Combat Those 3 p.m. Cravings

They've struck again—the mid-afternoon munchies. Here's how to fight them.
Published February 4, 2016

You've done it by the book all day. But now, suddenly, you've got a full-blown case of the mid-afternoon munchies, and you find yourself gobbling down chocolate chip cookies like there's no tomorrow.

Why do we crave sweet treats around this time? Perhaps you had an inadequate lunch or skipped breakfast (sure to make you starving later in the day). The late afternoon is often a frazzling time—and stress sends many people straight to the cookie jar. You could be tired, bored, or blue, and snacking is a way of passing the time.

The fact that these cravings are often related to specific foods—cakes, candy bars, chips—indicates that the problem may be psychological rather than a response to genuine hunger; so how to ward off that mid-afternoon snack attack?

Sometimes, snack attacks are conditioned responses to cues associated with sweet treats, such as a mid-afternoon coffee break. To identify such cues, American Dietetic Association member Jackie Newgent, RD, suggests drawing a chain. "Write in each link the activities that lead up to inappropriate snacking," she says.

This might include:

3 p.m. - Stomach growling.

3:30 p.m. -  Anxious to go home.

4:10 p.m. - Go to the kitchen to a get beverage.

4:15 p.m. - Eat a vending machine snack.

"The best way to break this chain is to do it at the earliest link possible," says Newgent. "In this case, you might want to plan a healthful snack at 3 p.m. since you're hungry."

Late-Afternoon Snack Attack Tips

  • Wait five minutes and see if the urge passes.
  • Avoid temptation: Don't food shop at this time; don't go near the vending machine; cut out mid-afternoon television. (Being bombarded with junk food ads will just put you in the mood).
  • Make a list of alternative activities: writing an email, go on a walk.
  • Eat a good breakfast and lunch. Favour foods that are slowly digested and will keep you full longer, such as whole-grain bread and high-fibre cereals, beans and vegetables.

It's OK to Sneak in Snacks

There is nothing wrong with snacking: It's what you eat that matters. If you find yourself craving potato chips or chocolate bars, substitute nutritious low-calorie options such as:

Really Hungry

  • Vegetable/Bean soup
  • Slice of whole-grain bread with peanut butter
  • Unsweetened high-fibre cereal with skim milk
  • Vegetable sticks and tomato salsa

Need a Snack

  • Slice of whole-grain bread with jam
  • Sweetened, high-fibre cereal with skim milk
  • Low-fat granola bar

Just Want to Munch

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Low-fat, artificially-sweetened yogourt
  • Fruit smoothie made with skim milk
  • Pretzels, breadsticks or rice cakes
  • Plain, air-popped popcorn
  • Fat-free hot cocoa made with skim milk