If you crave a snack before lunchtime...
…you’ve probably skipped breakfast. Missing your morning meal can even leave you looking for treats later in the day. But if you do eat breakfast and still find yourself feeling hungry soon after, then you’re probably eating the wrong foods. This can be white bread or sugary cereals, or you’re not getting enough protein, explains Dr Bowen.
“If you have a high-GI carbohydrate meal with very little protein, you’ll be hungry in an hour or two.”
What you can do: Do breakfast right.
Make sure your breakfast includes a balance of low-GI carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, advises Jaime. “This could be wholegrain toast with eggs and avocado or rolled oats with milk and berries.” Here are some easy-to-prepare breakfasts to get you started!
Ensuring your breakfast contains at least 35g of protein will mean you’re less likely to crave sugary or fatty foods later, so your total kilojoule intake for the day will be less. Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, milk, eggs and lean meats are all good sources of protein that can form part of a filling and nutritious breakfast.
When real hungry strikes and you want a healthy mid-morning snacks, have a handful of almonds (30-40g) – they’re nutritious, rich in fibre and a good source of plant-based protein and they’ll keep you feeling full so you’re less likely to overindulge later on.
If you crave a snack in the afternoon...
…your lunch was probably not well balanced. “You’re thus more prone to a dip in blood sugar levels, and cravings will kick in by mid-afternoon,” says Jaime.
But wanting to eat in the afternoon can also have a psychological cause, like when you’re stressed or anxious at work. Stress triggers your brain to seek rewards, and Jaime says if you regularly soothe yourself with food, yearning for a snack can become an automatic response to this emotion.
What you can do: Eat a balanced lunch.
For a well-balanced lunch that will keep you feeling satisfied for longer, be sure to include wholegrains, lean protein, a little healthy fat and lots of vegetables. “A balanced lunch could be a wholegrain sandwich with 100g of lean chicken, avocado and a big salad,” suggests Jaime.
To overcome stress-related cravings, Dr Bowen recommends trying other stress-reduction techniques, like yoga or meditation, instead of food. Jaime suggests trying rewards that don’t involve food, like calling a friend for a chat.
Taking a 15-minute walk will distract you until the craving passes, but if you’re genuinely hungry it’s a good idea to eat a nutritious snack. Stock up on healthy options like fruit, yoghurt, wholegrain cracks and hummus or unsalted nuts, says Dr Bowen.
If you crave a sweet treat after dinner...
…look to your childhood for the answer. “Many of us were brought up to expect dessert after dinner or were rewarded with sweets once we’d finished our vegetables,” explains Jaime.
This time of day is also when your desire to eat for pleasure kicks in, even if you don’t need the extra energy. Known as hedonic hunger, it may be the reason you use food as a way to relax at the end of the day.
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What you can do: Treat yourself, but sparingly.
There’s no need to give up your favourite treat for good, says Dr Bowen. “A balanced eating pattern should allow for a small indulgence every now and then.”
Banning certain foods altogether may cause you to obsess about them even more. To break the habit, have an after-dinner treat on weekends or alternate nights.
“One or two squares of dark chocolate will have minimal impact on your kilojoule intake, but just knowing you can have a little can help hit the spot, says Jaime.
And if you do enjoy a treat while watching television, don’t eat straight from the box or bag. Serving yourself a small portion will help you avoid overeating, and Dr Bowen recommends eating mindfully and savouring each mouthful.
If you crave a late-night snack before bed...
…especially sweet, starchy or salty foods, your body’s circadian system may be the culprit. This internal body clock can affect your appetite and the way your body stores food, and research shows that at night your circadian rhythm increases cravings, which may be why your willpower is at its weakest at that time.
“At home late at night you have free rein of the kitchen where you can’t be judged,” says Jaime.
What you can do: Make sleep a priority, and brush your teeth early.
Learning to say “no” to yourself is the first step. “While it’s easier said than done, reinforcing good habits can help reduce your cravings over time,” advises Dr Bowen. She also suggests removing all temptations so they’re out of sight and mind. You can overcome your midnight snacking habit by making a good night’s sleep a priority and getting to bed a little earlier.
Quality sleep helps steer you towards better food choices, while being sleep-deprived can make high-kilojoule foods seem more desirable.
“By getting seven to eight hours’ sleep every night, you can better control your appetite, feel more energised and reduce your risk of weight gain,” explains Dr Bowen. Jaime also suggests brushing your teeth after dinner to leave your mouth feeling clean and switch off your desire for food.
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