I’m not a fan of things like “dieting hacks” or absolute food truths that apply to everyone. Our gorgeous and unique bodies need understanding, not “hacking”. But, in our world of long workdays and busy evenings, there is one teeny tiny little habit that can be a game-changer for many people: the afternoon snack.
First, I should explain that I don’t think we should be nibbling all day long. The “eat six small meals” idea can keep your blood sugar steadier than going long periods without eating, but it’s taxing on your digestive system and, frankly, it’s a lot of work. Anything that takes a lot of effort is usually a short-term solution. I prefer much easier methods.
To understand why an afternoon snack is my exception, let’s dive into a common day in our world: Lunch tends to be the hardest meal to organize. Most clients I speak with struggle to find a lunch solution that can keep them going throughout their busy afternoon. Even if you manage to eat the perfect, filling, delicious lunch, you still might find your energy waning by mid-afternoon.
As your body digests and assimilates your meal, your blood sugar slowly rises and after a few hours starts to head back down. In the afternoon, your cortisol levels are also on a natural decline. They peak around noon and start their natural progression toward evening and bedtime.
But your workday doesn’t always abide by your natural energy cycles. Few have the privilege of organizing their workday around natural highs and lows of energy. Instead, you’re expected to be at the top of your game all day long, including in the late afternoon.
Feeling tired or downright exhausted in the late afternoon is a common issue nowadays. If you’re dealing with early signs of adrenal fatigue or burnout, your energy is going to dip a lot around 4pm. If you’re in full-out burnout, your energy is going to crash. You might want to pull a George Costanza and curl up under your desk for a nap, but your to-do list and family obligations are calling you.
Getting a jolt of caffeine from a cup of coffee or a sugary caffeinated drink will seem super-duper attractive at this moment, but that caffeine hit is going to backfire and cause a poor night’s sleep.
If you make it into your car to drive home without that extra jolt, you’re probably going to be so tired that making dinner feels darn near impossible. Here’s a little secret: fast-food restaurants line main roadways for this reason exactly; they’re advertising at you, trying to convince you to let them solve your dinner problem.
If you can bypass those glittering fast food lights and get home, it’s going to be incredibly tempting to open up the cupboards and dive right in. This is a common time to grab just about anything and munch away while standing in the kitchen.
Do you feel like I’ve got a spy camera and I’m looking into your life? That’s because it’s the most common situation I see in my clients. And…the solution is super easy.
The Power of a 4pm Snack
That energy crash is best dealt with proactively instead of reactively. If you can bring up your energy and blood sugar before it crashes, then everything I described vanishes. No more fast-food temptations on your drive home. No more munching a box of crackers, bag of chips, or a handful of cookies when you get home.
Your body can ignore these temptations because it’s not in a desperate state. Fast-food cravings tend to be your body’s desperate solution to a desperate situation. In a balanced state, fast-food isn’t nearly as tempting.
The solution is simple: before you have that big energy crash, usually around 3:30 or 4pm, eat something. If you forget, enjoy that snack on your drive home, so you arrive home feeling better.
That’s it. Just eat something.
Some of the best feeling snacks tend to be naturally sweet and full of energy, like a piece of fruit or a date or two. A few squares of dark chocolate will also do the trick and they’re easy to keep on hand (my purse is usually stocked with a bar of chocolate for this moment exactly). Homemade cookies, brownies, or other healthy sweet treats are also good.
But, for this to work, your snack doesn’t have to be “perfect”. It could be those crackers, chips, or cookies that you would grab at home. But, by enjoying them proactively instead of reactively, you’ll eat fewer and enjoy them more.
You’re not alone if you think this is too simple to work and that your dietary struggles are much too complex to be solved by adding a small snack in the late afternoon. And, you might be right…but from my experience, this little magical snack works for almost everyone. It’s one of those few universal solutions that are very useful in our busy and hectic world.
Try it out and see how it feels. If it works for you, keep it up! If it doesn’t, that’s a-okay too. Listen to your body and see if there’s another easy solution that might be more effective.
Lisa Kilgour, rhn is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ nutritionists and sought-after speaker and educator who helps people heal from diverse and complex health issues. She has spoken at TEDxKelowna and is the author of Undieting: Freedom from the Bewildering World of Fad Diets. Check out the nutritionist schedule on page three and book your free appointment today at naturesfare.com.
Learn more: lisakilgour.com