I am going to have a bit of a rant about the perceived ‘dangers’ of eating whilst we are comfortably settled on our oh-so-comfortable couches in front of the TV.
Euro 2012 is over, Andy Murray’s quest for a British win at Wimbledon has left us drained and before we have time to catch our breath the Olympic giants will be taking over the airways. Sport may not be your bag; perhaps you are more of a Mad Men, Sopranos, Smash, Awake-type. Whatever floats your boat, research indicates that in these rather austere times, staying in and watching the box is the new going out. But, a couple of new studies undertaken by people who clearly want to take all the fun out of life suggest that those of us who watch TV whilst having our evening meal consume more unhealthy snacks in the hours afterwards than those who concentrate on what they are eating during a formal meal at the table with few distractions. They even suggest that animated discussion can have a detrimental effect! Dinner without animated conversation? Are we turning back the pages to the days of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and the man of the house demanded we adhere to dinner table etiquette or go to bed hungry?
Apparently it’s all about food memory. When we don’t focus on the flavours and textures of our food we later forget what we have eaten and raid the fridge or biscuit tin. You are likely sensing just a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s (or two) of cynicism creeping in here! So, why do we gorge on not so healthy snacks while we slip into slob mode in front of the TV? Desire certainly plays a role, comfort can’t be ignored, habit could be an issue, hunger may well be involved and sharing a bit of indulgence with a partner or a few friends is definitely right up there. Because we have forgotten what we have already hoovered down? I’m not convinced.
Having worked with countless people who are keen/desperate to shed the flab, I would like to propose that it has a lot more to do to with the body’s biochemistry and in particular with the rarely-satisfied brain, that big hungry monster that loves a snack. Sadly, the brain is not too bothered whether it’s enough tortilla chips with sour cream and salsa to feed an army or a couple of oatcakes with a light scraping of hummus – a snack means fuel so bring it on, the more the better.
The bottom line is that the brain requires a little bit of training and a lot of careful manipulation and it’s not as difficult as it sounds. The biochemistry of the brain is beyond difficult and continues to keep scientists obsessed as they try to understand this incredibly sophisticated organ that us humans often take for granted but one thing they all agree on is that it works best when it is well-nourished and in my world that can include TV dinners and snacks. In an effort to turn the tables and maybe even encourage a few studies that promote a positive rather than a negative spin here are a few ideas that can keep the brain well-fed and keep our waistlines in tact.
- Include starchy carbohydrates in your mid afternoon and/or early evening snack but stay away from them thereafter. Unless you exercise in the evening before you hit the couch you don’t need the energy they provide at this time of the day and they often result in you going to bed feeling bloated and over-stuffed.
- Have a snack and a couple of glasses of water as soon as you get home from work or while you are preparing your evening meal then wait at least 20 minutes before you eat again. It takes around 20 minutes for the brain to get the message sent from the stomach to say “thanks, I’m happy for now” and whilst water can be a whole lot less exciting than a glass of wine, it does help to blunt the appetite.
- Never say never to meals and snacks that you know are indulgently, unhealthily waist-expanding. Research shows that when we deprive ourselves of treats, no matter how good or bad they may be, the brain clocks this, the reward chemical, dopamine is released and we are driven to seek satisfaction. This biochemical crisis all-too-often results in cravings for sugary, salty or starchy carbohydrates that hit the spot fast (crisps, biscuits, fries, pastries etc). A little of what you fancy is often a a much safer route – just not too often!
- Make your snacks count. Regular exercise (30 minutes per day) provides a wealth of health-enhancing benefits and helps to create a lean, fit body but it also prompts the brain to seek nourishment – particularly if that 30 minutes are fairly gruelling. You need food but chips and cheese or a burger on the way back from the gym isn’t the answer so stuff your sports bag with quick, easy and protein-rich snacks and devour them before the hunger monster has a chance to rear it’s ugly head.
A good snack is a small snack that takes a bit of time to digest, fills you up and delivers the energy and the nutrients from the food at a slow and steady pace rather than in a gush. A protein and/or fat-rich snack achieves this. Too much carbohydrate in a snack and you can find yourself looking for another hit all too soon so you carry on grazing. Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet but it is important to remember that other than meats, fish and shellfish and eggs, most foods have some carbohydrate content. So, unless you are under 18 and still growing or you have a fairly punishing exercise schedule you don’t need to include grains and other starchy foods in every meal and snack and earlier in the day is the time to have them to keep you sharp and bursting with energy.
A mug of meaty, fishy or beany soup with a good drizzle of flax seed oil
A small mixed salad with tuna/turkey/egg topped with toasted almonds
A small pot of 3 Bean Salad
Raw carrot sticks with a small pot of hummus or guacamole
Sports Bag Snacks
Smoothies with yoghurt and fruit
Mini oatcakes with peanut butter
Cold cooked chicken portions
Cold meats and hard cheese
Rye crackers and sardine pate
Cold boiled eggs
Raw vegetables (the more colour the better) and/or cooked prawns, chunks of cold chicken/turkey/lamb/ham with dips (tzatziki, taramasalata, salsa, guacamole, tahini, melitzanosalata)
A bowl of soup – see Pre-Dinner Snacks
Chunks of fresh fruit wrapped in Parma Ham
A 2-egg omelette/fritatta with tomatoes, mushrooms and courgettes sliced into easy to eat slices
A mug of hot chocolate made with soya milk and 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate
For more tips and tricks, to learn a little more about how to feed the hungry brain, to order my books and/or keep up with more of my rantings see my website www.fionakirk.com
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