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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I'm trying to lose weight, but each afternoon around four o'clock my energy slumps and I end up eating junk food. How can I stop this habit?


A: It sounds like you’re running out of fuel. Perhaps your lunch is too small to keep you satisfied through the afternoon. If you prefer to eat a lighter lunch, get pro-active and plan a small but nutrient-rich snack for a half-hour or so before your slump usually comes. Take this snack with you so you don’t have only the junk food available. Keep the snack to 100 or 200 calories of foods that slowly release energy such as foods with protein, fat or fiber. For example, pair some fruit with yogurt, nuts or whole grains. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, since if you get dehydrated that can also leave you feeling zapped.

The types of foods you choose for lunch may also affect your energy. If your lunch is nothing but refined carbohydrates, such as sweets or a low-fiber grain like a large bagel, or even plain vegetables or salad with no protein, your blood sugar may go up and down again within a few hours, leaving you feeling pretty run-down. To avoid that slump, focus your lunch around modest portions of whole grains plus vegetables and/or fruit, and make sure to include some healthy protein (poultry, seafood or lean meat, low-fat dairy, or a full serving of beans or nuts).

If you’re simply skipping lunch or thinking you shouldn’t eat more at lunch, you may not be getting enough energy to get you through the afternoon. Try doing what many people find works well: aim to get about a quarter to a third of your total daily calorie needs at lunch. People vary in what calorie level is right for them, but as an example, someone keeping calories to 1600 a day for weight loss might aim for 400 to 500 calories at lunch (depending on how much snacking they prefer to do and how they spread out meal times). That’s why a small frozen entree, plain cup of soup, or energy bar usually won’t suffice.

If these strategies don’t work perhaps the slump you feel is not about hunger. You may need to get re-energized by getting up and moving around, switching tasks, or taking a few minutes for deep breathing breaks.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 04/13/2015

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