The “freshman 15” refers to the weight – which can be as much as 15 lb. – that college freshmen are reputed to gain when they get to campus. It may be attributed to all-you-can eat cafeteria food, increased stress, too much alcohol, and decreased exercise.
A new phenomenon is the so-called “COVID-15,” or noticeable weight gain while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. A decrease in physical activity can be a cause if you have been working out less than before. Too much snacking can be another major factor.
It is all too easy to snack more than usual when you are stuck at home. The kitchen is never more than a few feet away, supervisors and work colleagues do not know if you take snack breaks, and the days can be long without the out-of-the-home entertainment options that we are used to having, such as visiting friends and family, going to concerts and sporting events, and visiting stores, museums, and religious venues.
Emotions can also contribute to excessive snacking. Millions of Americans are highly stressed, at a minimum due to the hardship of staying home and wondering about an uncertain future, and for many, worrying about job security, housing, and health. Boredom can also lead to snacking, as walking to the kitchen and searching the fridge may have become the most readily available form of entertainment.
What, then, can you do to keep snacks in check and even make them work for you during COVID-19? Here are nine tips, plus 10 snack ideas.
Snack idea: 1 small (soft taco-sized) whole-wheat tortilla spread with ¼ cup mashed beans and topped with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.
1. Stick to a schedule.
Schedules may have shifted or gone completely out the window as schools closed and commuting stopped for all but “essential” workers, but having no schedule can make people less productive. Similarly, having a set eating schedule, with meals and snacks at regular times, can keep eating on track. Of course being hungry or not being hungry should override your by-the-clock schedule, but establishing a regular pattern can help snacks fall into place in a healthy way.
Snack idea: ants on a log. Spread non-fat cream cheese or peanut butter on celery sticks (“logs”) and push blueberries or sunflower or pumpkin seeds (“ants”) into the cream cheese or peanut butter.
2. Count your snacks.
A bite here and a nibble there can turn into pounds on your hips unless you count up these bites and account for them when planning your meals. Logging everything in Lark can help you keep track so you know what you are eating. Otherwise, it is easy to forget about what you munched on throughout the day and to serve yourself the same large meals that you would have had if you had not had those snacks.
Snack idea: pita pockets. Spread hummus into half of a whole-grain pita pocket, and stuff with lettuce, sprouts, and tomato slices.
3. Shop for healthy snacks.
Healthy snacks are more filling and less likely to pack in excessive calories, but you cannot eat them unless they are in the house! A shopping list with low-calorie, high-nutrient, easy-to-prepare snacks might include your favorite kinds of fresh fruit, along with vegetables such as grape tomatoes, celery, baby carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, and broccoli florets. High-protein snackable foods can include non-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, eggs (for boiling), nuts, peanuts, canned tuna, and boneless skinless chicken.
Snack idea: Cook carrots, and puree them with garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, olive oil, and cumin. Use it as a dip for cucumbers, cauliflower florets, or other veggies.
4. Prepare healthy snacks in advance.
Having a healthy snack already ready when you want to eat can be enough to help you choose the healthy option instead of chips, cookies, a bagel, or any other processed food. Grab a few tangerine wedges instead of a couple of mini chocolate chip cookies every time you walk through the kitchen, and your snacks could total 100 instead of 600 calories for the day.
Snack idea: Mix together 1/2 cup of oats, ½ cup of whole-wheat flour, 2 small ripe mashed bananas, dash of cinnamon and salt, ½ teaspoon teaspoon, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 tablespoons of almond milk. Place on greased cookie sheet to make 8 to 16 cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until done.
5. Know the pitfalls.
As much as certain healthy snacks can support your health and weight loss goals, other snacks can sabotage them quickly. Cookies, chips, crackers, snack cakes, processed meats, and other typical snack foods can be high in refined carbohydrates, including starch and sugar, sodium, and unhealthy or excess fats. If these types of foods are likely to tempt you, it is best to keep them out of the house or at a minimum, if others in your household eat them, hidden out of sight behind healthier choices.
Snack idea: Thinly slice (ideally with a mandolin) a sweet potato. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese. Then bake until done.
6. Ask why you are snacking.
Being hungry is a good reason to snack, but is it the reason why you are snacking? It is a good idea to get into the habit of asking yourself why you are snacking. Stress is a common reason, and tends to be high during COVID-19. Boredom may be another reason. Learning to manage stress in other ways besides eating, and finding something else to do besides eat when you are bored, can get snack attacks under control.
Snack idea: Mix together ½ cup diced cucumber, ½ cup chopped tomato, dash of pepper and garlic powder, lime or lemon juice, cilantro, and ½ cup diced avocado. Serve half the recipe over ½ cup cottage cheese.
7. Drink a lot.
No, not alcohol! We mean water or other low-calorie fluids, such as decaffeinated green or black tea or coffee. Staying well hydrated can reduce feelings of hunger because the brain often mistakes hunger for thirst. Pouring yourself water and getting ice, or preparing coffee or another beverage, and then sipping on it, gives you something to do besides eat, and that can only be good for your waistline.
Snack idea: Roll a banana in chopped peanuts, then cut it in half, stick a popsicle stick in each half, and freeze the halves. Enjoy them as popsicles for a snack!
8. Stick to the “rules.”
What would you tell your children? Possible rules may include sitting at the table to eat instead of standing at the kitchen counter or the fridge. Another good tip is to serve yourself into a bowl or onto a plate instead of eating from a multi-serving bag.
Snack idea: Spread a large brown rice cake with 1 tablespoon of almond butter and (optional) sliced strawberries or blueberries.
9. Enjoy it.
Isn’t it nice that enjoying your snack is the healthiest way to eat it? Noticing the flavors and textures, and relaxing while you eat can help you eat slowly and get more satisfaction from a smaller snack. Eating your snack as a family, if possible, can make your snack break more defined, and help you end the snack instead of dragging it out until you have eaten too much.Snack idea: 1 packet regular (plain) oatmeal made with water and mixed with ¼ cup pumpkin plus cinnamon.