It has been a little surreal watching the world prepare to work from home and hunker down in response to coronavirus. As a full-time freelance writer for the past 13 years, I’ve been practicing near-permanent self-isolation and social distancing for a long time. I usually run errands and hit stores during off-hours with few crowds, I use delivery services on a near-daily basis, and in general, I'm cooking or assembling two to three meals a day plus snacks in the comfort of my kitchen.
It might look to the outside observer that I have this whole thing down, especially when it comes to eating. Get up, have a lovely breakfast with my husband, a mid-morning cup of tea (with a piece of fruit if I’m feeling peckish), lunch when the mood hits, an afternoon snack or another tea break, and then dinner either in or out depending on how we’re feeling. But this is after years of learning how to be at home all day with my full pantry and fridge, especially during times of boredom or stress, both of which are about to come into play for many.
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That said, I am not here to tell you how to make healthful meals out of your pantry ingredients, nor to give you tips and tricks for creating structure for your new at-home workday, nor helping you to stay productive while still having some work/life balance.
I am here to tell you how not to eat all your pandemic snacks in the first two days of lockdown.
Meals tend to be no problem: Most folks knows how to feed themselves a breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home. But snacking is something else. And snacking when home alone (or with the only people who will forgive you your tresspasses) as opposed to being among co-workers who might judge, can be fraught with temptation. So, if your Costco load-in included some giant bags of Doritos or the year’s supply tub of chocolate-covered sea salt caramels in addition to the rice and beans, or if your Girl Scout cookie order is stacked to the rafters, and you are suddenly keenly aware of the location of every tub of ice cream and secret candy bar in your home, I see you. I am here for you. You can and will still fit into real pants when it is time to go back to normal.
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Tip 1: Portion Control Sizes Are Your Best Friend
First things first: When it comes to snacking, portion size is EVERYTHING, and while this is true 24/7/365, never is it truer than when you are home all day with the siren song of Cheetos calling to you from the pantry. So whenever possible, buy pre-portioned or individually wrapped items. Easier to avoid overindulging when to do so would require mindfully opening seven bags of Smartpop! one after another, rather than the frightening ease of your knuckles skimming the bottom of a share-size bag that you have witlessly consumed while scrolling email or indulging in a mid-afternoon Love is Blind binge.
Got an item in your panty that isn’t pre-portioned? DIY that s***. This is what those little snack-size ziptop bags were made for, and those seem to still be in stock at most stores. It will help prevent things from going stale and keep you on the straight and narrow.
Tip 2: Drink Lots of Water
Hydration is your friend. The more hydrated you are, the less hungry you will feel, so be sure to keep water near you at all times and try to sip it consistently throughout the day. Especially if you also are drinking anything with caffeine, which can be dehydrating. If I get a snack attack, I will drink a full glass of water and set my phone alarm for 15 minutes. If I still want something when the buzzer tolls, then I get it, but I’d say 85% of the time the impulse passes.
Tip 3: Know Your Weaknesses and Avoid Them
Keep your nemeses out of the house. Everyone has their Achilles heel (or heels), and if you have loaded in your own personal Kryptonite snacks, you have set yourself up for a major snaccident. In my house, for example, we cannot have Tostito’s Hint of Lime tortilla chips. They do not come in single-serving bags, and an open bag is an empty bag. My husband, who also works from home, and I will eat them in a fog until the corners of our mouths are ravaged by salt and the roofs of our mouths shredded. There is no clearer connection between pleasure and pain than when you lift the bag to the sky and pour a mouthful of tiny sharp shards and citric acid powder into your mouth full of paper cuts. Oh, the agony! The ecstasy! On the flipside, I have often completely forgotten that we have a half a tub of ice cream until it has become a freezer-burned block with so many ice crystals it looks like Superman might be planning to move in. Whatever it is that you cannot be trusted with? Maybe don’t buy that thing right now.
Tip 4: Swap In Healthier Versions of What You Love
Buy slightly healthier versions of the stuff you crave to make your indulgences a little less risky. Instead of the Magnum ice cream bar with its layers of chocolate and caramel, try a Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bar, three of which are about equal to one Magnum in terms of sugar and calories. Popcorn is better than pretzels, which are better than chips. Dark chocolate squares or chocolate-covered almonds are a better choice than candy bars, and gummy candies are better than chocolate.
Tip 5: Freeze (and Hide) Your Treats
Freeze baked goods so that they have to be thawed before eating, putting a dent in impulse binging. If possible, store only a couple of portions of any snack food in easy-access locations: Take advantage of high shelves that require a step stool or basement storage so that out of sight can help with out of mind. Knowing you have to go down to the basement to get more Nutter Butters can make them last three times longer, especially if you've watched some scary Netflix movies during your stay-home time.
Tip 6: Keep Your Hands Busy
Boredom is my number-one source of snacking too much, so any project that engages both hands and mind is a good deterrent. Knitting, coloring, prepping items for cooking later: Do everything you can to keep active. Busy hands cannot shovel Swedish Fish into your maw.
Tip 7: Keep Your Body Busy
Try to take an activity break if you are feeling tempted. I have a route I wander in my house that is strange and circuitous, adds 1,000 steps to my day, and usually shakes off the eatsies. Stretch, do a 10-minute meditation, three yoga poses, walk some laps in your house, or do the stairs. Activity can keep you from face planting in the tub of KozyShack.
Tip 8: Cut Yourself a Whole Lot of Slack
Finally, be kind and generous to yourself and realize that there is no wagon to fall off of. If you overdo it in the morning, the afternoon is yours to course-correct. If you have a bad day, there is always tomorrow. We’re all in this together. And this, too, shall pass.
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