Healthy Living

When the 3 p.m. slump strikes: Tips for fending off the vending machine

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Written by Patsy Davis

We all know the feeling.

A hunger pang growls…

Fatigue presses through the neck and shoulders…

The brain immediately searches for a quick and easy solution…

Lunch was three hours ago, and there are still two to three hours until you head home for dinner.

It is extremely easy to get caught in this reactive cycle. We wait until our tanks are empty. Our hunger scale then tips into the red zone, and our critter brain strongly urges us to get to something fast and get something that will take zero time to prepare. This “quick and easy” solution often involves a destructive adversary to all things nourishing – the vending machine.

Fighting the 3 p.m. slump

What if there was a way to prevent the 3 p.m. slump from happening in the first place? What if there was an arsenal of solutions to battle this energy-draining, unwanted, calorie-adding phenomenon when it does creep up?

For many of us, the late afternoon is the most challenging time for us to maintain willpower and stay focused on filling our bodies with foods that provide energy and nourishment. An afternoon snack from a vending machine would be ideal if these boxes of ready-made items were filled with clean, nourishing and energy-providing foods. Unfortunately, most of the offerings include processed, sugary, empty-calorie packages that do nothing but make us feel worse in the long run.

Energy foods such as lean protein (animal or plant); colorful vegetables and fruits; and healthy fats, such as avocado, olive oil, grass fed butter, etc., help us to make good decisions when it comes to the food we choose to eat. When we nourish the body, the brain behaves. In other words, to eat healthy foods is to encourage healthy decision making.

Think about that for a moment.

When we are filled with energy, it is easier to make the decision to go for a walk, or to stretch, or to eat a piece of fruit. When we feel tired and drained, it may seem more appealing to sit on the couch and watch television or to sit at a desk and eat a sugar-filled, processed food. When our defenses are down, the likelihood of a poor choice or a binge increases greatly.

What does all this have to do with the 3 p.m. slump? What we eat for lunch directly influences how we feel throughout the remainder of the day.

Most people start to feel hungry again after two or three hours of eating empty calorie foods and white carbohydrates (white bread), and foods prepared in unhealthy fats (burgers and fries) make us feel sluggish and tired shortly after consumption. Remember… fast food is just that – fast.

Your strategy for staying satisfied

Here are some tips for eating a nourishing, energizing lunch that will keep blood sugar levels steady for four to five hours.

  • Always eat one serving of lean protein at lunch. Examples include chicken, wild caught fish, tofu and lentils. Leftovers from last night’s dinner are an excellent way to plan ahead and save money!
  • Try to eat two different types of colorful vegetables, prepared in a healthy fat. Examples include sautéed zucchini, prepared in coconut oil and lightly seasoned with sea salt and fresh heirloom tomatoes, sliced with fresh basil.
  • There is no limit on how many vegetables you can eat at lunch. Salads are a delicious way to combine a protein, veggies, fruits and a healthy fat.
  • Top your lunch off with lots of water. Shy away from sugary drinks and juices that are guaranteed energy zappers.

If you should start to feel fatigue and hunger creeping up, here are some ways to battle the urge to head to the vending machine.

  • Make sure your hunger isn’t really thirst. Many people confuse the empty feeling for hunger, when really a bottle of water is what is needed.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work with you. Raw pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of heart-healthy magnesium and immune boosting zinc. They are also a great source of plant-based omega-3’s and, most importantly, they help to regulate insulin and decrease oxidative stress. These little wonder seeds have even been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits and are a wonderful source of protein. One handful will curb your hunger until dinner.
  • Set 3 p.m. as your time to move. Get in the habit of turning this time of day, usually associated with cravings and fatigue, into your afternoon active time. Take a walk outside or around the office, shut the door and stretch or do some yoga poses.
  • Try meditation. Take 10 minutes to sit quietly and focus on nothing but the inhale and exhale of your breath. This mindfulness exercise will detox your mind and distract your critter brain from all thoughts regarding vending machines.

Healthy choices eventually turn into healthy habits. Before long, you will train your brain to see the vending machine as nothing but an accessory sitting in a hallway. By integrating energetic, nourishing behaviors into your day, just the thought of eating something that takes that energy away will be distasteful. A healthy lifestyle is yours for the taking. All it takes is a little planning and the right tools to make it happen. Don’t let a vending machine stand in your way.

About the author

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Patsy Davis

Patsy Davis is the associate director of campus recreation at Augusta University and a certified health coach. She serves as the principal point of contact for coordination of wellness activities for students and also as a key leader and advocate for comprehensive attention to student wellness. Patsy proudly promotes student development and learning though supervising a student staff that provides operational and administrative support for the Augusta University Jaguar Wellness Center.

Patsy strongly believes in serving as an advocate for healthy choices. Her emphasis on mindfulness-based stress reduction is a cornerstone of her programming and the basis for her supervision style. Her professional experience as a certified health coach provides opportunities to positively influence the overall wellness of students, faculty and staff.

Patsy has been employed by the university since 2008. She received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the College of Charleston. She enjoys practicing yoga and playing tennis. She lives in Aiken, South Carolina with her husband, Mike and their two dogs, Pearl and Hazel.