Updated: Nov 10
Welcome to the last week of Smart Girls Gotta Eat and MSD Nutrition’s fall semester series Living Well With Life Online! While the unfortunate reality is that our days of working from home and taking classes online are far from over, we hope that you have learned some useful tips and tricks to make life a little bit better. If you missed out on an earlier article, feel free to reference back to read previous writings and learn about your gut, eating to maximize focus, meal prep, and eating for your mental health. The relationship between food and our brains is complicated and sometimes overwhelming, so use these articles as a way to guide yourself. This final article is going to connect everything we have learned thus far as we discuss the idea of “Smart Snacking.”
Typically when people think about snacking, they picture themselves overeating on some of the mainstream snack options like chips, pretzels, crackers or chips. There is no denying that we all enjoy these foods and we often crave them. Furthermore, we also need to point out that there is a common mindset that snacks are thought of to be inherently “bad”. This is not true – our bodies actually need a mid-day meal to keep our focus and energy levels up. In fact, eating small meals more often can even boost your metabolism. If you are like the rest of the world right now and are struggling to focus on a computer all day, then taking a break to eat might actually help you be more productive. So let’s talk about the nutrition behind different snack options and how you can be strategic in your walks to the pantry so that you can leave feeling full and satisfied, while still satisfying your cravings.
The first thing you want to do when you inevitably get hungry around mid-afternoon is get any negative thoughts about snacking out of your head. As we just discussed, there is nothing “bad” about snacking and acknowledging that you are hungry. You may also want to know that by addressing this hunger with a mid-day boost of nutrients can actually prevent you from overeating later on – either at dinner or with dessert. Next, turn your attention to how you can get both a carbohydrate and a protein. If you are traditional and want to fill that craving with chips and crackers, then go for it. But just make sure that you add protein to what you are eating. If you have ever eaten a handful of crackers, been full for 5 minutes, and then immediately turned back to the pantry to eat more, then this will make intuitively make sense. When we just eat carbohydrates with no form of protein or fiber, we actually just make ourselves hungrier. These simple carbs like crackers are quickly burned and only leave us wanting more. Especially if you are eating foods with high fructose corn syrup, you may quickly find yourself over-eating and yet still feeling hungry. This common mistake is where the negative energies and mindsets about snacking began in the first place. So to combat this mistake, don’t restrict yourself from having the foods that you are craving, but instead focus on what you can add to get the full picture.
A couple ideas for this might be to add cheese to your crackers, eat carrots and hummus, an apple or banana with peanut butter, a small sandwich, yogurt and granola, or even a portion of leftovers. Whatever you choose, you will be more satisfied and end up eating less while gaining more energy and attention if you get the proper combination of protein and carbohydrate together.
I will also add that when thinking about food or mealtimes, you never want to restrain yourself on what you can eat. People often label foods as “good” and “bad”, telling themselves that they can only eat the good foods. This can quickly take your mindset down a steep and unhappy road towards obsessing over food and never being satisfied. The reality is that we all crave sugar and carbs – it’s inherent in our nature. The more we restrain and cut out, the more these cravings grow, and eventually, we cave in and overeat or overindulge. This is when the word “unhealthy” comes in to play. The best way to avoid this is to let yourself have the foods that you enjoy on a regular basis. There is no need to cut things out of your diet or think about foods that you want to eliminate; instead, think about how you can add something to the so-called “bad” food. For example, if you crave chocolate, you could think about adding nuts or eating peanut-butter cups to get a little bit of protein and healthy fats. What you will find is that if you do this, you will actually end up eating less and feeling more satisfied. So yes, you can have your cake and eat it too!!
Finally, especially during this new concept of working at home, many people find themselves to turning to food as a source of entertainment. They walk to the pantry when bored, frustrated, anxious, and even tired to grab handfuls of food at a time, never leaving satisfied. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you do this – given that food is ultimately a source of dopamine in our brains, it makes sense. The important thing is to recognize when you turn to food and understand whether it is because you are physically hungry or mentally needing stimulation. One trick is telling yourself that you can eat whenever you want, but it has to be plated. This way, if you are actually hungry, you will take the effort to put food on a plate and sit down to eat it. Then, if you are not actually hungry, you might find yourself less willing to take the time doing so. It could just be that you have been sitting too long and need a break, wanting to socialize or just frustrated and at a stopping point. If this is the case, focus on how you can solve these problems without making a trip to the pantry.
The main takeaway from this week is that snacking or having a mid-afternoon meal is not a bad thing and can actually really help you conquer that mid-afternoon slump. But you want to be smart about it (hint: Smart Girls Gotta Eat). Instead of cutting out the chips and crackers that you love, think of food in a positive light of what you can add to make your body (and your mind) satisfied. And you will probably find that you end up being more productive, focused, and energized if you get this nutritional value in the middle of the day.
If you learn nothing else from our 12-week series on Living Well With Life Online, I hope you learn to strategically think about what you are eating by preparing through meal prep if you have the time, or even just adding complex and whole foods to things you already like. Hopefully you will find that you end up feeling better on the inside and out when doing so!