We all have those days when we feel like our stomach is a bottomless pit. Sometimes it’s hormone-related (PMS-related hanger is totally a thing) or your body’s response to a tough workout (feed me!). Or, let’s be honest, you’re just stressed.
When it comes to stress-eating or the desire to reward yourself with food, you probably immediately think of comfort food with simple carbs and sugar. These foods may soothe your belly (or emotions) in the moment, but they usually lead to a blood sugar crash and wonky cortisol levels.
While feeding yourself well-balanced meals and snacks spaced regularly throughout the day can help promote more stable eating patterns, sometimes you have a really bad day and those energy balls you made from a vegan Pinterest recipe just aren’t going to cut it.
Instead of fighting it, try the quantity over calories game plan, aka the Volumetrics approach to eating. Volumetrics emphasizes feeling full on fewer calories by including lots of foods that are high in volume but low in energy (calories), so you can eat more of them.
With that method in mind, here’s what to eat when portion control is just not gonna happen:
You can have 45 pistachios in a one-ounce serving (compared to 22 almonds) and all that shelling gives your hands something to do, which can slow down the mindless overeating. Also great: The combo of protein, healthy fat, and fiber will keep you full and promote stable blood sugar.
Popcorn is great because it takes a long time to eat and you can eat a lot of it. A 3-cup serving of air-popped popcorn will only set you back about 100 calories while also providing 3 grams each of fiber and protein. If you want to make it without an air popper, put 2 tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over a few times, and microwave in one-minute intervals until the popping slows down. Shake in your favorite spices and enjoy. (Try one of these healthy popcorn recipes with tricked-out toppings.)
A one-cup serving of this superfruit packs in 4 grams of filling fiber. Since they’re small, they’ll take a long time to eat. You’ll also get a powerful antioxidant punch, which is key to boosting brain function and fighting cortisol-induced (or stress-related) inflammation.
Sliced Veggies and Salsa
Sure, baby carrots with hummus is a great snack, but why not change things up by enjoying sliced cucumber or peppers and salsa, which is much lower in calories but still provides a satisfying crunch and even bigger flavor. Plus, the water in the veggies helps you stay hydrated, which is super important, as mild dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.
Frozen edamame pods are easy to thaw in the microwave. A little more than a cup will yield about a 1/2-cup serving of the actual soybeans, providing 11 grams of filling protein and 5 grams of fiber, all for about 120 calories. Similar to pistachios, shelling the pods keeps your hands occupied. (It’s also one of the best options for gluten-free snacking.)
Also called “zoodles,” spiralized zucchini makes a great stand-in for spaghetti when you want to lose yourself in a vat of pasta. A medium zucchini has about 30 calories and 2 grams each of protein and fiber, plus almost half of your daily vitamin C needs. Vitamin C can be helpful for counteracting the effects of the stress hormone cortisol thanks to its antioxidant activity, perfect for when you can’t get out of the stress-eating spiral. Enjoy these butternut squash “Alfredo” zoodles or use them in place of noodles in soup. You can also enjoy them raw and tossed in with greens to add volume to a salad.
Peeling an orange requires both hands and some attention, making it a great option when you need to slow the heck down before you have another cookie. A navel orange contains about 75 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and, naturally, more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C. If you’d prefer the option to eat multiple pieces of fruit, clementines or mandarins also work just as well, and you’ll reap similar benefits.
When you want something crunchy that also provides actual nutrition, kale chips are a great option. You can make your own by massaging a few cups of kale with a teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and then roasting at 350°F until crispy. If you buy them premade, just be sure to read the labels to see what the serving size is and be cautious with added flavorings.
If kale isn’t your cup of tea, other dehydrated and freeze-dried veggie snacks work well too—beets, broccoli, and okra are just a few options.