Taming Your Primal Appetite

Photography by: Amy Neunsinger
Taming Your Primal Appetite

4. yo-yo snacking
Fast foods and treats are full of highly refined carbohydrates and sugar. They're digested so quickly that they send blood-sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride, causing hunger pangs soon after you eat them. Consequently, you can consume hundreds of calories before your body signals your brain that you're satisfied.

the solutions:

  • Find fulfillment with fewer calories. Fiber-rich whole grains, vegetables and fruits keep hunger at bay--and they're more nutritious, too. A study at Children's Hospital in Boston found that higher-fiber diets are less likely to result in weight gain.
  • Balance your plate. Satiating meals contain a healthy mix of protein, complex carbohydrates, fat and fiber, says Lisa High, R.D., a Colorado-based nutritionist. Examples include peanut butter on multi-grain bread or whole-wheat pasta with vegetables and chicken.
  • Add water. Foods high in H20 control cravings without overloading calories. In a study at Pennsylvania State University, women who began a meal with a bowl of soup ate fewer calories overall.

    5. too tired to eat (well)
    "Studies have shown that people tend to overeat by as much as 40 percent when they're tired," says High. The body's wiring interprets exhaustion as a prompt to fuel up for more energy; also, fatigue makes it harder to be disciplined about the size and quality of meals. Scientists at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital have even identified "night-eating syndrome," which is associated with depression and low self-esteem.

    the solutions:
  • Enjoy small meals throughout the day to keep your body energized. "If you still find yourself overeating before you go to bed," says High, "allow yourself a snack, but keep the portion small and choose something healthy like a small cup of yogurt with a sprinkle of granola."
  • Rest up. If you're dragging during the day, take a 20-minute nap. Make a habit of going to bed early enough to get a full eight hours of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, try an herbal formula that contains valerian and lemon balm.

    6. feeling bored, angry or blue
    Eating is inherently pleasurable, and some foods also chemically affect your mood. Carbohydrates, for example, boost levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. No wonder many people turn to food when they're feeling bored or upset.

    the solutions:
  • See your doctor. If you suffer from clinical depression--feelings of worthlessness or a lack of pleasure in things you normally enjoy--it's time to consult a physician or therapist. Feelings of irritability and low energy, or an inability to concentrate are also important signs. "Depression should be taken seriously," says Wade. Anti-depressant drugs help some people. So, in mild cases, does St. John's wort.
  • Move. Exercise is a good antidote for garden-variety blues. Numerous studies have shown that physical activity can improve self-esteem and ease mild forms of depression. It's also "essential" for maintaining weight loss, says Hill.
  • Keep yourself busy. "Boredom is most often a problem for people who don't have a highly structured schedule, such as people who are out of work," says Allison. Distract yourself by organizing the house, writing letters, tending to the garden or doing volunteer work.

    7. hungry all the time
    You may think you're hungry, but most Americans don't know what genuine hunger is, says Hill. The real problem is that most of us eat so often, and in so many different locations, that we experience "hunger cues" almost everywhere we go. So our appetites can be whetted even when we've just had a big meal.

    the solutions:
  • "Limit the places that you eat," says Allison. That means no more mindless noshing in front of the TV or in bed. Eat exclusively in one room, preferably sitting at a table. If you need a snack at work, get up from your desk and go to the employee cafeteria or break room. Make a rule not to eat in the car or while you're walking.
  • Do a hunger check. "Imagine a scale of one to 10," says High. "One is ravenous, 10 is Thanksgiving-dinner full, and five is neutral, neither hungry nor full. You're genuinely hungry when you hit about a three. That's when it's important to eat something, before you become so hungry that you'll do what we call 'counter surfing'--eating anything on the counter." Rating your hunger pangs also will help you become more aware of feelings of satiety. When you've had enough to be comfortable but not completely stuffed, you'll be at about seven on the scale.