Wouldn’t it be great if we all had the power to flip a switch and turn off those persistent hunger cravings? Without those cravings, it would be so much easier to cut down our daily calorie intake and reach our weight loss goals. Unfortunately, we don’t have that option. The more we try to use willpower to beat hunger, the stronger the urge to eat becomes. Eventually, willpower simply is not enough.
Sure, there are lots of other reasons diets fail. We don’t exercise enough. Nearly everyone ignores the mental aspect of weight loss. However, we can still lose weight without exercise or mental clarity. It’s usually a lot harder, of course, but it remains entirely feasible. What’s standing in our way doesn’t change. It’s the aching, moaning, groaning, empty pit in our stomachs sending messages to our brains over and over again.
Since there is no magic switch, we have to resort to practical changes. Here are some that will at least put a dent in your cravings.
A healthy body requires stability. All the natural processes within our bodies crave balance, none more so than our blood sugar levels. Because of the processed foods we eat loaded with added sugar, these levels are prone to spiking quite severely. That’s the reason 86 million Americans have prediabetes, which goes hand in hand with obesity. The first step to combating both problems is stabilizing your blood sugar. This can reduce insulin resistance and allow your body to do a better job at turning food into energy, and thus requiring less food to do the job.
Breakfast as dessert
The quickest way to spike your blood sugar and cause yourself to overeat for the entire day is to have the traditional American breakfast. According to health expert Alan Levinovitz, the problem is that most of us are basically having dessert in the morning. It’s a fair point, since the sugar found in breakfast cereals, muffins, yogurts, flavored pancakes and snack bars is comparable to what’s found in their unhealthy counterparts (cupcakes, ice cream, cake, cookies and candy bars).
The problem for most of us is we don’t realize that our bodies basically treat added sugar and refined carbs the same. They spike our blood sugar levels because they don’t offer the right balance of fats and protein. They make us full for a short amount of time but even hungrier in the long run. Most of us have been eating these foods every morning since we were kids, so it’s incredibly difficult to try something new.
We know that sugar is bad, but opinions are still divided on the role artificial sweeteners play in our diet. Research suggests they change the composition of our “gut bacteria,” but no one is certain exactly what those changes mean to our bodies.
However, a recent study (performed on fruit flies and then repeated on mice, but not done on humans) found that in both instances, diets laced with the artificial sweetener sucralose caused subjects to eat significantly more calories than when they ate naturally sweetened food. Why? The researchers think sucralose activates a neuronal pathway in the brain associated with starvation. Once the subjects were given food, their bodies perceived the food differently and assumed they needed more than they actually did. So a Diet Coke instead of the original might reduce caloric consumption in the short term, but in the end, you might end up eating more than you actually need during your next meal.
Lack of fruit and veggies
Oftentimes, we turn to food when we’re feeling down. Some of us stress eat. Others use food to reward ourselves for a job well-done. However, a recent study has found that among 12,385 randomly selected people, happiness increased incrementally for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables up to eight portions per day. The researchers found large positive psychological benefits within two years of an improved diet.
When we’re talking about dietary changes that cause significant improvements in mood and well-being, two years (and often even less) really isn’t a long time to wait. It may not guarantee you’ll eat less on a daily basis, but I know when I’m in a good place mentally, my willpower is much stronger than it might otherwise be.
Fiber doesn’t just help us stay regular. It also keeps us full longer, because it causes our bodies to take longer digesting our food. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains and unsalted nuts are all fiber-rich foods that a lot of people avoid entirely-but our bodies love them. That’s why they take extra time digesting them-to make sure we can make use of all their beneficial ingredients.
Proper hydration is, perhaps, easier to remember in the blistering heat of summer, but it’s important to maintain a proper balance of water and sodium in the body year-round. Drinking an 8-ounce glass of water 30 minutes before a meal will make you full faster and make you eat less. Not doing this sometimes results in consuming more calories from food when a glass of water is all you really need. The more dehydrated you are, the more confused the signals your stomach sends to your brain can be. So when you’re not sure if it’s hunger or thirst, it’s worthwhile to drink a glass of water and wait half an hour. You may very well need to eat, but sometimes, you weren’t hungry at all.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.