How to Take Control of Your Cravings
You think: After a bad night's sleep I have to eat constantly the next day. I'm ravenous!
Why you can't resist: Just a few nights of tossing and turning can send your appetite into overdrive. That's because sleep helps regulate body weight and metabolism, says Scott Isaacs, MD, author of The Leptin Boost Diet. Log too few hours and levels of the hunger-regulating hormone leptin dip while the amount of ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite, rises. And if you frequently miss out on sleep you may gain weight. A joint Stanford University and University of Wisconsin study found that people who got less than eight hours of sleep a night had a higher body mass index than those who slept more.
Take control by: Getting enough rest. But since that isn't always doable, tweak your diet to fight that ravenous feeling, says Dr. Isaacs. Eating fruit, veggies, and high-fiber carbs regularly can help your body produce leptin more efficiently, while foods high in zinc, such as beef and low-fat dairy, may enhance leptin's effect.
You think: I have to get a bucket of popcorn when I see a movie.
Why you can't resist: Popcorn seems like a necessity because you've been conditioned to want it whenever you catch a flick, says Dr. Albers. "When an event becomes linked in your brain to a specific food -- like a movie theater and popcorn, a baseball game and a hot dog, a TV show and a bowl of ice cream -- you're likely to indulge without even thinking about it," she explains. Huge serving sizes also prompt you to eat on autopilot. Cornell University research revealed that moviegoers who ate popcorn from large containers consumed 45 percent more of it than those who munched from medium-size buckets.
Take control by: Identifying the situations that trigger mindless eating (keeping a food journal can help). Once you've done that, you can come up with ways to sever the food connection or create healthier ones, says Dr. Albers. Some tips: Smuggle light microwavable popcorn into the theater when you go to the movies; TiVo So You Think You Can Dance and watch it on Sunday morning without your usual bowl of ice cream; swap the hot dog for a pretzel at your next ball game.
You think: The only thing I ever want for breakfast is a big bagel.
Why you can't resist: Blame morning food cravings on a brain chemical called neuropeptide Y, which helps govern your appetite for carb-rich foods. "Levels of NPY are high in the morning because your body wants immediate fuel after fasting for eight hours," says Somer. The problem is that while foods rich in simple carbs -- such as plain bagels -- are digested rapidly to deliver a blast of energy, you then have to deal with a blood-sugar crash. And what will you want to eat to make yourself feel better? You guessed it: More carbs!
Take control by: Eating a combination of complex whole-grain carbs and protein for breakfast to reduce your cravings. Both take longer to digest than simple carbs, so you'll get a steady stream of energy and feel full longer. Try a bowl of shredded wheat and blueberries with skim milk or whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter along with a glass of orange juice, says Somer.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2010.