Working from home has me reaching for sugary snacks—a lot! On top of that, my local gym closed, and I'm really not interested in joining one of those mega gyms where you have to sign up for a treadmill. Do you have any tips on how to be healthier without going overboard? —anonymous
I guess I wasn't the only one stocking up on snacks and stress eating at the pandemic's beginning. Mondelez's annual State of Snacking reported 52% of adults around the world agreed snacking has been a "lifeline" during the pandemic, while 88% are snacking more than pre-pandemic.
Don't worry. If you were like me, who snacked to distract myself from the pandemic and other life problems, I learned it is also possible to introduce behavioural changes in your daily routine to ensure your health and well-being are well-balanced.
Too much snacking will cause you issues in the weight department, but cutting out snacking could lower the quality of your life. My goal is always to do things that make me happy. The secret is to make sure all aspects of your health and well-being are balanced so you can still reach for a few sugary snacks with no guilt! Here's how:
Don't have junk food in your house
The easiest and most obvious thing to do first is to remove the culprit! This is something I began doing by the fall of 2020 when I finally decided I wanted to get rid of this aggravating habit of snacking that was meddling with my well-being— and it works. When I crave junk food, I have to leave my house to get it physically, and by the time I decide to get up, the craving is gone.
I am disciplined but not perfect. Junk food still occasionally makes its way into my house, so I have more tricks to share.
Redesign your environment for success
Make sure your fridge and pantry are filled with delicious, nutritious foods that may already be washed, prepped, or cut so you can grab them anytime. Sure, you may desire the bag of chips over a handful of berries, but you can indeed train your mind to crave healthy foods.
Every time you reach for the healthier option, you train your mind. Just keep on doing this over time.
When you reach junk food, don't beat yourself up but be mindful of what happened and question your intentions: why did you go for that bag of chips? How did it make you feel after? Take this a step further and write this down if you are serious about forming new habits! Awareness is a part of the behavioural change process.
I have a lot of healthy snacks at home, such as fruit and nuts. I am not a sweets person, but here is another trick I have: when I am craving chips (my ultimate guilty pleasure), I will heat some leftover hormone-free rotisserie chicken, drizzle it up with olive oil and truffle salt, and it hits the spot! Find something that works for you.
Eat wholesome, nutritious foods
There is no denying that you are what you eat. This study shows that a bad diet is the cause of chronic low-grade inflammation which will manifest itself into cancer, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and mood disorders. It's simple to say that it's in your best interest to stop eating processed foods and eat only natural, whole, nutritious foods. Science unveils that food is the common denominator in many of our problems.
Your diet should be filled with healthy omega-3 fats, high-quality protein (preferable hormone/antibiotic-free, grass-fed and sustainably sourced), and healthy carbohydrates (including fruits and vegetables, unrefined whole grains, legumes, and nuts).
*Please consult with a qualified dietitian or your family doctor before making any considerable dietary changes.
Eliminate barriers to entry
"Food-prep" may sound intimidating for those who have never done it. If you can afford to, you may even start with pre-cut vegetables and prepared foods such as store-bought guacamole and hummus to kick-start behaviour change. Habits are formed by momentum, so once you notice your cravings and habits are changing for the better, you will be motivated to take the next step: actual food prep. Stick with it. It will get easier over time.
Snack on what you love
My No. 1 rule when snacking: I have to love, love, love it. The second rule: I only consume high-quality snacks. If you can afford to, spend more on pre-packed foods with higher quality ingredients. Trust me; it's worth it because you are what you eat. Spend the extra $3 on the bag of chips with fewer ingredients listed and use higher quality oils. Sure it is still 'junk food,' but if you're going to indulge, let's make it a little easier on your body. Make a conscious effort to choose food and brands.
Learn to read food labels
Understand food labels, learn to read the ingredient list to identify hidden sugars, inflammatory food dyes and additives, and other toxic chemicals found in most processed foods.
This is one of the most profound things I learned in 2021 because I experienced it firsthand, and I wish everyone knew how important this simple tip is: only eat when you are happy! When your nervous system is in a relaxed parasympathetic state, you digest food and absorb nutrients better. Eating in a stressed state causes cortisol release, which will interfere with digestion.
There are things you can do before and while you eat to lower your cortisol levels:
- Digestion begins in the mouth. Chew your food thoroughly.
- Enjoy your meals. Eating food that pleases you tells the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger its relaxation response.
- Take a couple of deep belly breaths between bites. Breathwork is your body's natural "brake system" to reduce stress.
- Turn off your phone and TV during meals because they significantly increase cortisol levels. Do not do anything stressful while eating.
- Eat at a table, preferably with people you care about.
Of course, I am going to tell you to exercise. Not only will it help you maintain your figure, but exercise is the best tool for anti-aging and the best' drug' for depression and anxiety. Exercise also boosts confidence, and once you start seeing results from exercise, it will only create momentum and motivation to keep you doing more and more. The best thing is that you don't have to go to the gym for a workout (I haven't had a gym membership in years) if you have access to the internet (ahem, YouTube) and the great outdoors. What is your excuse?
Go for walks
Did you know that a short 30-minute walk after meals will bring down your blood sugar levels and help you lose weight? Metabolic health is a topic I've been passionate about because even if you do not have diabetes, maintaining steady blood sugar without the constant spikes from processed foods and refined carbs is a secret to good health.
Walks are underrated and one of the best exercises you can do. It may not seem like it, but those steps genuinely add up. If your mind is all for delayed gratification, you will understand. I try to go for short walks after every meal. If I can't get outside, I make sure to get up to clean the kitchen or do chores around the house, so I'm moving.
I also go for walks when I feel I will hit that "afternoon slump." If you have a dog, that's even better—you have an excuse to get outside as much as possible. After seeing the profound effects walking has on my overall well-being over the last decade, I prioritize it as much as I can.
In a small study, sleep was the most critical health factor to our well-being, next to exercise and proper nutrition. Sleep is simply the foundation of our health. Sleep deficiency is associated with memory, concentration, immune system function problems, and weight gain.
Fragmented sleep also deteriorates sleep quality, so don't consume too much liquid and don't eat for at least three hours before bed (your digestive system consumes the most energy in your body while metabolizing nutrients). Many people are also caffeine sensitive, so it's in your best interest to cut caffeine off in the afternoon. As soon as I got into my late-20s, my caffeine sensitivity went up, and my mind would be 'buzzing' when I tried to sleep if I drank coffee after 2 p.m.
I've been wearing my Oura Ring since 2018, which measures the different stages of sleep and provides me with a 'readiness score' the next day, which dictates how hard I decide to train my body that day and the foods I may want to eat for better recovery. When you overdo it, you are only stressing your body out even more—you're at the point of diminishing returns. I'm an athlete, and I love fitness, but over the years, I learned to prioritize my recovery even more, and that includes high-quality sleep.
We all know that the most challenging part about going to the gym or eating better is starting, so you have to incorporate small habits to trick your mind. Exercise is much less intimidating when you start by committing to one minute instead of one hour. Eating well is easier if you eliminate unhealthy foods slowly over time, allowing your mind to get used to a new way of eating. Never underestimate the power of small steps. New behaviour over time creates results.