If ‘hangry’ is a real emotion for you, we feel you. Hanger—that on-edge and easily irritated state you enter when you’re hungry—is real and happens to the best of us, and it’s also when we tend to make hasty food choices we didn’t quite mean to make.
If you’ve ever snacked on a cookie at work and then looked down and realized you accidently snacked on four cookies instead of one while zoning out, this article is for you, too. (Also, read this if sugar cravings are chronic issue for you and you want some healthier alternatives.)
We’ve already chatted about mindful eating with The Food Therapist herself, the lovely Shira Lenchewski, MS, RD, and she’s back for round two. This time we’re tackling how to snack smarter and curb those cravings. Hanger no more, friends.
“The more self knowledge you have about your obstacles with food, the better you can work through them,” says Lenchewski. “Know what works for you, what doesn’t, what’s going to set you off. Having the knowledge doesn’t mean everything’s going to go perfect every time, because it doesn’t, but it’ll be easier to work through it, and those triggers will happen a lot less often.”
1. Short-term vs. long-term expectations
“I think of indulging in terms of reconciling our long-term goals versus our right now wants,” says Lenchewski. Sure, we all want to look and feel our best three months, six months, a year from now, but darnit, we also want a cookie a day.
“I think the reality is a lot of people think being healthy means always choosing the long-term goal over the right now want. It’s not, but it’s worth asking yourself ‘Do I really want this, is this really worth it to me?’ That being said, some people might think, ‘Well, what if it’s worth it to me all the time?’ If your long-term goal is really important to you, then you have to be willing to forgo the cookies on a certain number of days. But I really do think weighing the long term goal over the right now want is really so helpful.”
2. Willpower is not your friend or enemy
Lenchewski thinks we rely too heavily on this mythical concept of willpower. “It’s not always available to us: When we’re tired, stressed, busy, sad, procrastinating, it’s harder,” she says. “But there are smarter ways to set yourself up to make good decisions.”
For example, if you work in an office that happens to always have treats around, and it’s really tempting for you, especially come 4pm when you’ve still got a bajillion emails left to answer, you want to go home, and the treats are practically calling your name.
“Some people just say, ‘I’m just someone who doesn’t have willpower,’ but that’s not the case. When things don’t go well in a relationship, we analyze. But when it comes to our relationship with food, we don’t do any introspection. We don’t think about, ‘Ok, I’m someone who needs to have a plan for lunch, because otherwise I’ll work until 2pm and then be starving and make a bad decision.’ The obstacles keep standing in our way. Ask yourself: What’s that piece people are missing? What is standing in your way, what are your obstacles? How can we make it easier to make good decisions?”
3. Plan ahead multitasking snacks
The questions posed above can lead into smarter snacking, which is easy with a little planning ahead.
“It’s about arming yourself and having stuff on hand that you could have that would quench that thirst essentially.” And making sure those snacks are both healthful and satisfying, so you’re not left with that ‘full but not satisfied’ feeling. “Full but not satisfied is a real thing. For me a raw, unsalted nut is ‘Uh, I don’t want that.’ If I’m hungry and craving something, that’s not going to do it. Whether it’s roasting those nuts or preparing crudites with dips, having good stuff on hand makes it easier to make a choice that’s in your own best interest.
“Sometimes snacking gets a bad rap, and that’s because between-meal noshing in the throes of willpower depletion often means indulging in excess sweet or salty starches. But snacking has a well-deserved place in a healthy-eating plan because it can really help manage your appetite, keep energy steady, and prevent hangry outbursts. So kick any residual snacking guilt to the curb and pre-commit to keeping these delicious snacks on hand.”
Lenchewski’s Maple-Sesame Cashew recipe is the right mix of a little bit of sweet, and a little bit of salty.
Makes 1 cup; Serves 4
When I’m looking for a snack that’s a little sweet and a little salty, I grab these cashews. They taste kind of like pasteli, the thin little Middle Eastern sesame seed candies I was obsessed with as a kid.
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the nuts with the coconut aminos, coconut oil, maple syrup, coconut sugar, vanilla extract, and salt on the prepared baking sheet. Top with shredded coconut and sesame seeds and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden, flipping once. These will stay fresh in an airtight container in the fridge for one week.
4. Know your triggers to prevent overeating
If you’ve ever zoned out while snacking on chips and guac and suddenly you’ve eaten everything in sight and you’re so unformortably full (me every single time I’m in front of chips and guac), this section is for you. “They say eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. That’s good advice unless you don’t know how to do it. One of the things I talk about is getting to that place of comfortably full isn’t always easy and intuitive.”
So, know what your triggers are, identify them so you can then be more mindful when eating them. “Chips and guac are my thing. That is my all time delicious snack. And then afterwards, I feel disgusting and then can’t even eat my main meal of tacos. So know what those things are for you. Having that self knowledge what those things are for you, what you tend to go overboard on. And then when you go in, remember when you felt so uncomfortably full, not in a judgemental way, but just remember what it felt like.”
An otherwise delicious meal was kind of ruined because you physically felt so horrible. “So conjuring up the feeling. First, the self knowledge of what those things are for you that you tend to overeat. And then, remembering what that felt like when you felt uncomfortable.”
Check in while eating too. “Checking in with yourself 25 percent of the way, then 50 percent through, etc., so it’s easier to get to that comfortably full spot. Sometimes you might even stop before you’re full. Tthen 15 minutes later you reassess, and think, ‘Ya know what, I could eat more.’ The biggest thing is being aware of what those things are for you. Everyone has something, the goal is more introspection, so then the better we can move through those things—understanding what makes you tick and overeat—and then the second part is self awareness when you’re overeating.”
5. Keep things interesting
“Our brains are programmed to tune out things that have repetitive stimuli. It can happen with driving or TV shows, but also with eating. But when eating becomes automatic, we’re not paying attention anymore to our body sensations, how thing are tasting, and how you’re feeling.
“Things can get stale in the kitchen, like things can get stale in your bedroom. It doesn’t mean you have to throw out your relationship. But it means changing things up, like mixing up your food choices.”
Shake things up: Eat on a colorful plate, or add a new spice to an old favorite recipe that’ll perk up your taste buds.
“Your taste buds can go on cruise control. I’m a creature of habit, I can eat the same thing everyday, but your taste buds can get bored too. Small changes, if you usually use champagne vinegar, use red wine vinegar. Spice it up.”
Keep the mindfulness going:
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