Look at the world around you and you are bombarded with dietary information. Follow this crazy diet or that miracle diet that promises to melt the fat away while giving you muscles and guiding you to peak health. Then there are the insane amounts of numbers – calories, macros, nutritional information, vitamins – the list is truly endless.
Yet, even after this entire information overload, a lot of us do not know what exactly is it that our body needs. Needs not wants. We need to know the difference between actually being hungry and just having another food craving after scrolling on Pinterest and Instagram looking at food and even more food.
Amidst this entire hullabaloo, one thing remains constant. Our need to live rich, healthy lives and for that, we need to know what we have to eat so that weight can be managed easily and healthy foods become a part of our lifestyle and not a drastic plan for a week or two.
Knock knock: Are You Hungry?
Being hungry is a signal that your body sends to you that it is time to fill it with nutrition so that it can be charged up to perform at optimal performance. To differentiate between hunger and craving, drink a glass of water, and if you still feel hungry, then make sure that you intake a healthy meal.
Among the symptoms of hunger are irritability, headache, and difficulty in concentrating and sometimes even physical fatigue. Know not just what to feed the body, but also when to feed the body.
Bon Appetite! It is an often remarked statement for us to enjoy the food and appetite is also mentioned whenever we talk about our ability to eat. “I have lost my appetite” or “I have worked up an appetite and could eat a horse”, are common phrases, however, appetite is not the same as hunger.
You could lose your appetite in stressful situations but the body still feels hungry and needs to be replenished. Being in stressful situations, cause people to react differently to food. While some people lose their appetite, there are others who overeat when they are under stress.
There are numerous cases when we happen to eat more than what is required and what is necessary. This happens especially if we are eating our favorite food or eating while multi-tasking, thus not paying attention not just to the food but also to the amount of food we are consuming. Once we are aware of the hunger signals our body sends us, we will also become aware of the difference between appetite and hunger.
The Craving Trap
Craving is what the body wants and not what the body needs. Think of most unhealthy foods – fried stuff drizzled with oodles of cheese, chocolates, sodas, chips among others – and most of them fall under cravings. Cravings are usually time and situation dependent and if you do not give in to these cravings you will soon notice that it is a situation that bypasses quickly.
The difference between crazing and hunger is that when you are hungry your body wants food, but on the other hand, when it comes to craving, your body wants a specific food. Notice how the body usually doesn’t carve for healthy foods!
Hunger and its Types
Hunger can be categorized into four different types. This is crucial to know for those who want to lose weight and keep the weight away from coming back. Know the different types of hunger and watch as your weight stays away!
Physical hunger has mainly to do with the physical symptoms of hunger. It is very noticeable. So the growling of your stomach, or the sensation of being very full after a large Christmas dinner, are all physical signs of hunger. Our body also responds through different means such as growling sounds when the stomach is empty, and fatigue and tiredness when the body needs nutrients.
While there is nutritional information coming along with most foods, in truth, most of us do not get all the nutrients that the body needs. This is especially the case with people who consume a lot of fast foods and processed foods.
Processed foods are devoid of healthy nutrients that our body needs. This is why a lot of people are suffering from obesity. They remain hungry in spite of munching down pizzas and burgers. Why? Because the body wants specific nutrients and sends signals to the brain to eat more, in spite of being full. To counter the effect of nutritional hunger, we need to have a balanced diet and not just processed foods, refined foods, and carbohydrate-rich foods.
Hormonal hunger cause carvings in spite of having a proper well-balanced meal. This is why sometimes we feel hungry and carve for food even though we have just had a big meal. Hormonal hunger can cause carvings where the body desires sweets, candies, and chocolates.
Among the adverse effect of hormonal hunger is the feeling of fatigue, frequent mood swings and a constant desire to continue eating. Gluttony and binge eating are both by-products of hormonal hunger.
Learned hunger is strictly habit based. It is why most of us have breakfast, lunch, and dinners at about the same time every day. It is also why a lot of healthy people snack regularly on healthy snacks while unhealthy people consume junk food as snacks.
Learned hunger can be both a curse and a blessing. If you have been eating processed and refined foods, then overcoming them will be difficult because your body has learned to ask and receive them. However, it is a blessing because you can manipulate and learn to have better food habits and once a habit is formed, it will be easier to stick to it and have a healthier lifestyle. Learned hunger takes in cues and the body reacts to these cues accordingly. So if someone grabs popcorn every time they watch a movie, just watching a movie could cause them to feel hungry.
The Reward System
The chemical wiring in our brain is fascinating! Feel good hormones such as dopamine get released whenever we do activities that please the brain. That is why eating a chocolate feels so much better than eating broccoli. Our brain is a system that is designed in such a manner that we get the sense of being rewarded when we do something right and something that is linked to our survival. That is why a primal act such as eating can also release dopamine as the brain rewards the body for doing what it thinks is ‘right’.
The problem with modern day processed and refined food is that the additives cause the reward system of the brain to release the feel-good hormones when these types of foods are consumed. This is why an apple is not as appealing to the brain as ice cream and chocolates.
However, it is Not all Doom and Gloom.
The brain can be rewired to enjoy healthy food. As a baby, we really do not know about unhealthy food products and are rightfully fed healthy nutritious food. As Susan Roberts, a researcher with Tufts University states, that we do not start our life loving French fries and having an aversion to whole wheat pasta.
This conditioning happens with time and is a response to our eating habits. These eating habits are formed by the choices of food we intake regularly.
Thankfully, that trend can be changed and a lot of people who have been suffering from poor dietary habits have trained their habits to love wholesome healthy foods and no longer see fruits and vegetables as their nemesis. This process has also been mentioned in the Nutrition and Diabetes journal.
In a study carried out by Tufts University, an eating plan was designed and thirteen people took part in the experiment. Eight of them followed the plan while five from the thirteen that enrolled for the study did not change
anything about their dietary habits. MRI scans were carried out of the participants and it was shown that those who following the diet plan now had a craving for celery and chose it over cinnamon rolls.
This drastic but positive change was thanks to both the diet plan and a willingness to form behavioral change. The plan was given a name that sounds more hi-tech than it actually was – iDiet. In the diet, participants ate high-fiber, high-protein foods to ensure that meals were full of nutritious value while still being healthy. The authors understood that to ensure that healthy foods would turn into a carving, it was important for the participants to feel satisfied once they have consumed their meal. Thanks to the food being nutritious while also killing hunger pangs, participants began to carve the sensation of being full after eating a healthy meal.
The idea of iDiet is pretty simple. If you want to begin to crave healthy foods then start eating foods that are nutritious and good for you, while also ensuring that they fill you up so you do not get hunger pangs.
Quick Tips to Control Food Craving
Giving in to odd cravings once in a while is not the end of the world. It is perfectly fine to have chocolates, chips, and sodas once in a while. It is when things go out of control and you veer towards the unhealthy choices that you need to pull yourself back and set yourself on the right path to healthy eating.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure you remain healthy and make healthy choices.
- Control your stress levels.
Either you will be controlling your stress, or your stress will be controlling you. Practicing the art of meditation goes a long way in decreasing your stress level. Here is a quick meditation fix that you can practice. Inhale slowly to the count of 4 and chant “I AM” and as you exhale slowly, say to yourself, “AT PEACE”. Do this for about four to five times twice a day (or more!) and watch your stress levels come down.
- Know what you eat.
You are what you eat. So it is crucial that you know, just what is that you are putting in your body. Be in the ‘now’, and ask yourself if what you are about to eat is really what your body needs. Being mindful about the food you intake will help you savor your food, while also keeping you away from food addictions.
- Perform the balancing act.
The key is to keep your blood sugar level balanced as this is what will keep food cravings at a distance. Having low hypoglycemia will affect your brain and not just create more stress for you but also carve for an immediate sugar rush – even though that is not what the body actually needs. Ensuring that your blood sugar level is optimal will mean your stress levels are lowered and the stress hormones are stable.
- The power of sleep!
A well-rested body will better fight stress and cravings than a body that is constantly on the go and not given enough time to rest and recover. Fatigue often leads to the craving for sugar and processed foods which will bring back all the weight you have lost.
Fight today and fight harder tomorrow!
There are days where you will succumb to your cravings. Stop being so hard on yourself, and look at healthy eating as a marathon and not as a sprint. If you can continue prioritizing your health, then your healthy days will outnumber the days that you gave in to your cravings. With the right attitude and a willingness to be persistent, watch how the weight melts off and stays away! Here is to more success and a healthy lifestyle for you!