Right now, we're in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it's hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people's fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we're all so grateful for the healthcare workers and other essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.
I'm writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York City.
Because many of us are safe at home these days, and feeling anxious and uncertain about the future, the urge to snack can be overwhelming.
Obviously snacking isn't the most pressing of our concerns, but it's an immediate concern—and unlike other things we're worried about, it's within our control (even if snacking feels out of control, it's actually within our control).
And obviously, in a way we're fortunate if this issue is something that's bothering us, because it shows that we're not worried about some far more dire situation.
That said, for many of us, snacking is on our minds.
We all want to emerge from this difficult time in good shape—healthy, energetic, calm, and ready to take on the further challenges ahead. And eating healthfully is an important element of that aim.
How can we manage snacking while at home?
It's helpful to know why we're snacking.
- Are you bored?
- Are you anxious?
- Are you tempted by constant access to your favorite treat?
- Are you using snacks to mark transitions in your day, now that your usual transitions aren't present?
- Are you snacking because someone else is snacking? You give your child a little cup of Goldfish crackers, and you take a few handfuls yourself.
- Are you snacking because you've stocked up, so you've got bags and bags of snacks around? Instead of the usual bag that gets used up, then replaced, more slowly.
When we identify a problem, we often spot a solution more effectively.
Depending on why you're snacking, here are some strategies to try from my book about habits, Better Than Before.
7 Strategies to Curb Snacking
Track your snack! We manage what we monitor, so find a way to monitor how much you're snacking—how often and how much.
- Pre-portion snacks—divide a bag of pretzels into individual plastic bags, so you eat one serving at a time, rather than digging into a giant bag. (Then re-use the plastic bags when you need more portions.)
- Don't eat straight from a bag or container; always transfer snacks into a bowl or plate.
- Measure out a serving size so you know how much you're eating. Note that packages that appear to be single servings are often considered two or more—so make sure you check a label.
- Record what you eat every day.
- Don't eat while distracted; it's easy to lose track of snacking if you're watching TV or scrolling through headlines.
- Worried about gaining weight? Research shows that people who monitor their weight by weighing themselves daily do a better job of avoiding weight gain. Also, wear jeans or other clothes that allow you to monitor changes in your body (that is, not the yoga-pant-and-sweatshirt ensemble that I've been wearing every day).
The less convenient snacking becomes, the less we're likely to do it. My habit aphorism is: Change your surroundings, not yourself. This strategy is particularly useful if you can't totally exclude a particular item from your house, because another member of the household insists on stocking it.
- Put snacks away—don't keep them out on the counter or table. In fact...
- Keep snacks on a high shelf or in a distant location, where it's a pain to get to them, and keep them closed tightly or in a container, so it's a pain to get them open.
- Keep snacks out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Don't buy tempting snacks at all! If it's not in the cupboard, you won't eat it—especially these days.
- Only eat a homemade (by you) version of a snack. You'll eat less if you're cooking those foods yourself.
For some of us, moderation is too tough; it's easier to give up something altogether. Note: this approach works very well for some people, but not for others. To find out if you're an abstainer" or a "moderator," take this short quiz. I'm such an abstainer—you wouldn't believe what I abstain from. This approach wouldn't work for everyone, but it works for me.
- Give up your "kryptonite," the food you just can't resist. My sister Elizabeth gave up French fries; my husband Jamie quit peanut butter.
- Give up a category of irresistible snacks—maybe you don't have much of a sweet tooth, so you don't over-indulge in sweets, but you can't resist salty snacks such as chips, pretzels, and crackers.
- Consider challenging yourself—"No one thinks I could give up my breakfast-cereal addiction right now, I'll show them!" This is particularly effective for Rebels.
- Wait fifteen minutes. Cravings tend to pass after 15 minutes, and while we're waiting, we get absorbed in another activity.
- Pick a time for your favorite snack—perhaps every day at 3:00 p.m. That way, you can look forward to it, and limit it.
- Don't snack after dinner. Research suggests that Americans consume an astonishing 30% of their daily calories in the evening, after 8:00 p.m. Close the kitchen once the dishes are done.
- Tell someone else what you're eating or drinking. Just report it to them—in person, by text, doesn't matter. "FYI I'm eating two brownies now."
- Tell your sweetheart or your kids, "If I'm having a snack, you can have a double portion of the same snack."
- For more accountability, join my free Better app. You can start or join an accountability group there.
- You can also get daily accountability during the accountability check-in time during the "Coping with COVID-19 Conversations" that I do every day with Elizabeth Craft, my sister and Happier podcast co-host. Join us Monday-Friday at 4 pm ET on Instagram Live for conversations about—you guessed it—coping with COVID-19. Every day, near the end, we ask people how they're doing with their accountability activities.
Watch out for the ten categories of loopholes that we tend to invoke, to give ourselves an excuse for behavior that we know isn't healthy. Some loopholes are particularly popular at the moment:
- "This doesn't count" loophole -- "This is a pandemic. It's an emergency. This doesn't count." Everything counts, even during a pandemic. I'm guessing this loophole is the most popular, by far.
- "Lack of control" loophole -- "With everything that's going on, I can't help it."
- "False choice" loophole -- "I'm so busy managing all these changes, I can't eat properly." (This loophole is my personal favorite.)
- "Planning to fail" loophole -- "I'll buy three packs of Oreos, but I'll eat them very infrequently."
- "One-coin" loophole -- "What difference does it make if I eat this way today? What's one day?"
When it comes to snacking—and so many other aspects of our lives—there's a tension right now.
On the one hand, we want to go easy on ourselves. This is an unprecedented situation, and we don't want to make a tough time worse by loading ourselves with unrealistic expectations. We want to show compassion for ourselves. For gosh sakes, this is a pandemic!
On the other hand, this time "counts." What we do now will have consequences for our future. It may seem like we'll be stuck in this housebound limbo forever, but we won't. The wonderful day will come when things start to get back to normal, the unimaginable future will become the present, and we'll confront the present day.
How will our future-selves wish we'd behaved during this time? Sadly, the future will be difficult, too. Are there things we can do now that will make that time easier for ourselves?
These days, there's so much we can't predict and can't control; it feels reassuring and energizing to control an aspect of our lives that is within our power, and to make some change for the better—even on a small and individual scale.
If you want my one-page Checklist for Habit Change, download it here (scroll down to "Better Than Before"). Note: it's more useful if you've read Better Than Before, my book about habit change, because you'll know how to apply each of the 21 strategies.
In choosing habit strategies that work best for you, it's helpful to know your Tendency. If you’re interested in using this time to learn more about yourself through my Four Tendencies video course, I’m offering an extreme discount price of only $25. (This is $74 off the normal price of $99). You have lifetime access to the course material and can go at your own pace or follow the 5-week structure. Click here to join for only $25—no code needed.
To check out all my resources related to coping with COVID-19, click here.
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