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.