6 Key Questions Before You Start Snacking
Food not only sustains life; it is also our teacher.
Our relationship with food reveals so much about our experience in the world. We can have a functional or dysfunctional relationship with food, which can evolve and change as we change and grow.
One possible solution to rethinking how we eat is through a deeply embodied understanding that is made possible when we get present with our bodies before, during, and after we eat.
Learning to listen and discern the signals of our bodies will transform our relationship with food–and, frankly, everything else.
So skip the mindless eating this week and practice pausing and asking a few questions to inform your next bite.
Am I really hungry?
Emotions such as stress, boredom, and sadness can trigger emotional eating. Before eating, take a moment to pause and listen to your body's signal. Do you feel a physical urge for food, like stomach growling, low energy, shakiness, headaches, and problems focusing? Or were you triggered by a situation or a person? Do you crave a specific food or want to overeat as a way to distract from a situation or feeling? These feelings are signals, too–and they deserve a compassionate inquiry that ultimately won't be satisfied by unconscious eating.
Does this food nourish my body?
Individualized nutritional needs vary based on genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors. Before eating, consider if the food supports your personal nutritional needs to be healthy. Specialized tests used in personalized nutrition that can measure certain biomarkers related to cell health, such as inflammation levels, hormones associated with metabolism and energy production (like thyroid hormones), nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12 or zinc levels, food sensitivities/allergies, gut microbiota diversity/imbalance, oxidative stress markers (which indicate how well your body can combat free radicals), and more!
Do I feel pressured to eat right now?
Am I eating this food because I genuinely need to eat for hunger or want to eat for pleasure (both legit!)—or feel compelled to eat from social pressure or an unconscious conditioned habit? Social norms and habits influence what and how much we eat. Before eating, reflect on why you are about to eat. Is the desire for food real and necessary? Is there anything else you could do socially instead of eating? What, if any, are the consequences if you decide not to eat at this moment? Understanding these powerful influences is key.
Does this align with my health goals?
It can be helpful to consider how specific foods support one's overall health goals. Remember, nutrition is personal, and there is no such thing as a universally healthy food. A better option is to tailor dietary recommendations based on your unique biological makeup and lifestyle needs. By factoring in your biochemical individuality, personalized nutrition considers the many factors that can influence overall health. This includes genetics, environment, stress levels, physical activity, and more—to create a specific and uniquely tailored preventative and empowering plan.
How will this food make me feel?
How will I feel if I eat this, Both in my body and in my mind? It's important to begin to track and notice how certain foods will make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Food can significantly impact our mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Pay attention and do a body scan after eating and sense your heart rate, your energy level, and any feelings of anxiousness, sudden fatigue, or other signals that can indicate if the food is adding to your well-being or robbing you of your true vitality.
Will this promote a healthy microbiome?
The microbiome, the community of microorganisms that live in the gut, plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being. When you feed your microbes well, your entire biology is nourished. A great deal of research has produced evidence that oral and gut microbiomes play key roles in maintaining balance and overall health for your entire body. Food and supplements help your body function and repair itself, but no two people react to all food and ingredients the same way. Understanding gene expression and which food to eat or avoid can help you balance by reducing inflammatory activity and restoring the microbial ecosystem.
Food is medicine
BMJ reports that one of every five deaths across the globe is "attributable to suboptimal diet, more than any other risk factor, including tobacco.” The solution is to embrace a mindset that ‘food is medicine’ with the power to prevent, and manage, health issues and potential illnesses. This applies at the crossroads of nutrition and healthcare and institutionalized opportunities and, even more critically, in the hands of the individual making food choices every day.
What we eat matters and is uniquely personal to each of us. Food is Medicine.
11 quick tips for healthier eating habits:
Keep trigger foods out of sight, or remove them from your kitchen. If your family or roommates purchase trigger foods, request they keep them tucked away, if possible.
Keep track of what is going on for you when the urge to snack happens: Are you dealing with boredom? Stress? Are you putting off things you need to get done? Noting this phenomenon helps you know when you may be reaching for food you don't need to eat.
Pay particular attention to food labels, especially ones that say “healthy,” “natural,” “low-fat,” and “sugar-free." Processed foods that tout these qualities make up for being “healthy” usually by adding more fat, sugar, additives, and preservatives. You could be feeding your body food that is void of any nutrition at all.
Stay hydrated: If you feel hunger pangs come on and it’s not time for a meal, drink a glass of water. Give yourself about 15 minutes before having a snack (sometimes you might confuse thirst and hunger signals).5
Get a good night's sleep: Lack of sleep can create an imbalance that may throw off your body's regulation of ghrelin and leptin, your hunger hormones. This may make you more susceptible to snacking unnecessarily.6 Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Don’t skip meals: Set a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedule. Pay special attention to creating your schedule when your body is hungry rather than just by the clock. If you are not hungry for lunch until 2 pm, that’s the perfect time to eat your healthy meal.
Specific food cravings are not always a real indicator of hunger. If you can integrate your craving into your next meal in a healthy way–go for it. But if you’re constantly craving sugary, salty, fatty snack foods, drink water, and wait until your next meal to give your body some good, whole-food nutrition. Research suggests that cravings may be a risk for unhealthy binge eating, both psychologically and physically.7
Plan your meals: Find an app for your smartphone, use a calendar, or even just a notepad to create your meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plan for meals that are balanced with a good selection of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats, and whole grains. Be sure you know what foods are right for your biology, with a Viome Intelligence test!
Eating large amounts of high-fiber, low-calorie foods like fresh vegetables (fill half your plate if you can!) can give your brain the effect of thinking you ate more calories and feel fuller during your meal.8
Practice mindful eating: take your time while you eat, enjoy the food you or others have prepared, and remind yourself that you're giving your body the nutrition it needs to run optimally. Don't let distractions like electronics, games, or television take you away from focusing on your meal. Doing other things while eating can lead to mindlessly eating more and feeling less full.9,10 Give yourself visual cues to remind yourself of what you have already eaten,
Tune into your body: Find that moment during eating when you notice you are starting to feel full. Gauging when you may be 80% full is a good time to stop eating and avoid taking in excess calories your body doesn't need.
1 Perl J, Faubel S, et al. (2021). American Society of Nephrology Statement on the Treatment of Patients with Mental Health Disorders Receiving Hemodialysis. Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology. doi: 10.2215/CJN.00260121.
2 Food is medicine: actions to integrate food and nutrition into healthcare. (2020). theBMJ. bmj.com.
3 Gustafson, D.I., Decker E.A., et al. (2022). [Making healthy diets accessible and achievable...impacts of packaged foods]. Current Developments in Nutrition. PubMed. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
4 Hatch, A., Horne, J., Toma, R., Twibell, B.L., Somerville, B.P., Canfield, K.P., Genkin, M., Banavar, G., Perlina, A., Messier, H., Klitgord, N., Vuyisich, M. (2019). A Robust Metatranscriptomic Technology for Population-Scale Studies of Diet, Gut Microbiome, and Human Health. International Journal of Genomics. PubMed. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
5 Hunger vs. thirst: tips to tell the difference. (n.d.). PKD Foundation, pkdcure.org
6 Pacheco, D. (2022). [Sleep and calorie consumption]. Sleepfoundation.org
7 Reens, J., et al. (2020). [Hunger, satiety and mood-related cravings]. Frontiers in Psychology. PubMed Central. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
8 Wooley, S.C. (1972). [Physiologic and cognitive factors with food regulation]. Psychosomatic Medicine. PubMed. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
9 Stroebele, N., de Castro, J.M. (2004). [Television viewing and overeating]. Appetite. PubMed. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
10 Blass, E.M., Anderson, R.D., et al. (2006). [Television viewing and intake of high-densitiy foods]. Physiology & Behavior. PubMed. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.