Why Am I So Hungry???

It is a gloomy Friday morning in February.  It’s raining, about 43 degrees and it’s so gray outside it’s hard to tell it’s daytime.  Sitting at my computer trying to get some work done,  I am eating Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and a diet Snapple.  I am hungry.   Over the past several weeks, I have been hungry.  Hungrier than normal.  What makes us feel like this sometimes?   There are certainly some things that stimulate our appetite including time of day, sight and smell of food, alcohol (yes, this increases our appetites), temperature and a diet of refined carbohydrates.   Sometimes there are things going on in our lives that really play havoc with our “hunger hormones.”  These include stress, lack of sleep, and colder temperatures.  All three of those things are affecting me right now.  I am in the process of doing a bathroom remodel in my home which is quite stressful.  I have also found myself waking up in the wee hours of the morning second guessing a decision or two.  This has been going on for about a month now.  I am definitely feeling it is harder to control my food intake.

Sometimes I have a patient seemingly eager to lose weight.  Unfortunately, their weight seems to be climbing instead of maintaining or losing.  Talking to Mom or Dad I often find out that their son/daughter has been very stressed about their workload at school or perhaps some other challenging situation.    This makes it very difficult to make a change in eating habits as increased stress triggers a myriad of physiological reactions in the body leading to an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that causes an increase in appetite.  It is a very real, physical feeling that is causing the desire to overeat.  Not that it is impossible to control intake during times of chronic stress, but it becomes much more difficult.  Check out www.hungerhormones.com to read more about this process.

Next, sleep deprivation is a huge factor in helping to regulate hunger.  When our bodies do not get enough sleep, there is a decrease in the hormone, leptin, which helps suppress our appetite.   This can also produce an increase in ghrelin, the appetite stimulating hormone I mentioned above.  You are starting out at a disadvantage in trying to lose weight if you are not getting enough sleep.

Thirdly,  in the winter when our body temperature is cooler, it can trigger an increase in our desire to eat.   Due to the lack of daylight, some of us feel a little “blue”  at this time of year and often this causes our serotonin levels to take a dip.  This leads to a feeling of hunger.  Also, our body temperatures take a dive due to colder temps.  Eating increases our metabolism and helps keep us warm.  It makes sense that our bodies would want to try to warm themselves by eating.  Kind of  like putting wood on a fire.

What can we do or help our children do when we are dealing with these things that can truly make a difficult task even harder?   The first thing is to give yourself or your child a break.  It is difficult in the best of circumstances to try to lose weight.  Also, if  you are having a craving, it is a good idea to try to satisfy it.  If you don’t, eventually you will.   In all likelihood, the longer you wait the uglier the gratification process may be.   For example, if you are craving chocolate, satisfy yourself with a handful of dark chocolate covered raisins, five Hershey Kisses, or whatever your chocolate of choice is.  If you try to deny yourself, eventually you WILL give in and potentially end up eating an entire bag of Hershey Kisses.  Trust me – this is what will happen.  Some other suggestions:

  • If you are hungry, eat.  No matter what time of day, where you are or what you are doing.  Depriving yourself, more times than not, leads to trouble.
  • Keep things on hand to satisfy you when times get tough.  If you are looking for a salty carb, keep a healthier choice in your pantry, like Trader Joe’s Olive Oil Popcorn.  HOWEVER, if it is potato chips you really want, go out and get them (small bag).  Still not a good idea to keep these things around all the time!
  • You should make a list of healthier snacks to indulge on.  Keep this on hand.  It may sound silly but when you are feeling a bit out of control it helps to have a list of more reasonable options.
  • As I have mentioned in previous blogs, planning is key.  Plan for these situations.  What am I going to do when I am feeling extra hungry or having a particular craving?
  • Snack more on high protein, high fiber snacks to keep you from feeling hungry or getting to the point of starvation.  Frequent small meals throughout the day regularly can help ward off cravings or excessive feelings of hunger.

I hope this helps.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we have physiology working against us when trying to lose weight.  Those times in our life when we are under a great deal of stress are probably not the best times to lose weight.  Weight maintenance would be a much more achievable goal.  When things get under control, try again.  Be aware of what’s going on in your life.  Ask yourself if this is a good time to set weight loss goals.  If things seem unmanageable for an extended period of time, you can always make an appointment to see a registered dietitian!  And let’s not forget…

“One should eat to live,  not live to eat.”  Cicero

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Perusing Pasta

Hope my last blog gave a good mini lesson on carbohydrates.  While all that information is helpful to know (I think!), when you go to the supermarket and see all the various choices of products available, it can still be baffling.  Pasta is one of those foods where there has been an onslaught of new products appearing on store shelves.  Which one is best?  That depends on what criteria you are using.  Flavor?  Fiber?  Added nutrients?  Let’s explore this more.

I want my pasta to taste good.  Truly this is where we need to start first when picking out foods.  How often have you purchased something, like maybe a protein bar, thinking you’re going to eat it?  Maybe they are on sale and you buy six.  Great, what a deal!  You try one – yuck, tastes like sawdust.  You finish that one vowing to include the next five in your diet throughout the week (you don’t want to be wasteful).  That was two weeks before Easter.  The day after New Year’s you decide to clean out the pantry.  Way in the back, behind the stale Life cereal are the protein bars.  You have to take a nibble just in case you might like them now but they are always worse because they taste like old sawdust at this point.  No matter how healthy a food  may be, if you don’t like it, you’re not going to eat it!!!   Sorry, I went off on a tangent.  Back to business.

I’ve compared four different popular brands of pasta.  I’m going to discuss their nutritional content but also give my opinion on how they taste.  Amounts are based on 2 ounce/serving of pasta.

Calories           Fat (gm)          Fiber (gm)            Protein (gm)

Barilla Penne Pasta          200                   1                             2                            7

Barilla Plus Pasta              210                    2                            4                           10

Barilla Whole Grain          200                 1.5                          6                             7

Dreamfield Pasta               190                  1.0                         5                             7

Ronzoni Smart Taste       170                     .5                         5                             6

The first pasta listed is  just regular Barilla.  This is my favorite brand of  basic pasta.  The Barilla Plus pasta touts its high protein, omega-3, and high fiber content.   It is made with flaxseed, spelt, oats, barley and legumes.  The main difference is the higher protein content and omega-3’s (provided by the flaxseed).  Barilla Whole Grain pasta is made with 51% whole wheat flour which makes this the highest fiber product.   Dreamfield pasta supposedly has fewer digestible carbohydrates.  This is the advertising angle manufacturers take promoting it is a good pasta for diabetics.  It has a lower glycemic index (13).   This means it is absorbed  into the bloodstream more slowy than regular pasta. However, Barilla Plus also has a low glycemic index (11).  Ronzoni Smart Taste claims to have as much calcium and vitamin D as an 8 ounce glass of milk.  Calories and fat are the lowest.  I guess it’s another way to get more calcium and vitamin D in your diet.  Glycemic index is higher (around 50).

Which is best?  They all provide decent amounts of fiber (except the regular Barilla).  Pasta in general is a low-fat food choice.  They are all similar in protein content.  The last four are all good choices so really it does come down to taste.  So here goes…

  1. Dreamfield Pasta – Taste and texture closest to regular pasta.  My kids like this one.
  2. Barilla Plus – Like the taste although I wouldn’t say it tastes like regular pasta.  Heavier than regular pasta with somewhat of a “fiber” type taste.  Not bad though.
  3. Ronzoni Smart Taste – Doesn’t have that high fiber taste but isn’t quite like regular pasta either (something kind of artificial about it).
  4. Barilla Regular – Great taste and texture, of course but too low in fiber.  Higher glycemic index (43-61)
  5. Barilla Whole Grain – Tastes totally different from regular pasta.  Heavy, grainy flavor.  Just not for me.

When considering what your kids might like, I think Dreamfield pasta is the best choice.  Higher in fiber yet isn’t so obvious in the flavor.  Experiment with different kinds of pastas and see which ones your family likes best.  However, try to get one with a higher fiber content.   Many people like the whole wheat pasta.  If you and your kids like the flavor, go for it.  I just find that younger people generally like the “regular” taste best.

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”  Voltaire

Carbohydrates 101

Low carb, high carb, good carb, bad carb, no carb?  How much stuff out there do we hear about carbohydrates?  It makes me CRAZY to hear people talk about all their carbohydrate avoiding tactics.  The absolute bottom line to weight loss – take in less calories than your body needs.  It’s simple.  Portion control and exercise.  I’m not necessarily saying it’s simple to do but the concept itself is simple.   So let’s talk carbs.

Carbohydrates are one of  three necessary macronutrients (needed by the body in large amounts)  that provide calories  (the other two are protein and fat).   Carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram while fat provides 9 calories per gram (two times as much!).  Carbohydrates’ main purpose is to fuel the body.  Protein and fat have other primary purposes, but in certain instances can be utilized as energy as well.  Carbohydrates are the best and sometimes only sources of many essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins A, C and E, the majority of B vitamins, phytochemicals (providing antioxidants and other disease preventing benefits), potassium, and the majority of trace minerals.

There are simple and complex carbs, as determined by their chemical structure.   Most people know complex carbohydrates are the healthiest to consume.  Why?  Let’s talk about what happens when you eat simple carbohydrates.  Simple sugars are digested in the body much more quickly than complex carbs.  A surge of insulin is released rapidly to help remove  sugar from the blood.   When your body senses blood sugar getting low, it causes you to feel hungry, craving more sugar.    Hence, the “sugar craving cycle” occurs.  Most simple sugars are nutrient barren.  Fruit and milk are simple carbs that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals.  The “bad” simple sugars include cakes, cookies, candy, soda, etc.   Now on to complex carbohydrates.  As mentioned above they are loaded with nutrients.  Digestion of complex carbs takes place much more slowly eliminating  radical swings in blood sugar and providing a slow, steady source of energy.  They also cause a greater feeling of satiety, reducing the risk of overeating.   Complex carbohydrates  include nonstarchy vegetables (such as broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach),  beans and legumes, whole grain cereals/breads, potatoes, barley, and whole-wheat pasta.  Carbohydrates should comprise 40% to 60% of your total caloric intake.

Listed below are important points to remember:

  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories/gram – half as many as fat.
  • They provide many essential nutrients, including fiber.
  • Opt for complex carbs as they are slowly released into the bloodstream, thus allowing you to feel full longer.
  • Avoid simple sugars as these will cause you to feel sluggish and hungry again more quickly.
  • There are so many different types of foods that contain carbohydrates, the possibilities are endless!  Who doesn’t like carbohydrates?
  • When to eat more carbs?  Prior to an athletic event to fuel your body.
  • When to eat less carbs?  Possibly following a period of  poor eating or overindulgence.  Increase protein intake in lieu of carbs.

When reading labels AVOID the following terms/words which basically mean “sugar”:  high fructose corn syrup (actually any type of syrup), sweetener, any words ending in -ose (dextrose, glucose, maltose, etc.), honey, fruit juice concentrate. dextrin, maltodextrin, and molasses.

This was a brief overview of carbs.  In a future blog,  I hope to provide some delicious, complex carb containing  kid friendly recipes.   If your kids want to learn more about carbohydrates and other nutrients, have them go to www.nourishinteractive.com.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to eat….