(CNN)Chips, cookies, munchies: There is so much snacking going on.
It's no shock that many of us reach for cookies, candy, chips and other indulgences during stressful times, whether it's due to the pandemic, the resulting economic downtown or a divisive US election.
Snack food consumption, including both sweet and savory snacks, increased by 8% during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to consumer research company NPD Group's Snack Food Behaviors in Challenging Times study.
That's much more than during the Great Recession, between 2008 and 2010, where snack foods increased by 1%, or 4.8 billion eatings. (An "eating" is defined as one occasion that involves eating a meal or a snack.)
"I think the increase in snacking was so pronounced now versus the last recession because this downturn came upon us so suddenly," said Darren Seifer, food industry analyst at The NPD Group, via email.
"At the beginning of the lockdowns, consumers had to make decisions on how to feed their families in a matter of weeks, while the last recession took months to fully take its grip," Seifer said. "Consumers quickly stocked up on snacks and indulgent foods for their shelf lives while others were stress eating."
"I see the rise in snack consumption as the result of lockdown boredom and pandemic and election anxiety," said Marion Nestle, New York University's Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health.
But excess snacking translates to excess calories. "The more snacks, the more calories they provide," Nestle said. "More calories means more pounds unless snackers compensate by eating less at meals."
Reaching for comfort foods is soothing and can be a way to cope with life's uncertainties and challenges. But if you feel your snacking has become an unhealthy habit, here are seven strategies to snack better.
1. Take a pause. Before you reach for a snack, it's a good idea to stop and think about what will satisfy you. Is it really a handful of chips? Or is it a nap or a bath that you are craving? If you are desiring food, you can use a tool like the hunger meter to help you determine what it is you want to eat.
By assigning levels to your hunger (for example, "1" being ravenous and "9" being Thanksgiving day stuffed), the meter can help guide you as to what to eat, and can be especially helpful if impulsive or stress-related eating has become problematic. For example, if you are a "4," on the hunger meter (that is, not that hungry, but "snacky"), you might need a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts. But if you are a "1," you probably need a full meal.