By Jill Levy
You had a healthy breakfast and lunch. You're on track to a good nutrition day ... but then the afternoon comes and your cravings for sweets begin. Before you know it, you've indulged in some unhealthy snacks.
This scenario happens to many of us on many days. But don't beat yourself up. Instead, you should know that there are many things you can do to reduce those afternoon munchies and cravings in general.
Your appetite can be affected by many different things, including what and how much you’ve recently eaten, your outlook, stress level, sleep, genetics and current weight.
Of course, being hungry is a normal part of being human, but many studies focused on how to keep “boredom eating” or cravings’ hunger at bay have found that high-fiber, high-protein and/or low-glycemic diets are often very helpful for hunger management, as is stress reduction and exercise.
Not only do these habits help keep you from overeating, but they offer many other benefits, too, such as healthy weight management and keeping you mentally sharp.
Munchies vs. Hunger Pangs
“Hunger pangs” refers to the desire to eat. They can feel physical, like a burning sensation in your stomach, or more emotional, in which you feel anxious or jittery.
If you haven’t eaten for a while (like missing a meal), you’re bound to feel pangs that are associated with hunger. They signal to your body that it’s time to eat.
However, there may be times when you’re craving certain foods even if you’ve recently eaten and are mostly physically full: the munchies! When this is the case, hunger is usually due to reasons like boredom or habit.
16 Ways to Stop the Afternoon Munchies
Below are tips for managing cravings, including both physical and mindset ways to make you feel more satiated throughout the day. You should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplements.
1. Eat Protein
What foods help keep your hunger at bay for longer? Foods high in protein are among the best at doing this — such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans and yogurt.
Try including a source of protein with each meal that provides 15 to 30 grams of protein. Another convenient and body-wide beneficial way to add protein to your diet is with help from protein powders, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Collagen Peptides Powder, which provides 18 grams of protein per serving and also supports the health of your skin, joints and gut. Meanwhile, Bone Broth Protein provides 20 grams of protein per serving and supports healthy joints and skin.
For the plant-based eater or vegan, try Plant Protein+, which not only provides 15 grams of protein per serving but also helps reduce stress-induced food cravings and promotes healthy body composition and fat metabolism.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
How can you help stop feeling hungry without eating? First make sure that you’re hydrated, since dehydration can sometimes mimic hunger.
Drink a big glass of water, seltzer and herbal tea, then wait at least 10 minutes to see if it makes a difference before eating.
3. Consume More Fiber
We can’t talk about how to manage your appetite without mentioning fiber. High-fiber foods take longer to digest and can increase feelings of satiety. They are often filling due to being high in volume, yet they’re low in calories. Fiber is also not able to be fully digested once consumed, and it absorbs some of its own weight in water.
To add more to your diet, snack on water-based vegetables such as celery, carrots, sliced peppers and cherry tomatoes.
Other good sources of fiber are berries, beans, legumes and whole grains. Some find that snacking on fruits like pears and apples, and even eating one before a meal, can reduce how hungry they feel and how much food they wind up eating.
4. Stick to a Lower Glycemic Diet
A low glycemic index diet is one that emphasizes protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs like legumes, beans and vegetables. This approach is key to eating “balanced meals” and can help you to stay fuller between meals, cutting down on snacking.
A low carb diet might also be a good fit for you if you find that mostly protein and healthy fats fill you up best, such as eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds and avocado.
5. Skip Unrefined Grains
It’s easy to consume lots of calories from refined grain products, such as bread, rolls, pasta, cereals and desserts, without feeling very full. A classic case of the munchies is having several bowls of cereal.
You might find that shortly after eating these foods you're hungry again for more, which can occur because these foods are lacking fiber and protein, and because they can impact blood sugar levels.
Instead, fill up on whole grains and complex carbs like oats, quinoa, brown rice, a piece of fruit or sweet potatoes — and ideally eat them as part of a macronutrient snack or meal, so you're also having fat and protein at the same time.
6. Avoid Sugary Drinks
Consuming sugary snacks and drinks regularly is likely to make you only crave more of them in the future. These drinks basically do nothing to make you feel fuller, but they add unnecessary calories to your diet and may lead to spikes and dips in your energy and mindset.
What are healthier alternatives? Try sipping plain water, seltzer, coffee, teas, fresh green juices or bone broth.
7. Add In More Spices/Spicy Foods
Spices and spicy foods like cayenne pepper and hot sauce can actually rev up your metabolism slightly, plus they tend to slow down how fast you eat.
Other spicy ingredients to enjoy include black pepper, curry, turmeric, ginger, dandelion greens and other peppery greens, and cinnamon. All of these can help support your body’s ability to burn fat, manage your appetite, and more.
8. Figure Out Your Ideal Meal Timing
For some people, eating more regularly, such as every 3–4 hours helps to keep their appetite in check. For example, eating breakfast and not skipping meals has been shown in some studies to reduce overeating in general.
On the other hand, others find that an eating style such as intermittent fasting is a better fit, since this allows you to eat 1–2 larger meals that are more filling, rather than grazing all day. It really comes down to personal preference and self-experimentation.
If you do prefer intermittent fasting, how do you keep hunger at bay during intermittent fasting? Stay hydrated and aim to eat balanced meals high in protein, fiber and healthy fats.
9. Get Better Sleep
Fatigue can increase cravings for sugar and carbs, as this is your body’s way of looking for a quick energy boost.
Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to support self control and an upbeat outlook the following day. If you have trouble sleeping, try things like exercising and sunlight exposure during the day, avoiding blue light at night, and meditating and reading before bed.
10. Journal to Decrease Emotional Eating
Keeping a food journal can be one of the most helpful tools for sticking with a healthy diet, since it increases self-awareness, accountability and mindful eating.
If you find that you eat for emotional reasons often, journal about why this may be and alternatives you can practice instead, such as avoiding specific places or situations that trigger you.
11. Get Up and Move More
Exercising can help to regulate “hunger hormones” such as ghrelin and leptin, plus it’s a natural mood booster since it releases endorphins. Some also find that taking walks or doing yoga to de-stress, or exercising before eating reduces their appetite and helps them pay closer attention to physical hunger cues.
That being said, just be careful not to overtrain, which can keep you feeling very hungry and fatigued no matter what you eat.
12. Find A Healthy Distraction
If eating due to boredom or plain habit is a problem for you, try doing things that take your mind off of snacking. Healthy distractions that work well for many people include: taking a walk, yoga, reading something, organizing or cleaning your home, meditating or even taking a brief nap.
13. Drink Something Instead
Some people find that sipping on coffee and other bitter or hot drinks, such as green or black tea, may help decrease their desire to overeat. Drinking bone broth can also fit the bill here.
For example, some studies have found that green tea drinkers tend to have lower levels of circulating ghrelin (known as the “hunger hormone”).
14. Chew Some Gum/Brush Your Teeth
The smell and taste of mint is thought to be a natural hunger reducer, so try chewing some mint gum, or brushing with mint toothpaste to decrease your desire to snack.
15. Diffuse Grapefruit Essential Oil
Grapefruit is another scent that may make you feel less hungry. This oil is full of beneficial acids, antioxidants and enzymes that can help give you a mild dose of uplifting energy when inhaled, due to the way it impacts your olfactory and nervous systems
Try adding several drops of pure grapefruit essential oil (Citrus paradise) to a diffuser in your office/home, to your shower or bath soap, or with a carrier oil to be massaged right onto your skin.
16. Try Herbal Supplements
Throughout history cultures all over the world have consumed natural foods, teas and spices that have now been shown to support normal appetite regulation and other metabolic functions.
Some examples include green tea extract and saffron extract, which can have positive effects on one’s mindset, your metabolism and feelings of satiety by increasing endorphin and serotonin levels.
Adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha and rhodiola, can also promote a healthy response to stress, which may support mindful eating.
What NOT To Do
In an effort to drop body fat, many people turn to weight loss pills and other supplements.
The problem is that most “diet pills” are considered to be at least somewhat dangerous, due to issues like medication interactions, tainted or unlisted ingredients, high amounts of caffeine, and fillers or synthetic additives that cause negative reactions.
Examples of weight loss supplements that pose the most risks include high amounts of guarana, bitter orange, ephedrine, sibutramine and fenproporex.
Consuming too much caffeine within a short time period can also cause side effects like jitteriness, headaches, insomnia, anxiousness, heart palpitations and more.
A better option is to focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet, staying active, managing stress and sleeping well.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.