Peckish? Is your 3 o’clock appointment with the biscuit barrel ruining your good intentions? If so, you’re not alone. From lack of protein, to sleep deprivation, dehydration or just your body’s own clever chemical hunger warfare sending your brain ‘feed me’ signals, the mid-afternoon munchies are sabotaging svelte waistlines everywhere. It’s time we did something about it. Here’s my how, why and emergency guide to the mid-afternoon munchies.
THE GHRELIN GREMLIN
Think of your body like a finely tuned eco-system. It fights for equilibrium. You get thirsty or feel sleepy, that’s just your clever body looking after itself.
The same goes for hunger. Our tummies produce hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin makes us feel full but the ghrelin gremlin is all about hunger. Like most of our hormones, they regulate themselves during our restorative sleep hours. So a lack thereof can wreak havoc with our hunger signals.
Scientists know that sleep deprivation will increase ghrelin levels in the body. The 2008 study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that just one night of sleep deprivation can lower leptin levels and raise ghrelin levels.
The ghrelin gremlin peaks in the afternoon and signals the brain to eat, and to eat high calorie foods. Hence our visits to the vending machine or corner shop.
Scientists have also discovered that ghrelin is not good for waistlines. A study published in 2009, in the International Journal of Obesity, found that ghrelin favours an accumulation of fats around the tummy and also in the fatty tissues around our organs, especially the liver. Specifically those areas that put us at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
So if the gremlins strike, aim for healthy, happy fats which are much easier for your body to use as fuel and help prevent the unhealthy fat gain around your tummy.
If you are finding yourself hungry in the afternoons it’s also worth analysing your morning food intake. Did you skip breakfast? Did you nip out of the door with little more than a slice of toast and jam? In order to regulate your appetite and blood sugar levels, the best thing you can do is have protein with every meal. A boiled egg, nuts with your yoghurt or a tuna sandwich will all serve your dietary needs better than a teensy rice cake!
You may also be genuinely hungry? Sometimes a craving for high calorie food is just your body’s way of saying ‘EAT’ – so rather than reaching for a cake, eat something more substantial instead.
FIVE RULES TO BEAT THE MID-AFTERNOON MUNCHIES
1. Aim for at least seven hours sleep a night.
2. Eat breakfast – if you skip it then make sure your first meal contains a balance of proteins and good fats.
3. Eat protein with every meal and every snack – that might just be a few nuts (see below).
4. Drink at least two litres of fluid a day – if you feel hungry, try a drink first (you might just be thirsty).
5. Consider an omega oil supplement – it helps in the battle against unhappy fats.
EMERGENCY GHRELIN GREMLIN BUSTERS
If the hunger has already kicked in, here are a few suggestions for damage limitation:
1. Drink a herb or fruit tea, or a fresh vegetable juice – it can take away the sweet craving and quench your thirst.
2. Have a square of dark chocolate with a few nuts.
3. Eat oatcakes with nut butter or avocado.
4. Have an apple with a small piece of cheese.
5. Have some granola yoghurt.