It’s late at night and you’re after something unhealthy. Really unhealthy. A rummage through the pantry and fridge, however, gives you no options (aside from carrots and last week’s curry).
You could just settle for something healthy or nothing at all, but many of us would open our laptops and order pizza, or walk down the street to the nearest 7-Eleven and come out with an armful of chocolate and chips.
While these foods are delicious, it goes without saying they are not healthy or helping us achieve weight loss goals. On top of this, the problem with these foods is that they are readily available. All. The. Time.
“What 24/7 food refers to is the changing food environment and how today we have constant access to food throughout the day and night -- from late night pizza delivery, convenience stores, supermarkets and fast food outlets open 24 hours,” Emma Stirling, Weight Watchers accredited practising dietitian, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"There is constant food availability."
Not surprisingly, research by Weight Watchers shows these 24/7 available foods are leading Aussies to crave them more and that cravings are preventing more than one in three people from reaching their weight loss goals.
“Take an abundant, readily-available and enticing food supply (crying out to us at every turn) and match this with busy, multitasking individuals who simply want to feel recharged and satisfied -- it’s no surprise that many people have lost their nutrition intuition and eat as if on autopilot,” Stirling said.
If we can’t visually avoid these 24/7 foods, what can we do? According to Stirling, two factors which may help reduce junk food cravings are intuitive eating and healthy snacking.
“The key is to let hunger be your true guide,” Stirling told HuffPost Australia. “So, when everyone else is reaching for the biscuit barrel, stop and really assess your hunger levels.”
If you are truly hungry, choose healthy snacks that are going to keep you full -- think nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers and fruit and vegetables.
“Smart snacking means always having a healthy and portion-controlled choice on hand when hunger calls,” Stirling said.
The key here is 'portion-controlled'. In a study by Mindless Eating expert Dr Brian Wansink, participants who were given larger portions of snack foods consumed 77 percent more food than those given smaller portions -- this amounted to consuming over 400 kilojoules more, but they did not report feeling stronger appetite satisfaction than the group with the smaller portions.
Although it may seem easier to avoid snacking altogether when trying to lose weight, healthy snacking can actually help you towards your goals.
“Mid-meal snacking can help maintain optimal blood glucose and insulin levels, plus boost your essential nutrient intake, energy levels, mood and concentration,” Stirling said.
“However, if you’ve enjoyed a satisfying, healthy breakfast of low GI oats, cinnamon and apple, you may not need more mid-morning fuel.”
If you’re fitting in an afternoon gym session, Stirling advises to not skip a pre-workout snack, as it can lead to eating more unhealthy foods later on.
“If you’re heading to the gym after work and delaying dinner, you’d be mad not to include a healthy afternoon snack to avoid ravenous hunger and overeating later on -- plus, it will help fuel your fitness,” Stirling said.
Can't resist the smell of popcorn at the movies? Here are three common ‘junk food traps’ and tips to help you get through the situation.
Trap #1: Morning or afternoon tea
Every time you go into the kitchen at home to make a coffee, you see the big biscuit jar calling your name.
Tip: “Out of sight, out of mind -- hide the treats away in an opaque container on a high shelf,” Stirling said.
Hopefully, then, when you want a biscuit (without being visually reminded of the biscuit jar), you will be more likely to grab just one or two. Better yet, don’t buy the biscuits in the first place.
“Recognise your food weaknesses, remove them from your shopping list and replace them with smarter snack choices, like portion-controlled, individually-wrapped nut and wholegrain bars,” Stirling said.
Trap #2: Lunch time
It’s lunchtime and you’re about to go and grab your usual food court lunch of stir fry noodles, forgetting the office birthday cake you ate half an hour ago.
Tip: “We often eat simply because the clock says it is mealtime. Before you reach for food, pause and ask yourself, 'How hungry am I? When did I last eat? What size meal or snack will satisfy my appetite?'” Stirling said.
“That way you can take action -- for example, switching to a sushi roll to compensate for cake.”
Trap #3: The cinemas
You meet a friend at the movies and the heavenly scent of popcorn overwhelms you. Your friend suggests to get a jumbo-sized box each as it’s a great deal with a drink.
Tip: “According to a Cornell University study on movie-goers, the size of the container does count. People who were served fresh popcorn in large tubs resulted in eating 45 percent more than those given popcorn in medium-sized containers,” Stirling said.
“Go for the smallest tub or, better still, pack your own air-popped popcorn in a portable container from home.”