Cravings, sugar highs and the 4pm snack phenomenon: How to stay full until dinner

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We asked the experts why sugary cravings always strike at 4pm...

Balanced Diet

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It's 4pm, you've got an inbox that's bursting at the seams, a to-do list longer than your morning commute, but all you want to do is devour an entire packet of biscuits in an effort to stay awake.

Overwhelming food cravings are the culprits behind most broken diets. But why does this sweet treat urge always seem to hit us at around 4pm? And what can we do to curb these calorific cravings?

We've enlisted the help of nutritional experts Lorna Driver-Davies, Nutri Centre Nutritional Therapist and Dr Marilyn Glenville Phd, the UK's leading nutritionist to help explain this 4pm food phenomenon and offer us some healthy snack solutions.

According to Lorna ''When we are tired, we tend to make poorer food choices, wanting a quick sweet fix to perk us up. This can occur most often in the afternoon when cortisol levels can take a natural dip (cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands that fluctuates throughout the day) and when this dip occurs, we may feel more tired as cortisol normally gives us a feeling of energy.''

Sweet Fix

We shouldn't feel too guilty as we reach for that chocolate bar, according to Lorna, "Wanting sweet foods in particular may also be connected back to possible imbalances in blood sugar. If your blood sugar goes up and down throughout the day; this will affect your food choices.''

Chocolate Week events

Marilyn explains why we feel the need for a quick 'sweet fix', "As you eat, your blood sugar (glucose) rises in response to the food. The higher and quicker it rises, the more insulin has to be produced by your pancreas. The higher your blood sugar goes up, the lower it crashes down afterwards. This crash will also occur if you leave longer than three hours between eating. At the drop, your body will send you off for a quick fix, like a bar of chocolate or a cup of tea and biscuit."

Blood sugar rollercoaster

But this rollercoaster of glycemic highs and lows is not good for our general health. If over time, you become insulin resistant, where more and more insulin is being produced by the pancreas, but the insulin receptors in your cells do not respond effectively to it, then this can increase your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Want to get off the ride?

Try taking a natural nutritional supplement that can help to balance out your blood sugar levels. Diabain's Inusol £9.99 for a months supply, is a herbal remedy made from a scientific blend of 8 natural nutrients and minerals that can help to control blood sugar levels and is free of any harmful chemicals.

Sleep salvation

If you get 8 hours sleep you have a better chance of waking up more refreshed which in turn can make you feel less tired in the afternoon. By breaking the cycle of going to bed late and waking up tired you should limit your urge to snack.

Woman sleeping happy in bed

Research has shown that the less sleep we get, the lower our levels of a hormone called leptin, which is involved with appetite control.

Strangely, Marilyn advises sex and Magnesium for a good night's sleep! She told us, "Magnesium is known as nature's tranquillizer and will help with sleep problems, in addition sex can help you go to sleep by relaxing you and releasing tension."

If you want to up your Magnesium intake try BioCare's Magnesium Taurate, £14.15 for a month's supply, which contributes to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue, whilst maintaining normal energy metabolism.

Make your breakfast work for you!

Eating a healthy breakfast which contains protein as well as carbohydrates, and continuing this combination alongside vegetables throughout the day, will help to support a steady flow of blood sugar. This means that by the time you get to 4pm, your blood sugar should not have dropped so much that you need that instant sweet fix.

Smoked fish, salad and brown rice for lunch and nuts with fruit for snacks will help keep those afternoon cravings at bay.

happy woman

Food for thought

Emotions and mood play a part in sweet cravings too. Lorna told us, "Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres. Levels may fluctuate throughout the day but when we want sweet foods, cakes, biscuits, coffee, tea and even a cigarette (for some) this can be an indication that natural levels of dopamine have diminished.

Also, if you do eat sweet foods such as chocolate, dopamine will be elevated for a short period of time but very soon after that, you will be looking for a dopamine 'fix' again which means more chocolate or other sweet foods."

To naturally increase your dopamine levels, eat foods rich in tyrosine (almonds, avocados, bananas, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds), eat foods rich in antioxidants and exercise regulalry.

Take a peek at Lorna's four top tips for curbing cravings...

+ Try to be in bed by 10pm and asleep by 11pm. Cortisol may be better regulated throughout the day if you go to bed before midnight.

+ Do not use a computer, tablet or bright light display phones after 10pm, as the blue light that these devices omit, disrupt another hormone called melatonin, which we need to help us feel sleepy.

+ Eat a handful of nuts in the afternoon as these contain proteins required for the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

+ Make sure you eat protein with your breakfast, such as free-range eggs on wholegrain toast, so that you can enable your brain to make the right amount of chemicals to support your mood.

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