless they’re shielded from all outside culture and friendships altogether.
Moderation is really the key, not a hard line or being too soft. Try not to talk about ‘bad foods’ at all. You can let your kids choose a treat when at the shops or at home but be smart about it – for example, let them choose lower-calorie bags of crisps or dips.
In closing – for many people, snacks and treats are seen as expected and daily things rather than as bonuses and infrequent things. The occasional processed sweet or savoury snack is fine – but go more for fruits and nuts instead!
Instead of telling kids what not to eat – incentivise and positively reward them for eating what you want them to eat. Educate and explain why by using both logical and emotive reasons. And make the desired behaviour easy and accessible to do.