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Juggle the struggle with cravings!

Dear Ellen, I always have cravings mid-afternoon…usually for sweet or salty things….what can I do?

1. Recognize afternoon hunger as normal

The afternoon slump experienced by many is very real and normal! We typically go about 4 hours in between breakfast and lunch without eating, whereas there are often 6 or 7 hours in between lunch and dinner. Research indicates that our Circadian rhythms affect our sleep patterns and may be to blame for the midday-slump leading us to grab a snack or an afternoon nap. So, skipping an afternoon snack can be like skipping a meal, causing overcompensation at the next meal. Here are more One Simple Changes to help you juggle the afternoon craving struggle!

2. Eat Breakfast

Studies show that breakfast eaters are healthier than those who skip. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more food than usual at the next meal, or nibble on high-calorie snacks to stave off hunger. Breakfast is key because it is typically after 7-8 hours of sleep without food. Research shows that those who regularly eat breakfast tend to weigh less, get more nutrients and vitamins and may be more likely to resist food cravings making better food choices throughout the day. 

3. Eat regularly throughout the day

The best way to beat hunger? Eat! Eating every 3 to 4 hours provides body and brain with a steady stream of nutrients helping us not overeat at mealtimes. The number of meals does not matter as much as what is eaten. Quality, calories, and portion sizes ultimately make the difference. Aim for plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. Juiceplus soups, meal replacements or nutrition bars are an excellent source of balanced nutrition, especially when time is short.

4. Eat more protein

Protein makes us feel full for longer periods of time and can help ensure alertness and satisfaction for the entire afternoon. Including lean proteins like eggs, meat, fish, dairy, nuts or grains can help avoid afternoon cravings. Between meals, Juiceplus nutrition bars are an excellent snack option packed with protein and fibre. Here are more ideas for high protein snacks.

5. Stay hydrated

It is quite common to confuse hunger for thirst. If you feel hungry even though you don’t think you should be (i.e. you ate recently), try drinking some water and it might take care of those false hunger feelings. Additionally, water can help fill our stomachs and help quiet stomach growls until you can get a healthy snack. 

6. Don’t Stress!

Stress is directly related to comfort eating. Stress is a reaction that evolved to help us deal with life-threatening situations such as lack of food, so it makes sense that we are programmed to eat for survival. Research shows that stress can drive overeating and cravings for high-sugar, high-fat foods which have the added benefit of causing serotonin (the feel-good hormone) to be released in the bloodstream. Snacking is a natural, healthy habit as long as it is treated like one. Only when you start stressing over it does it become a problem. As a reminder, think “STRESSED spelled backwards is DESSERTS!”

7. Think!

Think about whether your hunger is a physical NEED for food (homeostatic hunger) or a WANT (hedonic hunger). Maybe something else is triggering the desire to eat like habit, boredom, fatigue or peer pressure. Keep in mind that triggers can be emotional, environmental or physical. If you are hungry EAT. When full, STOP. Repeat indefinitely. If you are not hungry, decompose your craving and find a means to serve your true need. Make a list of alternative activities like taking a walk or talking with a friend. In the words of Michelle May MD, author or Eat What You Love, Love What you Eat  “If the craving doesn’t come from hunger, food won’t satisfy it”.