The 4-6pm danger period: How to take control of late afternoon over-eating

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Working with clients on a daily basis, it is not uncommon to see a day of balanced, nutritious eating completely derailed late afternoon.

Come late afternoon, clients will find themselves snacking liberally on any food that crosses their path — demolishing tubs of dip, packets of crackers, the kid’s lunchbox leftovers and anything else they can grab and munch on quickly while preparing dinner. The issue with this is that it is entirely possible to consume an entire days’ worth of calories in a relatively short period time. When this eating pattern is coupled with a large meal at night, weight gain is common, even if you have consumed minimal calories throughout the day.

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So, if you are a late afternoon binge eater, here are some steps to take control of this danger period for over-eating.

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Plan a substantial afternoon tea

One of the key reasons we over eat late afternoon is that we arrive home from work starving, as it has been several hours since lunch was consumed. When you are extremely hungry, and your blood glucose levels are low, the drive to seek out sweet, carbohydrate-rich foods such as crackers, snack food and chips is strong, which explains why you can eat an entire packet of rice crackers in minutes. The easiest way to help take control of this drive to eat, is to ensure you have enjoyed a substantial, protein and fibre-rich afternoon tea, in the hour or two prior to arriving home.

Good options include: Greek yoghurt with fruit and nuts, cheese and crackers and veggie sticks or a mini wrap with lean meat and salad.

Consuming 200-300 calories at 3-4pm each day will help to keep your blood glucose levels controlled so you remain much more in control of your appetite.

Develop some clear rules

There is nothing wrong with grabbing a snack when you arrive home, but the key is to choose a snack that has minimal calories so you do not displace your hunger and can still enjoy a nutritious, balanced dinner. Good options include cut up vegetables, low calorie dips (such as tzatziki), popcorn, berries or even sipping on soda water or sparking water instead of eating as a way to satisfy the need to have something in your mouth, minus any calories.

Get rid of the tempting foods

It goes without saying that if your cupboards are packed full of tempting treats — biscuits, crackers, bars, dips — you will eat them, eventually. So, if one of your goals is to take control of mindless eating, it is time to clear the fridge and cupboards of tempting snack foods that are easy to over eat.

One of the greatest predictors of discretionary or ‘extra’ food intake is availability, so the key is to set yourself up for success and make only the healthy, low-calorie foods the ones within easy reach.

Get out of the house

If late afternoons are especially tough, either because you are home alone, or simply bored and programmed to snack, one of the best ways to take control of your food intake is to get out of the house. Make this a time you walk and catch up with a friend, head to the gym (when you can), walk to the shop to pick up dinner or spend time in the garden. Changing the environment is extremely powerful when it comes to changing behaviour.

Prepare dinner earlier

One of the reasons many of us are likely to snack late afternoon is that we are in the kitchen preparing food when we are also hungry. A simple strategy is to prepare dinner earlier in the day, or even on weekends and store it, so then you only have to go to the kitchen to heat up the meal. Again being out of the kitchen at the time of day when you are most tempted to eat will result in you eating significantly less overall.

The best snacks to eat when you are working from home

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