Are you snacking more?
We’ve all been forced to adapt to a new way of life in light of the Covid-19 restrictions; the ‘new normal’ has meant that our routines are disrupted and so are our regular eating habits. With millions now working from home (and being so close to the kitchen), the temptation to snack has never been greater.
This increase in snacking could potentially lead to an increase in people across the UK putting on weight – a concern when obesity is recognised as a key risk factor associated with Coronavirus. But, it’s not only weight gain which is a risk factor of snacking – it can also have a detrimental effect on our oral health, leading to dental decay, gum disease and further complications.
Why are we snacking more?
Sophie Medlin, a leading consultant dietitian at CityDietitians, explains the science behind some of our cravings and how to curb snacking urges:
For most people, an increase in snacking when we’re in isolation has become a fact of daily life. The reasons that most people are snacking more fall into three categories: stress, boredom, and temptation.
When we’re stressed, we release fight or flight hormones that tell our body that we might need to run or fight. That triggers many of us to be drawn to high energy foods that will fuel us to fight or run.
Unfortunately, with Covid19, we don’t need to run or fight, we need to stay at home and sit still. If you notice that you’re eating because of stress or anxiety, now is a great time to find some stress management techniques that you can use instead of fuelling your stress response with food that you don’t really need.
Top tip: Try a five-minute guided meditation, find three songs that make you feel calm and relaxed, laugh at a funny video or doing some stretching. Anything that creates a sense of calm and gets you breathing deeply will work.
If you’re snacking because you’re bored, it can help to remember that it’s not surprising; lots of the things you would normally do to make you happy have been taken away. This can mean that we become too reliant on food to light up the reward centre in our brain. This is the part of your brain that releases feel-good hormones when you do something that your brain wants you to do.
But there are still lots of things that you can do in isolation to light up that reward centre. Your brain loves creativity, connection, achievements, movement, sex, self-care and many other things.
Top tip: Next time you find yourself eating because you’re bored, try distracting yourself by doing a crossword, chatting to a friend, going for a walk or dancing to your favourite song.
If you’re eating because of temptation, you have a unique opportunity at the moment to manage your own eating environment. You have the choice to make your home like a health food shop – with lots of healthy food and some balanced treats – or like a corner shop with crisps, chocolate and sweets to tempt you.
Find healthy snacks that you enjoy and keep a flask of tea or coffee and a jug of water by your desk to keep you out of the kitchen.
Top tip: If you’re still struggling, some people find that planning the timing of snacks and meals can help because you might be less likely to mindlessly eat a biscuit at 10:30am if you know you’ve planned a nice tea break at 11am.
However, if you find yourself snacking more to get through this time, remember that nobody will love you any less or value you any less if you gain a few pounds. Just make sure you take the right precautions to protect your oral health.
What impact does snacking have on our oral health?
Award-winning dental hygienist and founder of London Hygienist, Anna Middleton, explains the impact of over-snacking on our oral health:
Whilst snacking might seem like a good coping mechanism in the current climate, it can wreak havoc on your teeth. Tooth decay is primarily caused by poor food and beverage choices – particularly those with high levels of sugar such as fizzy drinks, which many of us are craving at the moment.
Every time you eat and drink, your teeth are under attack from sugars and acids. When these mix with plaque and bacteria in your mouth, it changes the pH levels and over time can erode the enamel (the hard outer layer of the tooth), ultimately causing tooth decay and cavities. It’s not necessarily the amount of sugar or acid you have that’s the problem, it’s the frequency that you have it which causes dental problems.
If you decide to have a snack, here’s how can you protect your teeth:
- Limit your intake of sugary foods. Consuming healthier options, and brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste will reduce enamel erosion and tooth decay.
- Keep all sugars and acids to mealtimes only and aim for no more than three to four sugar/acid foods per day.
- Go for enamel-safe snacks, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, plain crisps, rice cakes and popcorn. Choose water over juice, and for, children, juice should be diluted and saved as an occasional drink.
- Beware of dried fruit as a snack. It gets stuck in the pits and fissures of teeth, which are stagnation areas and prime ground for decay to be initiated. Same goes for drinking lemon water – because of its acidity we are seeing an increase in the number of patients with permanent and irreversible erosion of the tooth enamel, which leads to sensitivity, yellowing and increased risk of decay.
- After eating or drinking, try to rinse your mouth with water but avoid brushing straight after having something acidic. Or try having a sugar-free piece of gum or a mint. Opt for products with Xylitol (a naturally occurring sweetener) as it can kill the bacteria responsible for dental decay by up to 90%. Not only does it neutralise the plaque acids, but it also prevents them from starting in the first place, making it hard for plaque to stick to your teeth in the future.
Top tip: Brush before breakfast to protect teeth and once again at night after your last meal. Spit the toothpaste but do not rinse, to leave some of the fluoride toothpaste behind. This will increase your protection against dental decay by 30%.
A nutritionist could help you to overcome problematic snacking behaviours, by helping you to make positive changes to your diet and lifestyle. Find a verified nutrition professional near you.