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Why You Get Hungry In The Afternoon

If the 4pm energy slump is an unwelcome daily occurrence, tempting you to reach for unhealthy office snacks, especially when you’re tired, stressed or bored, then this helpful article from Refinery29 is for you.

Decoding the reasons why sugary, starchy afternoon treats prove so irresistible, it’ll help you realise that snacking itself isn’t the enemy – you just have to learn how to do it properly, and accept that giving into temptation isn't really the end of the world.
Here are five key points about snacking, which might make you look at the practice in an entirely new light...

1. Afternoon hunger is real

Most of us experience the afternoon slump. Research indicates it's a natural part of our circadian rhythm and is easily exacerbated by not getting enough sleep. As intuitive eating coach Theresa Kinsella explains, this is why “many people have legitimate hunger in the afternoon. They need fuel to meet their energy needs.” In this case, skipping the snack is akin to skipping a meal, meaning you're far more likely to overeat at the next one.

2. Feelings are real, too

No surprises: Work can be stressful. Many people spend the morning busy and productive, blowing through emails and items on their to-do lists. But, the afternoon is prime time for feelings to attack: boredom, anxiety, the inability to answer one more email. Suddenly, a piece of chocolate sounds great. It's normal for our brains to reach for that dopamine hit when the afternoon boredom or stress strikes — and starchy, sugary foods are a quick way of getting it. 

3. Is it craving or need?

That's the question to ask before scavenging in the office kitchen. Usually, the answer is pretty obvious. If you’re avoiding a task, dealing with family drama, or staring at your phone because a friend hasn't texted back, it might be an emotional need. If you get hit with that sudden snack-attack feeling out of the blue, then it's probably a physical craving. “A craving might be a sign of an unmet need or negative emotion that needs to be addressed,” says Kinsella.

4. Ignoring a craving only makes it stronger

A lot of us get very specific cravings in the afternoon. Sometimes, these cravings are biologically based (reaching for the chocolate for that instant energy/mood lift) and other times, they're a case of emotional entanglement. 

“People have associations with specific foods,” says Kinsella. “If your mum baked cookies when something went wrong during childhood, you may crave them when you need comfort.” Sometimes, we crave foods that feel off-limits. This is especially true for those of us who've spent a lifetime dieting. Think of all the times you've fallen prey to the office sweet bowl while on a diet. When we're tired or stressed in the afternoon, we're more likely to give in. 

5. Give in

If you have a strong, specific craving, make the decision to satisfy it. Do this deliberately, with full consciousness and in public view. Avoiding it or sneaking it only makes the craving stronger. Treat this food like you would treat something totally neutral. That's how you make it neutral. Snacking is a natural, healthy habit as long as you treat it like one. Only when you start stressing over it does it become a problem.  

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