September is the new January. Now that the kids are back to school and summer is unofficially over, many of us find ourselves setting new goals for the fall as we settle back into a routine. Regularly exercising and eating healthier is often at the top of our resolution list. In order to make healthy eating sustainable and enjoyable, we need to ditch the diet, the calorie counting and the starving and learn how to eat so that we are both satiated and satisfied.
Feeling hungry while dieting is one of the biggest complaints that people have while on diets. It is also the major reason why people end up returning to their original eating habits. When I first started learning about peoples’ dieting experiences, I was saddened that so many believed losing weight meant suffering through the hunger.
While it is normal to have cravings, possibly insane, ravenous ones, if you are choosing to eliminate certain trigger foods such as dairy, gluten or sugar–hunger should not be a part of healthy eating and weight loss. The reason many people feel hungry is usually because they are not eating enough protein and healthy fats when they make changes to their diet. For many, eating ‘well’ means eating nothing but salads, and snacking on carrot sticks and celery. While this will certainly provide weight loss in the initial stages–it will most likely not be sustainable and will likely lead to greater weight gain later on.
Rule #1 of eating: hunger always wins. Every single time. Thousands of years of evolution has ensured our survival by hard-wiring our brains to eat at all costs when we are hungry. The ‘thinking’ part of our brain, our pre-frontal cortex, checks out and our lower brain stem kicks in. Our willpower dissolves instantly when our body believes our ‘survival’ is being threatened. Ensuring that we eat meals at regular times and carrying a snack wherever we go is key to preventing an over-eating meltdown.
Top Tips for Avoiding Hunger
1. Protein Power
When nutritionists and health experts tell you to make sure you eat protein at every meal-there is good reason. Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels which prevents the ravenous hunger and intense cravings that often accompany high carbohydrate meals. Unstable blood sugar insists on balance at all costs. Your body is smarter than you think. Intense cravings for sugar and carbohydrates are what melts away ‘willpower’ and causes you to cave. Even a meal that is moderate in carbohydrates, but has little protein won’t necessarily cause your blood sugar to crash, but it likely won’t leave you feeling full for long. Eating protein at every meal does not necessarily mean that you have to eat meat at every meal. See below for protein sources other than meat.
- Nuts and nut butter
- Seeds and seed butter (chia seeds have 11 grams of protein per 2 TBSP)
- Quinoa, broccoli, avocado, peas, edamame (8.5 grams per 1/2 cup)
- Tempeh and tofu
- Lentils and legumes
2. Forget Low-Fat
The irony of calorie counting is that many people end up avoiding the very fats that are required to feel satiated and that would keep them eating less. Healthy fats are needed for countless functions, including making you feel full longer. Healthy fats are best eaten with a carbohydrate such as a sweet potato. The reason? Carbohydrates release glucose which can cause blood sugar spikes. Of course we need carbs to be healthy, but pairing your carbohydrates with healthy fats prevents blood sugar crashes by causing the glucose to be released more slowly.
Going on an a low-fat diet not only contributes to nutritional deficiencies and health problems, but it will also leave you craving the fatty foods that you are trying to avoid. Why? Because your body needs fat for such functions like manufacturing hormones and absorbing fat soluble vitamins. Once you include healthy fats like avocado, nut and seed butters, coconut oil and even moderate amounts of animal protein you will likely find your cravings for fatty foods are less intense.
3. Fiber Fills You Up
We have all heard a million times about how healthy fiber s for our digestive tract to eliminate toxins from the bowel and to support regular bowel movements. Fibrous foods don’t have a lot of calories yet they have a lot of nutrients. The bulk in fiber fills up our stomach and this causes us to stop eating or to slow down as satiety cues are sent to the brain. Fiber also slows down the process at which sugar is released into the bloodstream which is why whole grains and brown rice do not cause the blood sugar crashes that the ‘whites’ do. Furthermore, fiber stays in our stomach longer compared to other foods like white pasta or a leafy salad; this leaves us feeling satiated for longer.
Hearty vegetables like carrots, beets and sweet potatoes as well as lentils, legumes and moderate amounts of whole grains are all great ways to keep hunger and cravings at bay. Enjoy whole grains-but not in excess.
4. Dress up the Lettuce
As I mentioned briefly in the beginning, trying to sustain yourself and your weight-loss goals with salads and chopped veggies likely won’t last long unless you get creative. While I have been teased for being Queen of Salads, nothing bores (and quite frankly grosses me out) more than those iceberg lettuce salads that you buy at Subway with nothing more than tomatoes and cucumbers as a topping. While that salad might be low-calorie (depending on the dressing), it’s not going to build you up. It’s a lazy salad.
Including more vegetables into your diet requires creativity. Let’s face it celery and carrot sticks on a regular basis are not fun no matter who tries to convince you. Topping salads with lentils, chick peas, seeds, nuts, hearty root vegetables, goat cheese, avocado and adding seasoning and some delicious home-made dressing makes all the difference.
A healthy meal also doesn’t have to stop at a hearty salad. Stews, soup and casseroles, stuffed zucchinis, sweet potatoes or peppers are all great ways to eat well without starvation or deprivation.
5. Move it to Lose it!
Moderate and regular exercise helps to curb cravings by providing our body with a serotonin fix that many of us seek from carbs. Keep in mind excessive exercise combined with insufficient protein and carbohydrates is a toxic mix, causing blood sugar crashes, intense hunger and cravings as well as possible muscle wasting which leads to a slower metabolism. Exercise combined with a healthy diet actually helps to curb cravings by balancing blood sugar levels.
In addition, many of us feel so good after we exercise that we are more encouraged to stay on track with our new eating habits. Be careful about using exercise to justify making poor food choices. In university I had the misguided habit of going to the gym and then stopping at McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin because I had worked out so hard earlier! Exercise does much more than burn calories. Don’t use it as an excuse or a punishment.
6. Keep Busy
Did you know that the amount of TV you watch is directly correlated with your weight? This is not simply because we are not moving, but because we tend to eat more when we are watching TV. Many of us have a hard time watching a movie or program without snacking on something. To make matters worse, TV watching makes us heavier than other sedentary activities because when we watch TV we are bombarded with countless subliminal messages telling us to eat (which we all believe does not affect us-only other people). The research, shows that not only are we more prone to snacking because of TV commercials, we are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods since this is what is most often advertised on TV.
Reducing the amount of TV you are watching is a great starting point. Of course it is not realistic to avoid TV and movies completely, but for some people snacking and TV are so closely linked that they find it near impossible and darn right uncomfortable to watch TV and ‘do nothing else’. My suggestion is to find another way to keep busy.
A lot of people found that taking up a hobby like knitting or crochet are great ways to keep their hands and minds occupied. A friend of mine took up sketching zendoodles and zentangles both while watching TV and at other times of the day.
If your TV watching exceeds two hours a day, you might want to consider replacing TV watching with another hobby or activity that might be more fulfilling in the long run.
I have mentioned before that the lack of sleep we can run on seems to be a national sport. Sleep is critical for our bodies to be able to repair, detox, restore and also to allow the mind to process the day’s events. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to release stress hormones such as cortisol and triggers blood sugar fluctuations which in turn almost always leads to ravenous cravings.
7. Get in the Kitchen!
There is a multitude of reasons for the obesity epidemic in today’s society; this includes lack of education as well as emotional eating. Yet, the more I talk to people about food, the more I am finding that not carving out the time to prepare food might be at the heart of our obesity epidemic. It’s much easier to develop an addiction to food when food is so convenient today. What’s more is that the convenience food is loaded with an unnatural amount of flavouring, like salt and sugar, which makes it all the more appealing-and addictive.
We used to spend much of our time preparing food–from planting seeds, to weeding and harvesting to canning and preserving and cooking. Now the average family spends less than a couple of hours a week preparing food. I have outlined the nutritional reasons why we might become hungry when we try to change our eating habits, but there are also some purely practical reasons.
I have mentioned in previous posts about the importance of taking time to prepare meals and that includes snacks as well as our grocery list. When it comes to changing our eating habits we might take the time to plan our three main meals, but planning our snacks and our go-to-munchies for when we are on the road is as important. We will most certainly succumb to cravings if we become hungry and don’t have a plan. Hunger and no other options besides cookies or potato chips at a local convenience store will never have a good ending.
Always pack a picnic even if you are only heading out for a few hours. I have a lunch bag that goes with me almost everywhere. Inside of it, I keep a bottle of water and some type of snack such as protein balls, a paleo muffin or carrot sticks and hummus.
Curbing Hunger in a Nutshell? Straighten out your Blood Sugar Levels
If you haven’t already guessed, the number one way to curb hunger and cravings is to balance blood sugar levels which is why calorie fixation and ignoring important nutrients like healthy fat and protein sets you up for failure. A high carb, low protein snack that is 300 calories will leave you ravenous an hour later. However, a 300 calorie snack that is high in protein such as a protein ball, mixed nuts, canned fish, half an apple with almond butter or carrots and hummus will satiate you longer because it has protein to stabilize blood sugar levels and the fat and fibre to fill you up. This is why all calories are not created equal.
Eating healthier should not feel like deprivation or starvation. It should leave you both satiated and satisfied so that when the winter holidays come around, you will be able to stay on track because it’s not about willpower-it’s all about skill power.