6 May 2020

How to combat snacking in isolation

by Martin Refalo 0

Have you caught yourself eating an unnecessary snack that left a guilty taste in your mouth and lead you to wonder why on earth you ate it in the first place? Being in isolation can certainly influence our propensity to snack and this is no doubt a potential issue that many of us are currently facing. I…

Have you caught yourself eating an unnecessary snack that left a guilty taste in your mouth and lead you to wonder why on earth you ate it in the first place? Being in isolation can certainly influence our propensity to snack and this is no doubt a potential issue that many of us are currently facing. I say potential because it doesn’t need to be an issue. There are many strategies that can be implemented to suppress snacking frequency but understanding its manifestation comes first. Understanding why the urge to snack grows in certain circumstances will improve your self-awareness and help you gain ownership of your snacking habits. We all know the consequences of increased snacking overtime, so this article will cover common triggers and strategies to keep your snacking habits in check.

If you have read my previous article you’d know I’ve been surveying my mailing list subscribers about pertinent topics. Of course, this week’s topic was snacking. How many snacks are you currently having per day? This was the first question I asked. Understanding that there would be a multitude of limitations to the resultant data, I aimed to retrieve another, more ambiguous response regarding snacking behaviour. What triggers you to snack? I provided four multiple choice options that are prominent subjects throughout snacking literature. The results are displayed below.

Considering most participants were clients of mine and I have somewhat addressed snacking with them before, I was less concerned with snacking frequency than I was the triggers. The results were explicit, boredom and hunger made up 100% of the answers. With this information, I can attack the root cause of snacking and ensure that snacking frequency doesn’t rise. Without awareness of the triggers, telling yourself to snack less is foolish. That’s like telling yourself you can continue on with your life as per usual, “just don’t get coronavirus” …eventually, that microscopic son-of-a-bitch will infiltrate your system and hijack your physiology. Just like hunger and boredom will eventually strike, leading to an impulsive decision, especially if there is a big block of chocolate sitting in the pantry.

Let’s unpack the triggers.


Have you ever been eaten up by boredom? Probably not, but boredom may have pushed you towards a snack or two in the past. Boredom has actually been established as an important and distinct influencer of eating behaviour. Considering the large amount of time most of you are now spending at home, boredom will be more likely to develop. When you are bored you seek sensation and that can often lead to a desire to snack. However, it is what you snack on that counts. Highly-palatable foods which are usually high in calories tend to be more attractive than their ‘healthier’ counterparts. These palate exciting foods can capitalise on your sensitivity to sensation and reward – this is how hedonic eating is born. Being aware that boredom may modulate your sensitivity to sensationis important and has implications for your environment. 


Unlike boredom, snacking when hungry tends to be associated with the consumption of health-promoting foods. These foods are likely to be nutrient dense, filling and have a low-moderate hedonic rating. Many people are under the impression that snacking on ‘healthy’ food is fine and has no long-term implications. But what defines healthy? Are nuts healthy? Nuts are nutrient dense (a good thing) but also jam-packed with calories. These calories add up over time whether they are healthy or not – a trap too many are prone to falling into.  For this reason, telling yourself to snack on healthy foods can be counterintuitive and snack-composition recommendations need to be unambiguous. Regardless, it all boils down to what you have lying around at home, right? Your environment reigns supreme and will always maintain a strong influence on your food choices. For most of us, our current environment is constrained and lacks diversity which means we can exert greater control over it. Let’s explore.


In my dietary adherence guide I suggested, “The environment, which can be defined as ‘the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates’ is an underestimated influencer of food intake”. Although we usually think of ourselves as being in total control of our actions and decisions, external stimuli are added to the electrochemical mixture within our brain and what you we next can be altered. Let me add some context. Right now, the bulk of your environment comprises your house and potentially your workplace. If there is an abundance of food, healthy or unhealthy, available within your fridge, pantry or on your kitchen bench, the chances of unnecessary snacking rise dramatically. This sounds like common sense, but it really isn’t paid respect too. Many people think they are addicted to snacking or don’t have any willpower, but the root cause of their issues is environmental. When snacks are consumed in absence of a biological cue (e.g. hunger) they can be termed unnecessary and there are many prompting factors for this behaviour that can manifest from your home environment. Eating lunch while watching TV may increase the number of snacks you subsequently eat due to a lack of attentiveness – have you ever finished a meal so fast or in such a distracted manner that you can’t remember actually eating and savouring it? And watching TV has been associated with the number of snacks consumed per day; more TV = more snacks. From what I know,Netflix traffic has hit an all-time high. Uh oh. To top this up, eating whilst distracted increases the likelihood of overconsumption and decreases your awareness of food quality and quantity. Furthermore, the variety of available snack options lurking within your fridge or on your shelves can also influence food consumption. This can be termed the ‘variety effect’ and is regulated by sensory (or taste)-specific satiety. Put simply, the greater the – taste – variety in your food choices, the higher the chance of overconsumption and continual snacking. Just imagine a mouth-watering spread of salted nuts, doritos, shapes and some of your favourite chocolate.

With all that said, here are some strategies to combat iso snacking:

  • Establish a dedicated ‘snack section’ in your fridge and pantry, with a maximum of two preferred snacks in each locationat any one time. Limit other snack foods from being present within your environment or keep them in a separate section dedicated to others living with you. Snacks can be varied once completely eaten.
  • Ensure you always have fruit at hand, separate from your snack section. Fruit is a great snack that is low in calories and nutrient dense. Have one serving of fruit as a snack per day.
  • Ensure you have at least two high protein snacks available, e.g. Chobani fit inside fridge, protein bar in pantry.
  • Limit yourself to a maximum of two snacks from your snack section per day; one of those snacks must include protein, the other can be of choice.
  • If you are choosing to have a snack that isn’t packaged in appropriate serving sizes (e.g. chocolate bar versus a box of shapes) be sure to empty desired contents into a small bowl. Portion sizes can be dependent on individual calorie intakes. Do not eat out of boxes or large packets.
  • Ensure your main meals are high in protein and fibre. Take your time whilst eating and preferably not whilst watching TV. 
  • Keep your eating routine consistent and consume main meals without distractions. Snacks may be consumed whilst watching TV but portions need to be pre-prepared. 
  • Drink 2-3L of waterper day. Drinking pre and post meals will help keep you full.

I hope this article has increased your awareness to potential triggers in the environment and their implications. With this knowledge you can make better conscious decisions about your food choices and with the implementation of the above strategies hopefully reduce the chances of your snacking frequency rising throughout the isolation period.

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