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How to Overcome Hunger Pangs

By Laurel Heidtman

Whether you are dieting or just trying to eat smaller portions of food, your body can sabotage your best efforts with hunger pangs. Hunger is subject to the control of hormones. Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells, and it normally suppresses appetite and stimulates energy expenditure. Ghrelin, a hormone produced in your stomach, stimulates appetite. Insulin, produced by your pancreas when glucose enters your blood, triggers leptin’s release. These hormones don’t always work as they should, especially if you are obese. However, you don’t have to be a slave to your body’s hunger pangs. Instead, identify ways to avoid, control or minimize their effects on your eating habits.

  1. Keep a log for a few days, noting when and what you eat. Do so mindfully, noting how you felt before, during and after eating. Flag the times you found your hunger hardest to control. For each day, also note how much sleep you had and whether it was restful sleep. When you are short on sleep, your body often tries to get energy the wrong way -- by increasing caloric intake. Lack of sleep can increase ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone, and lower leptin, the appetite-suppressing hormone.

  2. Identify when hunger pangs are hardest for you to control. After a few days or a week, you should see a pattern in your log. Some people find they are hungriest at night, others may raid the vending machines when they hit that midafternoon slump. Once you know your trouble times, you can prepare yourself to get through them.

  3. Eat regular-size meals at regular intervals and include a source of protein in each one. Purdue University explains that, contrary to popular belief, eating three regular-size meals a day rather than eating small meals more frequently helped people feel fuller and more able to control their hunger. Consuming lean protein at each meal helps you feel sated. Don’t make your three meals giant-sized, however. Instead, serve appropriate portions. For example, a serving of lean meat or fish should be approximately the size of a deck of cards, while a serving of hard cheese should be about the size of three dominoes.

  4. Identify ways to distract yourself when you feel hunger pangs. Exercise can often stop hunger pangs for a time, so when they strike, try exercising to delay the need to eat. Exercise is an effective way to burn some calories as well. Drinking a glass of water is another way to stop hunger pangs temporarily. Keeping your hands occupied can also distract you from hunger, so if you enjoy sewing, painting or woodworking, plan on indulging your hobby during the times you’ve identified as your problem times. Of course, you may eventually need to eat something to stop the hunger. When that happens, make it a low-fat protein or whole grain food for maximum satiety, and use vegetables to add more bulk to your meal.

  5. Tip

    Keep sugar-free gum or candy in your pocket or purse to manage the hunger pangs that strike when the only available food choices are high-calorie, high-fat snacks.

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