Why we overeat and simple strategies to keep hunger pangs at bay

  • 25 Feb 2013
  • Reading time 3 mins
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There's more to healthy eating and weight loss than simply tracking your food intake. How you think about food and respond to hunger and cravings also affect your diet and overall health.

As babies we eat intuitively but years of advertising, imposed meal times, food based celebrations, comfort eating and dieting means many of us have completely lost touch with our real hunger and satiety signals. We confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger and end up overeating. But emotional and physical hungers are very different and by learning to distinguish the two, you can be more satisfied with your meals and reduce your intake without feeling the urge to continue eating. The next time you feel hungry here’s what you need to consider before giving in to cravings:

• Emotional hunger is sudden and urgent; one minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re starving, while physical hunger is gradual and patient and usually accompanied by stomach rumbling.
• Emotional hunger is usually specific, only one type of food, e.g. only chocolate, biscuits, bread or milk products will do, but when you’re physically hungry you will usually consider most foods. These may be your ‘comfort’ foods. • Emotional hunger is often accompanied by an unpleasant emotion or occurs in conjunction with an upsetting situation. Physical hunger happens in response to time elapsed between your last meal.
• Absent minded, automatic eating and feeling guilty afterwards is almost always the result of emotional hunger, while physical hunger is usually always conscious, deliberate and not bound up with feelings of guilt.
• If it is an emotional craving, think of another way of compensating. For example, go for a walk or talk to a friend.

Realise comfort eating is only going to make you feel worse in the long run by making you gain weight and feel depressed. When emotional hunger strikes, identify what it is you are feeling and a non-food way of dealing with it. If it is a genuine physical hunger pangs, here are some tips on how to control them:

Prioritise sleep
Sleep and appetite are linked. Lack of sleep prompts release of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite.

Never skip breakfast
No good ever comes of skipping breakfast. Studies consistently show people who eat breakfast are slimmer than people who don’t. Choose a savoury, protein rich breakfast to keep you fuller, longer, always combining complex carbohydrate with protein. For example, have boiled or scrambled eggs on a slice of rye bread, perhaps with a slice of smoked salmon. If you’re vegetarian, have some porridge or oat flakes with berries or chopped apple and a few almonds.

Chew and eat slowly
Eating slowly and chewing helps you eat less because you feel fuller.

Proteins to the rescue
Always eat protein with Low GL carbohydrates to curb hunger pangs and keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Lean poultry and fish are a great source of protein. Vegetarian options include tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Eating right between meals
When and what you eat makes a huge difference. Low GL fruits such as berries, hummus with oat cakes and healthy vegetable soups are good food choices to have between meals.

Stay hydrated
Hunger can be confused with thirst. Water, liquids and high water content fruit and vegetables can help reduce cravings. When you think you’re feeling hungry first have a glass of water.

Add spice to your meal
Spicy food triggers a speed up in metabolism and suppresses hunger pangs so add a little chilli, cayenne or hot smoked paprika where you can.

Exercise to banish hunger pangs
Staying slim and healthy is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Always exercise before eating – that’s our natural evolutionary design. Exercise actually reduces food cravings so you won’t eat so much. Most of all follow my low GL diet principles.

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