You get up early to drink your lemon water, exercise and meditate; eat a healthy nutrient and antioxidant rich breakfast; snack on green juices, nuts and seeds and devour a healthy bowl of salad with lean protein for lunch, when suddenly 3pm rolls around and it all goes out the window. Hey, we’ve all been there! Several unintentional mouthfuls later you’re flying on a quick, false high followed by the inevitable energy crash and another cheeky mouthful of sweets.
Carbohydrate (most commonly sugar) cravings around 3pm are real and most people think its normal. There are many theories into what causes sugar cravings such as reward pathways, hormonal changes, adrenal fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, maybe even allergies and more. Sugar cravings can make us feel weak and compel us to make food or beverage choices we might otherwise have declined in a stronger state.
It is normal for our stress hormone (cortisol) to drop off and our sleep hormone to increase (melatonin) in the afternoon, preparing our bodies for relaxation which can make us feel tried and reach for the energy dense foods.
How to Overcome the 3pm Crash:
- Ensure you are getting adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night). When we are well-rested we’re less inclined to reach for a chocolate bar for that quick pick-me-up. Get up and get moving! This is your defence against that sleep chemical. It’s your way of fighting back and telling your body “no! It’s time to move, not to sleep!”. Going for a quick walk can stimulate the mind and help boost circulation. Go outside and get some sun exposure, this will boost your Vitamin D which is essential for energy production. Vitamin D also alters your core temperature and reduces the amount of melatonin your body produces.
- Quit the DIET! If you find yourself with intense, panging cravings, undereating could actually be the cause. By depriving yourself, your cravings will worsen and chances are you’ll end up binging on sugary snacks and other processed junk. You’ll feel guilty post-binge, deprive yourself of even more food the next day, and the cycle continues.To avoid temptation and get rid of those sugar cravings altogether, eat larger, healthier meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lean protein, leafy greens and complex carbohydrates will keep you feeling fuller for longer, erasing the need for a sugar fix between meals.
- Switch from Refined to Complex Carbohydrates. Simple, refined carbs like white bread, rice and pasta and processed snack foods quickly raise blood sugars, followed by an unpleasant crash. Not ideal! By swapping out refined carbohydrate foods with whole grains, pumpkin, kumara,, beans, and more veggies, your body responds by adjusting to a slower rise and fall in blood sugars, allowing you to stay in control and feel fuller for longer! Complex Carbohydrate foods contribute to the production of serotonin. This powerful neurotransmitter does more than simply make you feel good, you feel emotionally stable, less anxious, more tranquil and even more focused and energetic.
- Ensure you are getting adequately balanced meals throughout the day! Ensure your breakfast and lunch meal has a moderate serve of high quality protein (such as chicken, beef, fish, egg, tofu), moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates (kumara, pumpkin, quinoa, wholegrains, beans, etc) with some quality healthy fats (seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado). This will keep your body’s energy levels functioning in an optimal state and should keep those insulin levels steady to reduce sugar cravings.
- Choose water and unsweetened beverages. Often we mistake sugary food cravings for dehydration so next time you reach for the soft drink, drink 1-2 glasses of water and see if the cravings are still there. You may find you were just thirsty after all. Sugary drinks contribute almost 50% of added sugars among New Zealanders and Australians. This one change could dramatically reduce your afternoon sugar cravings because all that sugar- 40 teaspoons worth in a 1.5 litre bottle- contributes to the roller coaster of blood sugars. Like stated before, those blood sugar crashes only make you want MORE! Go for water, soda water, infused with fruit, herbal teas or Kombucha if you feel like an alternative option to water!
- Exercise. Sugar releases the feel good hormone ‘dopamine’ in the brain giving you that sugar high. When we exercise our body releases endorphins, also giving us a natural high. Next time you feel like reaching for the doughnut, go for a brisk walk instead and see if you still feel like the sugary snack after 10-20 minutes.
- Stress. When we’re stressed out, we have a high level of a hormone called cortisol, and we crave sugar because if we eat some sugar, we will actually get another hormone called serotonin, which is calming and relaxing. “It’s just our body’s way of taking a chill pill.” Cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the “on” position — cortisol may stay elevated. There are numerous ways we can overcome stress but you just have to find the best option for you e.g meditation, exercise, reading a book, listening to music, socialising, etc.
Don’t allow sugar cravings to wreck your good intentions. YOU CAN take control, use some of the above strategies and take some practical actions that will help you win again and again! If you need some guidance on overcoming eating habits like this, please contact one of our Qualified Nutritionists today and book in for a consultation.
Adams CE, et al. “Lifestyle Factors and Ghrelin: Critical Review and Implications for Weight Loss Maintenance,” Obesity Review (May 2011): Vol. 12, No. 5, electronic publication.
Mathes WF, et al. “The Biology of Binge Eating,” Appetite (June 2009): Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 545–53.
Westwater, M. L., Fletcher, P. C., & Ziauddeen, H. (2016). Sugar addiction: the state of the science. European Journal of Nutrition, 55(Suppl 2), 55–69. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6