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How to Cope with the Afternoon Crash During the Pandemic

Does the pandemic have you feeling stressed? Does your energy sag in the afternoon? Then you might want to take a closer look at your eating habits. If you’re coping with stress by eating – and especially if you’re eating the wrong things at the wrong time – it could be taking a toll on your energy levels.

For many of us, it is hard to avoid dealing with stress during this “new normal.” Our inconsistent daily routines and schedules can increase anxiety and disrupt healthy eating. And for many, it is leading us to stress eat - often on starchy, sugary foods. The problem is that these foods – while they may provide some momentary pleasure – can contribute to disruptions on your blood sugar levels that can contribute to an “afternoon crash.

Most of us have experienced it from time to time – it’s that point at which your energy level simply takes a nosedive in the middle of the afternoon. And you might feel more than just a crash in your energy level. You might feel irritable, or have a mild headache, or feel as if you’re not thinking very clearly.

The Right Carbs Help Keep You Energized All Day Long

That afternoon crash could be due – in large part – to the fact that you’re simply not providing your body with the proper fuel at the proper times. And, if you’re attempting to relieve your stress with quickly digested carbohydrates, that can also be a big contributor.

Let’s look at those carbohydrates that you eat. The sugar in your bloodstream (called your blood glucose, or blood sugar) is what your body relies on to provide the energy you need to get you through your day. And, your blood sugar comes almost entirely from the carbohydrates that you eat in your diet. But different carbohydrates have different effects on your blood sugar. 

When you eat sugary foods or highly refined carbohydrates – like soda or white bread – they’re digested relatively quickly, releasing a surge of glucose into your bloodstream. And while this energy surge might sound like a good thing, it generally doesn’t last very long. That’s because your body prefers it when sugar trickles more slowly and steadily into your system. 

So, when you stress eat and dump a load of sugar and refined carbs into your system, your blood sugar shoots up, and your body sort of “over-corrects” – which sends your blood sugar plummeting. And when your blood sugar drops, you may confuse the energy drop or the irritability as stress. And that’s when you might start craving unhealthy sugary snacks to bring blood levels back up – which just keeps the cycle going. 

On the other hand, when you get your carbohydrates from foods like vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains, they take longer to digest.  Instead of causing a big spike in your blood sugar, eating these foods allows glucose to more slowly enter the bloodstream and helps provide more sustained energy over a longer period of time. 

How to Eat to Keep Energy Levels Up

Eat well-balanced meals and snacks and eat every few hours

People who skip meals just can’t keep going all day long.  When you don’t eat at regular intervals, your blood sugar is going to drop – taking your energy level along with it. 

Avoid eating too much at lunch

Just as not eating enough can zap your energy, eating too much at lunch can make you feel sluggish in the afternoon, too.  When you eat a big, heavy meal, a lot of energy is required to digest it.  As blood gets diverted towards your digestive tract to help the process along, you’ll start feeling the need to take a nap. 

Stay well-hydrated

When you become dehydrated, it can affect your mood and your ability to think clearly.  Keep water and herbal teas handy and sip on them throughout the day. Some people rely on caffeinated beverages in order to stay perky. This isn’t necessarily a problem unless caffeine interferes with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re sensitive to it, best to stick with caffeine-free beverages.

Make sure your lunch includes protein

Protein foods help to make meals more filling and satisfying. Make sure your lunch includes some healthy low-fat protein to help fight hunger, and a supply of good carbs to provide you with a steady energy source. A mixed vegetable salad with some grilled fish, a chicken-veggie stir-fry with brown rice, or an Herbalife® Formula 1 shake with fruit would all fill the bill at lunchtime. 

Have a protein-rich snack in the afternoon

A mid-afternoon snack that includes protein should also be part of your overall plan, too. Try a protein bar, a carton of yogurt with some fruit, some raw veggies with hummus, or a can of tuna with a handful of cherry tomatoes. Again, the combination of lean protein and healthy carbohydrates will help keep the afternoon slump away and help keep you satisfied – and energized - all afternoon long.

Find other ways to reduce stress other than eating

The relief you feel from stress eating generally doesn’t last very long – and it’s often followed by feelings of guilt, which can just stress you out even more. Rather than turning to food, try taking a few minutes to quiet your mind with some meditation, take a walk, call a friend, or make a cup of herbal tea instead.

Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND

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