Benita Zahn, certified health and wellness coach
Benita Zahn photo by Michael Gallitelli.

I love snacking.

Around 4 p.m., I’m a coffee-and-a-small-piece-of-chocolate kinda gal. Heck, even earlier I need what a friend calls “elevenses” — that mini meal between breakfast and lunch that I usually eat no earlier than 1 p.m. But I try to be mindful of my snacking, planning my overall calorie and carbohydrate consumption for the day. 

As a certified health and wellness coach, I sometimes see clients who simply snack on anything they can get their hands on when the urge to nibble strikes. Often, it’s a sugary treat that provides a quick burst of energy, but only sets them up for an energy dip — so they head back to the treats. 

I tell them it’s not always food they need. In fact, I describe three kinds of hunger: There’s belly hunger that triggers a grumbling tummy. Then there’s head and heart hunger. No amount of food will suffice because it’s solace rather than food we’re seeking. Our hearts may be empty because of loss, failure or simply boredom. Our heads may be craving something for the same reasons. So what to do? 

Snack. But not on food. There are two other types of “snacks” gaining traction. 

Exercise Snacks

We’ve talked about exercise snacks before so let’s start there. Research shows that short bursts of activity, even one to two minutes, can help stave off the encroachment of ailments associated with aging. Dance, climb the stairs, do chair squats or anything else that gets your heart rate up. The goal is to incorporate seven exercise snacks into each day. At two minutes each, they provide about half of what’s recommended for overall fitness by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week in addition to two days of weight training for optimal fitness. Fitting in those 150 minutes can be a challenge in our busy lives. But who can’t find two minutes a few times a day for short exercise snacks? 

Start with one snack a day and as it becomes routine and “tasty.” Add another. Snack whenever you have two minutes. Not only will the movement aid your circulatory system, but it can also help boost your mood and immune system. Research shows that when we exercise or “move with intention,” as I like to say, we release endorphins, the so-called feel-good hormones. 

As the Cleveland Clinic points out, endorphins help relieve pain and reduce stress along with boosting our mood. There’s no magic intensity. Just move with more purpose than you usually do when moving. As with all exercise, however, you should be able to speak. If not, you’re working too hard. 

Joy Snacks

Exercise snacks are not the only snacks we can enjoy and employ to boost our physical and mental health. Joy snacks are another great choice when hunger strikes and we know our bellies are not empty. Simply put, this is about being mindful of the little things that make us smile. Perhaps it’s reading a book, talking with a friend, walking the dog. We often do these things on autopilot and miss out on the delight they bring. Granted, we’re not talking fireworks here, but as we snack on these little delights, our barometer for happy lifts.

While happiness has been studied, research on joy has taken a back seat. Joy and happiness are not the same. Joy is its own thing. Recent research by Philip Watkins, a psychologist who studies joy, gratitude and happiness at Eastern Washington University, has found that we experience joy when we feel connected or reunited with something or someone that’s really important to us.

His research also finds that feeling joy is strongly associated with subjective well-being, which is essential for us to flourish. 

Keep in mind that we are experiencing a loneliness crisis, as described by the U.S. surgeon general last year (see related story here). So what better way to fight loneliness than to start by exploring what brings us joy and, at the very least, start by snacking on it. If you haven’t had a taste for joy, this is the first step to reacquainting your body with the delight and fulfillment it can bring. 

So, crank up the tunes, dance like nobody’s watching, giggle about what you’re doing, look out the window and find the shapes in the clouds, and when you’re ready, laugh out loud about all this. What a filling snack that will be.

Top image by Eugenio Marongiu, via

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