Did you know that, on average, 20% or more of the food calories we consume each day would be from ‘non-hungry eating’?
‘Non hungry’ eating is a pretty simple concept – it is the food we eat when we are not hungry. It can be snacking in the afternoon to take a break from work, chowing down on chocolate in front of the TV, or overeating at dinnertime after a stressful day. During this indefinite period of social isolation, being out of routine and in close proximity to the fridge, we predict that non-hungry eating may reach an all-time high. Sigh!
Most of us recognise that ‘non-hungry’ eating may result in exceeding our body’s fuel requirements, leading to weight gain over time. Yet despite being so simple to understand, it is such a perplexing and complicated area to manage.
Why is it hard to manage? Well, if we simply ate for physical reasons, to refuel our bodies when we are hungry, it wouldn’t be. But food and eating go far beyond satisfying a physical need for most people. Food can represent joy, comfort, socializing, culture and tradition. It tastes good. It feels good. Some say it’s ‘addictive’.
And whilst there is nothing wrong with enjoying food for any of these ‘non-hungry’ reasons, if you are hoping to lose weight or simply prevent weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be a good idea to pay attention, and to minimize it. Here are eight tips to help you do it!
- The 3 hour rule
This rule is perfect for the ‘non-hungry’ grazers, to keep your snacking ‘in check’! On average, a balanced main meal should keep your blood sugars stable and your tummies full for at least 3 hours. So, try not to snack within this timeframe! If your next main meal is only 4 hours after, you may not need to snack at all.
- Balanced main meal
Prevent overeating at main meals by making sure your plate is filled with foods rich in fibre, protein and low GI carbohydrates – all critical for reaching satiety. Aim to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with lean meat, fish, eggs or tofu, and one quarter with sweet potato, quinoa, legumes or wholegrain bread.
- Set your portions
If you commit to eating a certain portion before starting a meal, you are more likely to stick to eat, right? Everyone’s portion size requirements will be different, depending on weight, age, gender and physical activity – to name a few. As a rough guide, try and stick to 2 cups of non-starchy vegetables, 100-150g lean protein, and ½ – 1 cup of low GI carbohydrate.
- Eat mindfully
According to a systematic review of 24 studies, people who eat whilst distracted end up consuming more calories. This is because, when distracted, you are less likely to recognise satiety kicking in. Furthermore, eating whilst distracted means you are less likely to feel ‘emotionally’ satisfied, and more likely to engage in ‘non-hungry’ snacking afterwards. So sit away from your desk to eat lunch, and turn the TV off during dinner.
- Create a list of other activities
Many of us turn to food when we are bored, stressed, angry or sad. Often, ‘non-hungry’ eating will not properly address these situations; just delay them for a short time. It may even make these feelings worse. Try and create a list of activities or alternative coping strategies, such as reading a book or going for a walk.
- Create a supportive environment
A supportive environment refers equally to the food and the people around you. Try to avoid having ‘trigger’ foods in eyesight or easily available, and let people know about your goals, so that they can support you.
- Keep accountable
The most successful healthy eating or weight loss plans include an element of accountability, according to the consumer review team at Choice. Try keeping a food diary, joining a facebook group, or checking in with friends, family or even a dietitian. The thought of reporting your ‘non-hungry’ eating help prevent you from doing it!
- Contingency plan
When all else fails, which sometimes it does, be prepared with a list of low calorie snacks you are happy to eat, even when you are not hungry. Try veggie sticks with hommous, low fat yoghurt, fruit or soup.