Stress increases the circulation of the hormone ghrelin, which can trigger hunger. To calm down, try taking three slow deep breaths as you imagine yourself inhaling calm and exhaling anxiety, suggests Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. Also, recent research suggests that regularly practicing yoga for stress relief could lead to being a more "mindful" eater, which could boost weight-loss efforts.
Some research suggests that using artificial sweeteners (like those in diet soda) may stimulate your appetite for sweets in general. While you might think you would know whether sugary treats are adding a bigger proportion of calories to your intake than they should, study after study shows that we often underestimate our caloric intake. To tell if you’re overdoing it on sweets (and other things) try to keep a food journal for a week, noting everything you put in your mouth. If you find that sweets are pushing up your daily calorie count, you may want to try weaning yourself off sodas to see if your sugar cravings are affected. You also want to look at what you’re eating while you drink those diet sodas. For instance, people typically snack on salty stuff when drinking soda. A good option is to portion out a single serving of pretzels or whatever into a small bowl instead of eating them straight from the bag, so you know when to stop.
Experts at the University of Chicago think that sleep could be a secret weapon for people trying to drop pounds. In one small study, overweight dieters who slept 8-and-a-half hours per night over two weeks lost 56 percent more body fat than those who got only 5-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. The researchers think sleep deprivation may cause a spike in the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin.
Next time you’re hit by a craving, try these strategies. First, figure out if you’re hungry. This might sound like a no-brainer. But you could be surprised if you stop, mid-craving, and ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” A craving may not necessarily be a message that it's time to eat. When was the last time you had a meal or snack? If it’s been longer than 3-5 hours, think about what you really want to eat—something you’ll feel good about, like a balanced snack or meal combining fruits/veggies, protein and/or starchy foods? The cookies may be calling but if you stop to think, you may come up with something that will be more satisfying. Then, ride the wave. If you decide you really don’t want the food, but it still calls to you, imagine the craving as a wave. It builds to a peak, then crests and disappears. If it’s not the result of physical hunger and you don’t give in to it, it will go away. You can help yourself make it past the peak by distracting yourself. For instance, maybe the TV show you’re watching is boring, and a phone call to a good friend will take your mind off the cookies.
Don't let ballooning portion sizes derail your diet. Check out how servings have grown in the last 20 years below, then adjust your eating accordingly. Bagel Portion 20 years ago: 3-inch diameter, 140 cal. Portion today: 6-inch diameter, 350 cal. Cheeseburger Portion 20 years ago: 330 cal. Portion today: 590 cal. French Fries Portion 20 years ago: 2.5 ounces, 210 cal. Portion today: 7 ounces, 610 cal. Spaghetti & Meatballs Portion 20 years ago: 1 cup pasta & 3 meatballs, 500 cal. Portion today: 2 cup pasta & 3 meatballs, 1,000 cal. Source: National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
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