It usually starts with the realization that you’ve been re-reading the same sentence over and over again or that you’ve completely spaced out during a co-worker’s presentation. You’re peckish, but you can likely hold out until dinner. Then, slowly but surely, all you can think of is getting something—anything—to eat. (And “anything” truly knows no bounds. I once ate a pear-size chunk of marzipan in the throes of a mid-afternoon slump. It was not a wise decision.) But, if you plan it right, it’s entirely possible to neatly sidestep the hanger and the regret. To learn how to break my bad habits and form better ones, I turned to Shauna Lindzon, a registered dietitian based in Toronto. My first task: embrace protein.
What is the secret to avoiding the mid-afternoon slump?
Food and fluid. You want to make sure you’re hydrated and that you have a good snack. You never want to go more than four hours without an energizing snack to maintain good blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar level drops, you’re not able to think, you’re not able to move well—and you become listless. It’s very unhealthy.
What is an ideal snack?
Look for something that will give you a steady rise and steady drop in your blood sugar levels. Simple carbs digest very quickly and you get a big insulin surge and a big drop-off. You want to maximize your protein as well as complex carbs as well as healthy fats. Those three are going to sustain you until the next meal.
Are some forms of protein better than others?
Every protein offers a different advantage. If you eat nuts and seeds, you’re getting iron and magnesium and some have calcium, whereas if you eat meat protein, you’re not getting the calcium, but you’re getting a big shot of iron. Beans and legumes actually have a mix of protein and carbohydrate. So a mixed bean salad would be an excellent midday snack, because it will give you that boost in protein, carb and fibre—the power trio.
But what if you don’t happen to have a mixed-bean salad in your purse?
At 3 o’clock we know we are going to be hungry. It’s not a surprise. So we can plan in advance—mix up a bean salad, or hummus and vegetables, rather than grabbing something that is high in simple carbs.
So much of the way we eat has been ingrained over many years. How do you break those habits?
Number one: plan. Number two: stock your office or your home with the right foods
I’ve resisted bringing nuts as a snack—I worry I’d just eat the whole bag in one go.
I hear you. What you can do is prepare little pre-portioned bags. Or make one-bite, single-serving energy balls or granola bars. They freeze really well so you can make a huge batch and keep them in the freezer individually wrapped.
When you are hungry, the thought of having to count out eight almonds is totally annoying. You don’t have self-control in that moment.
Exactly—that’s why you do it ahead of time. It’s also a very good idea to understand what’s a good portion size for you. A healthy 200- to 300-calorie snack mid-afternoon will keep us going until dinner. I find with my clients, if they plan in advance and know they’re going to have a piece of fruit with 24 almonds, they’re going to feel comfortable until dinner. They’re not going home ravenous.
Kathryn Hayward is a fortysomething senior editor and a mom of two.
Originally published August 2018; Updated August 2021.