Reduce Feelings of Hunger by Working with Your Body
By Barbara A. Brehm
Few pleasures rival the satisfaction of enjoying good food when we are hungry. Since eating is essential for survival, Mother Nature has endowed us with a strong urge to consume tasty food. Hunger is an uncomfortable feeling that drives you to find food. Hunger tells your body that you need calories and nutrients, and motivates you to make finding a good meal your highest priority. Hunger is not meant to be ignored, and trying to work while you are hungry can make you cranky, tired and distracted.
Developing good eating habits is not easy, especially in an environment filled with tempting food that delivers more fat, calories, sugar and salt than we really need. Modern lifestyles further interfere with good eating habits by confusing our hunger signals, and disrupting our sleeping habits and physical activity levels.
People trying to control their weight often set themselves up to fail by trying to control their hunger. They will usually be more successful (and feel better) if they learn to work with their bodies rather than pretending that willpower alone can lead to lifelong weight control. Cultivating good eating habits must be accompanied by an attempt to lead a balanced life. Here are some of the ways lifestyle is related to feelings of hunger, and suggestions for reducing their power over your eating behavior.
You might think that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, but your body thinks differently. Some foods make your body think it has had a satisfying meal, while others don’t seem to connect with hunger level the way they should.
Foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lead to more stomach fullness than foods high in fat and lower in volume. Warm, brothy soups and big delicious salads help you feel satisfied with fewer calories. It’s as though your stomach expects a certain volume of food, and doesn’t turn off the hunger signal until this is reached. Many desserts and snack foods are high in calories but low in volume, and are especially likely to lead to overeating.
Meals and snacks that lead to a sharp rise in blood sugar and a fast, high insulin response are typically followed by earlier hunger signals. Meals high in protein, fiber and healthful fats lead to a lower rise in blood sugar and insulin, and delay the return of hunger.
Even a single night of missed sleep is accompanied by a rise in ghrelin (a hormone that makes you feel hungry) and a higher intake of calories. Chronic sleep deprivation has become more common over the past several decades, and some researchers wonder if it might be one of the reasons why obesity rates are rising in many countries.
Chronic feelings of excess stress
A lack of relaxation and chronic high levels of stress change your biochemistry along with your appetite. While some people lose their desire to eat when feeling stressed, the majority of people tend to eat more than usual, perhaps turning to food for comfort. Stress not only interferes with hunger and appetite, but may leave people with less time to shop and plan healthful meals, so they grab whatever is near, with less thought for its nutritive value.
Several intriguing studies have found that people eat more after performing demanding mental tasks than after sitting quietly. If your job involves challenging mental work (students, take note!), you may find yourself eating more than you should.
Physical activity level
Many people are afraid to exercise because they fear exercise will increase hunger. Ironically, people who engage in moderate exercise often eat the same or only a few more calories than they do on days when they don’t exercise. People often lose their appetites after a hard workout, and while they compensate later, they still come out ahead, with energy intake more closely matching their energy expenditure. That’s one of the reasons why people who exercise regularly tend to be leaner than their sedentary friends.
In addition, regular physical activity can reduce hunger by improving sleep quality and reducing feelings of stress. It improves blood sugar regulation and blood lipid levels, thus reducing chronic disease risk while normalizing hunger and appetite.
© 2008 Fitness Management Magazine