Outsmart your cravings
Yay! I get to nerd out for this post- hang on, I promise you won't be disappointed. If you know me then you already know that I became a dietitian because I love food, I hate rules, and I knew there was a way to work the system so I could eat what I love and still feel good about myself. It's true. There is a way. But first, I need to walk you through some nerd-jargon.
There are two hormones that pretty much rule the body in terms of hunger- ghrelin (aka "the hunger hormone") and leptin (aka "the satiety hormone"). When a number of things align in the body these hormones are triggered and cause that little voice inside of you to say: "put down the fork" or "feed me Seymore!" While leptin is super cool too- this post is about our friend ghrelin.
A number of things stimulate the hunger hormone ghrelin:
- low blood sugar
- not enough sleep
- an empty belly
- a physiological need for calories (like, as in after running 5 miles)
If you have ever eaten and then felt hungry an hour later it is probably because your choices weren't balanced in carbs, proteins, and fats. (Raise your hand if you didn't think Chinese food). Carbs digest very quickly- leaving the belly in a hurry and often resulting in a dip in blood sugar in an hour or so. Adding a protein or healthy fat to your meal can slow down digestion and keep blood sugar from falling low enough to trigger ghrelin to come out and play. Now, fiber and fat have the same effect on how long it takes to empty the belly, but protein also helps you to feel satisfied, and that is what helps you to stop eating before your belly explodes.
Every meal and snack should have a protein source- smaller for snacks, larger if you have an increased protein need. So for example, Santa is no dummy pairing cookies with milk. The sugar and fast digesting carbs of a cookie added to the decent 8g of protein in 8oz of milk will take longer to digest and will give insulin a change to shuttle some of that sugar into cells where it can be used instead of floating around the blood stream.
Consider your protein sources: animal products (meat, dairy), beans, lentils, eggs, nuts and nut butter, seeds, and a small amount in many whole grains (think quinoa). Try to have a protein source with every meal- yogurt with oatmeal for breakfast, beans on a garden salad for lunch, dinner of chicken chili with corn bread.
Now, if you scroll back up, you will see that sleep and stress are also important factors. Both of which actually cause more ghrelin to be secreted- likely to fuel the threat the body thinks is causing stress, and energy to stay away when your body needs to shut down. This is where self care come into play- turn off electronics in the evening, keep the phone in another room at night, have an evening wind down ritual, find an activity that restores you, snuggle puppies if you have to! (Also, if someone has puppies in need of snuggling please email me).
Knowing what you now know about how ghrelin is working against your willpower, consider how yoga and mindful eating can help. Use a journal to track habits, check in with the hunger scale before eating, make conscious informed decisions about what, how much, why, and where you eat. Check in with hunger and satiety status throughout the day to lean how foods affect you personally. I know for a fact that if I have coffee after 9:30am I will be starving by 11:00am and tend to make hurried and uninformed food choices by the time lunch rolls around at 1:00pm. Instead of the 9:30 coffee run, I try to eat a yogurt mid-morning and give myself a fighting chance at lunch.
You are in charge! Take a yoga class and listen to your body, move in a way that restores you, and slow down with a restful meditation or savasana. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be expensive- self care can just be closing your eyes and taking 20 breaths before lunch. As we head into cookie central, conveniently located adjacent to booze lane, and down the road from stress induced binge alley know that you can make different choices that will make a huge difference- and it doesn't have to be every time! But the more you do it, the better you will feel.
You got this!