These stay-at-home orders, due to the virus crisis, have had some positive effects (believe it or not there have been some), but I know for the majority of WLS patients there have been some many more real negatives. It’s become a very messy time. Routines are thrown out, anxiety begins or resurfaces, food choice is limited, regular appointments are cancelled, face-to-face support groups are on hold, and many of the usual coping mechanisms have been hi-jacked and thrown into disarray. I know this because I have had droves of you writing and asking for help about turning things around, getting back on track or ‘how to fight back’.
Most of these concerns relate to old, destructive and what were hopefully jettisoned-behaviours resurfacing again and newly-learnt behaviours slipping away in their wake. If you feel like this is you, then you’re not alone – indeed if you’re not then maybe you are in the minority.
The most prominent problem that keeps floating to the top of the surface in almost every query for help relates to SNACKING. Not healthy, organised snacking but unplanned-for, unchecked and seemingly out-of-control snacking. Basically we’re mostly talking about emotional-eating when frankly your usual-go-to-foods are just not doing it for you and nothing seems to make you temporarily feel as good as a handful of crisps/chips, cookies or crackers do!
It’s hardly surprising really since the situation we find ourselves in at the moment is NOT NORMAL, and there’s no point in pretending it is. So I don’t think it’s the time to be avoiding things big-time because that will only ramp up the anxiety, fear and, for some, depression. But likewise I don’t think we should gaily abandon our regimes and jeopardise all the hard work we have put in. I would advocate instead some middle ground – somewhere between being understanding and gentle on ourselves, but not enabling poor behaviours to thrive and get a pincer-like grip either. This isn’t the green light time to eat whatever you want, whenever!
Therefore my advice is to set some healthy boundaries for yourself within the timetable of eating that comprises of 3 meals a day, with a couple of healthy snacks in between. For the rest of the time the kitchen is closed! Plan for doing some things to be productive and busy and to keep moving. And try to stick to the BARIATRIC BASICS as much as possible – if you need reminding what they are then see here.
But I do know the crunch time (pun intended) does come with those snacks. Those snacks can certainly make or break our diet and good intentions. They wreak havoc with hunger signals, rock blood sugars from high to low and back again like a yo-yo, and provide too much fuel for your body after surgery. Snacking without planning intention means that you can ingest hundreds of calories in the blink of an eye.
Planned snacks and healthy eating opportunities are a vital part of the bariatric patients diet, but if they go out of kilter then it is so very easy to go off track and move onto the ‘regain road’. So it pays to have a strategy for sensible and smart snacking. These can keep you in check, on track and doing the very best you can during difficult times (like during this pandemic).
So How Do You Tame It?
I have some tips below to help tame those unplanned snacking sessions, and also some healthy snack recipes that I hope will help – many are based on those that you might regularly turn to – cookies, chips, crisps, dips, energy balls and the like – but have been tinkered with and made as bariatric-friendly as possible. You still can’t eat them with total unrestricted abandon but they are unlikely to rock your scales if you consume in ideal portion sizes. Read on for the tips and scroll down for the recipes and the links.
Taming Tips For Smart, Measured and Healthy Snacking:
These are tips and strategies to help with unplanned snacking – the ones you find yourself turning to either out of boredom or due to stress – the ones that can quickly derail your healthy WLS healthy eating programme. Never before have they been so important because, for now, most of us are at home and maybe working too, so our homes have also become our workplaces; we’re practising social-distancing and so missing out on seeing family, friends and supporters; maybe home-schooling as an added ‘job’ – little wonder we’re feeling our reliable structure has gone and find ourselves more than stressed as a result.
So before you reach for that next savoury or sweet unplanned snack check out the following tips first …
1. Practise Portion Control
Often portion control goes out of the window when it comes to snacking. When you eat a plated meal you probably check the size of the portion and it’s proportions – but when it comes to snacking we unconsciously grab a handful, then a second, and maybe a third without realising the quantity that accumulates. Clearly this leads to over-consumption. If this sounds like you then portion out your snacks – weigh or count-out however many crackers you want to eat; measure out your snack into a bowl or onto a small plate – then put any leftover away. If you think you may be tempted to a refill then put them in a cupboard well away from your eyes or hands, then take your snack into another room where you can eat your snack with good intention. There is nothing wrong with having a snack per se but unlimited ones with no boundaries are poor management of your regime. Consider too buying single-serve sizes of popular items and those that are sold as ‘under 100 calories’ packs etc.
2. Clear The Kitchen – Keep A Clean/Controlled Environment
If we don’t see it we often don’t want it! If it’s not there then we can’t be tempted either. This probably sounds more than obvious but clearing your kitchen or simply not buying your ‘temptation-snacks’ may mean you reduce the urge to overeat what are patently a problem foods. I know that sounds simple, and if you’re sharing your home with others may not even be feasible or practical, but if that’s the case then why not store away in a hard-to-reach, inaccessible or out-of-eye-line place that would mean real effort to claim? No matter what – don’t leave on the work or kitchen counter, in a desk drawer, in a bowl to ‘help yourself’, or within clear eyesight. Make sure however that those healthy snacks like fruit are visible and those refrigerator snacks are on a middle shelf to take up the slack when the munchies present themselves. This is good damage limitation. We’re looking for progress not necessarily perfection.
3. Coming Hungry or Not …
Ask yourself the question – Is it real hunger, head hunger or something else at play? Have you eaten recently – if yes, why are you going back for more – did you eat enough? Did it contain satiating firm protein. Did it have plenty of fibre? Rate it according to the chart here. Maybe you’re not eating enough – or enough of the right thing or there’s an imbalance. A food diary or journal can help with identifying an issue.
If it’s not real hunger then it could well be ’emotional’ or ‘head hunger’ and you will need to address that issue rather than one associated with the former. It’s good to know what the culprit or problem is in order to identify the solution.
4. Water, Water, But Not Everywhere
With a change in environment and schedule comes a change in regular practises – maybe you are not drinking or hydrating as much as you used to pre-pandemic. This is important because sometimes the desire to snack is linked to our bodies not being hydrated sufficiently (indeed even dehydrated) and craving water. The body doesn’t always recognise water craving from food craving and the mix-up means you reach for a snack rather than a glass of water. We generally need about 8 glasses water per day (go back to measuring them) and if you’re missing out or under-scoring then your brain will signal to the body to get it by any means possible – and that may well mean unplanned and non-advisory food. So aim to get this correct and out of the running for being the reason you’re craving ‘something’ by drinking sufficiently between meals. If plain water doesn’t do it for you then consider flavoured ones and other ideas here.
Also consider of course if you’re drinking between meals and the fluid is flushing the food through your system faster than is ideal – just put a stop to that – and if you’re unsure how and why that happens check it out here.
5. Eat Mindfully, Without Distractions
Have you started to eat away from the table, while doing something else, even while stood at the refrigerator door, or while watching some TV? Distractions mean that you don’t consciously give food the attention it deserves. It may mean that you will eat more than you intend, not pace yourself properly (by eating too fast) and certainly not engage with the mindful process of eating for pleasure. So make it a rule that you will only eat something ideally with cutlery, at a table, with no distractions and for an agreed length of time. Most professionals suggest a 20 minute meal time. Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and don’t drink too soon before or after it. Likewise if this is a snack, consume it mindfully without the TV blaring, slumped on the sofa, and never without a time and quantity limit in place. Savour each bite because slow eaters do tend to eat less, feel fuller for longer, and rate the meal experience as being better – so a win, win, win all round!
6. Slow Down …
If you’re having trouble with slowing down then try using smaller bariatric utensils, using chops sticks or even your non-dominant hand to reduce the eating speed. It may also help with getting the bite-size right if you have issues with that (and they often do go hand in glove).
7. Check Out Your Food Choices
With lock-down in place, food choices limited, and the need to get food on the table, you might well have been more relaxed about your food selection. Have many more processed foods crossed your doorstep – have you been relying upon store cupboard and larder staples much more than fresh ones due to availability? Have carby foods like rice, pasta, potatoes and the like been replacing your quality protein ones? Have the quality ones tugged too harshly on the purse strings when income has gone down? Plus how has that fresh fruit and vegetable intake been going? These are all understandable at a time of crisis but can be worked through with some better menu planning. Check out recipes for a lock-down larder (we have some on the website) and have been posting many on social media that focus on using store cupboard staples, using up leftovers, and making best use of frozen options. I post almost daily on Instagram (see @bariatriccookery here).
8. I’m All Emotional …
And you’re not alone – who isn’t troubled to some degree or another at the moment. At the sharp end there are the heart-breaking bereavements (and I have suffered one of those); the middle part where structures, uncertainty and reliable routines are in disarray; to the softer (but just as real) milder end where emotions and situations just build up to trigger uncontrolled eating – or not eating at all, or sporadically.
Many WLS patients recognise ‘comfort eating’ at these times. But there are other more reliable ways to calm yourself (and also work to entertain you if the issue is boredom). We have suggested a good many here that you may wish to consider. Sometimes an honest conversation with your family about how you are feeling and how it is affecting your eating may well be enough to enlist their help and help you get back on track. It’s surprising how sharing your worries and concerns can help to put in place those actions that can encourage you (and stop hindering you too). Let them be your new cheerleaders – but if you’re really struggling do link up again with your bariatric or general healthcare team for help. They do understand the mental health fall-out of this pandemic and can usually offer some practical help during this time.
9. I Can’t Exercise Like I Used To
Even with a lock-down, exercise is a must, and you have to schedule for it. It won’t happen and suddenly change by some happy accident so you need to be wily and clever with adapting your your previous away-from-home regime to a more home-focused one, maybe using on-line resources. It isn’t selfish to insist upon this time for yourself – indeed it’s quite the opposite. The better you take care of yourself, the better equipped you will be for helping others in your life. Find something that works for you if a trip to the gym, pool or park are out of the question. Walking is often the most readily available, can be done alone or with a close family member (and so comply with current recommendations), costs little and doesn’t require any special or costly equipment or clothing. It’s also a great opportunity to re-discover your environment and the community you live in. We also have an on-line bariatric exercise video version you may wish to check out here.
10. Plus I’m Not Sleeping Well
It’s well documented that sleep has an impact on the way you feel. If you’re not getting enough or suffering from sleep deprivation then it will most usually impact on your eating behaviours and patterns. Most often this means you feel peckish and want to snack the following day or even during the night. Aim to get 6-8 hours of restful sleep a night as a minimum. Don’t obsess over catching up with the news by having devices by the side of your bed and try to switch off long before bed time comes around. There are some tips here for those that need some further guidelines.
11. Balance Your Meals and Snack Smartly
Balancing your blood sugar levels, eating sufficient protein, hydrating well and eating a nutritionally well-balanced meal is the cornerstone of the bariatric regime post-op. Ensure your meal has sufficient protein, fibre-rich and complex carbs, healthy fats and of course essential vitamins and minerals. DO NOT MISS OUT ON YOUR VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES RIGHT NOW. Continue with the practise of eating protein first as a priority; then onto fibre-rich and complex carbs and healthy fats with your main meal. When it comes to snacks choose a healthy rather than go-to convenient one if you can. Pair protein with veggies and fruits or wholegrain options rather than rely upon a ready-made protein bar or energy ball. Some examples include:
- hard-boiled egg with veggie sticks or a few nuts
- a wholegrain cracker or crispbread with sliver of cheese
- some cottage cheese with fruit
- apple slices with a nut butter and seeds
- veggies with a dip like hummus
- cucumber slices with pate or a spread
- beef jerky with an orange
- yogurt or quark with berries, nuts and seeds
- a portioned recipe-style snack (see our recipe ideas below)
***** 12. AND FINALLY … Clean Or Wash Your Mouth Out! ****
A GREAT TIP!
Now this might sound more than simplistic and it may not well help everyone, but it might help you (it has helped me). Brushing your teeth is recommended by obesity expert Dr Robert Kushner, as a way of combating and controlling unplanned and unhealthy snacking, especially in the evening. It would appear that the act of cleaning and brushing your teeth serves as a great interruption (or a pause), or even full-stop, to eating for the rest of the day. The act of brushing, which in turn leaves you with a fresh, clean and minty feel to your mouth, serves as a tangible prompt to remind you that eating is OVER. It may not work for you – but it may – and the side-benefit is that your teeth will be healthier, smile brighter and you may need fewer dental visits (and during this virus-crisis that may well be a game-changer). There’s nothing to lose by trying it.
Healthy Savoury and Sweet Snack Recipes:
Baked Vegetable Crisps (click here for recipe)
Spicy Roasted Chickpeas (click here for recipe)
Parmesan Crisps (click here for recipe)
Loaded Cheesy Dip (click here for recipe)
Healthy Peanut Apple Slices (click here for recipe)
Raspberry Flapjack Bars (click here for recipe)
Oaty-Licious Cookies (click here for recipe)
Apple and Oat Energy Protein Bites (click here for recipe)
Text, recipes and images © copyright Bariatric Cookery (UK) Ltd