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


Pizza Power

 I am tired of pizza getting a bad rap.  There are lots of great things about pizza.  First of all, how many different kinds of   pizza are there?  There’s thin crust, thick crust, stuffed crust, coal-fired, handtossed, deep dish, pan, thin n’ crispy – I could go on forever.  The different toppings – there’s not enough time in the day to list these.  Is there anything you can’t put on top of  pizza that won’t taste good?   It’s readily available.  You can get pizza anywhere, anytime or it’s pretty easy to make yourself.  Have you ever said to yourself  “I wish there were more pizza places around here?”   Me neither.  Kids love it – no explanation necessary.  It’s relatively inexpensive.  It encompasses at least three food groups – protein, dairy, vegetable.  Depending on what you put on it, maybe more!  You’re probably thinking, isn’t it a little unhealthy??  I won’t argue a chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice may be a better choice.  However, sometimes, especially on a Friday night, that’s just not going to happen.  Unhealthy compared to what – other pizza or other food?  If you get the triple meat italiano pizza at Pizza Hut, it’s going to have a whopping 420 calories and 23 grams of fat (basically almost 50% of the calories come from fat AND remember that is 1/8 of a pie).  If you compare that to a  thin n’ crispy slice from Pizza Hut the calories  drop to 190 with 8 grams of fat (38% fat calories – better especially in the calorie department).  How about a chicken caesar salad?  Want a real shocker?  Caesar salad at Outback Steakhouse – 1045 calories, 74 grams of fat.  Wow, that is 64% of the calories coming from fat!!  My point I’m trying to make is don’t discount pizza because you think it is so “bad for you.”    Listed below are some fat and calorie values for various pizzas, all 1/8 of a pie.

Anthony’s Coal-Fired  (Plain Cheese)

425 calories      15 grams fat       32% fat calories

Bertucci’s  (Plain Cheese)                      

330 calories      15 grams fat      43% fat calories



          230 calories            4.5 grams fat           18% fat calories

          Thin Crust                                       

          170 calories             7 grams fat               37% fat calories

          Deep Dish                                         

          210 calories              7 grams fat              30% fat calories

Homemade Pizza

239 calories              5.6 grams fat           21% fat calories

Pizza also packs a great nutritional punch.  Tomato sauce contains lycopene, a powerful antioxidant thought to  help protect against cancer.  It is also high in vitamin C.  Cheese is an excellent source of protein and also contains vitamin B-12, calcium, and vitamin D.    Make a whole-wheat pizza crust and add some beneficial fiber.  Added lean meats such as ham and chicken can boost protein.  Vegetable toppings increase the nutritional value significantly by adding a variety of vitamins and minerals (and fiber). 

For takeout pizza, check out the fat and calorie content, if it’s available.  Try to pick venues where pizza is closer to authentic italian with thinner crust, more sauce and less cheese.  You probably know which pizza places have more greasy and/or breadier dough pizzas.  Avoid these.  Make homemade pizza with your child and let their imaginations run wild thinking of toppings!  Pizza on the grill is very popular now – there are a variety of cookbooks available with some great recipes.   Wegman’s makes it easy by having a section that includes sauce, cheese, and pizza dough all in the same place.   My daughter LOVES to make homemade pizza and thinks it tastes better than takeout.    It is a fun thing to make for kids of all ages.

Add to your to do list this week:  get pizza stone, pizza cutter, pizza cookbook.   Have fun!

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”  Jack Brooks

There’s Got to Be a Morning After

The holiday season is over (thank goodness).  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas.   Looking at (not so much hanging) the decorations and lights, getting together with family and friends, and enjoying all of the special things that are unique to this time of year.  Unfortunately, we know there is a price to pay for having  too much of  a good time.  Exhaustion, disorganization, financial ruin, and maybe an extra pound or two.  That’s why it’s so great that this time is followed by the start of a new year.  New year – new beginning.   That’s how I feel after the new year begins.  Our children may not feel exactly the same way we do.  They may be sad the holidays are over and it is time to go back to school.  It’s time to get back to some routine.  Listed below are some suggestions on how to get you and your child back on track.

  1. Take a few minutes to sit down with your child.  Better yet, take a walk with them and talk.  Let them know it’s time to refocus on their nutrition and exercise goals.  If they maintained their weight, praise them for a job well done.  If they gained a little, make sure they know they just need to get back to business.  It’s ok.  No matter what goals we make in life, there are usually ups and downs getting there.  It is important to emphasize this to your child. 
  2. Take a trip to the grocery store with your son or daughter.  Encourage them to do some label reading to help them pick out some appropriate food choices.  Try to make it fun and not seem like a chore.  Timing is everything so pick a time that works best for your child (and you, of course). 
  3. If they are not so eager to get to the store, see if they would rather make a recipe together.  Maybe they search online for a baked chicken tender recipe and you go to the store and get the ingredients.  The point is, get them involved in and thinking about good nutrition.
  4. Write down their reasons for wanting to lose weight.  Two at the most.  They need to keep in places where they will be visible several times a day – by their bed, in a drawer, screen saver on an iPod touch or computer (only if they are comfortable with that). 
  5.  Encourage them to be aware of what, why, where, how they are eating.  Am I hungry?   What mood am I in?  Does the food I am eating still taste good?  Is there a better snack choice that would be healthier?  Am I eating in front of the TV?  Have them write down for easy reference.
  6. Make a specific plan with your child for the upcoming week.  What meals and snacks will you be eating? What is the exercise routine?
  7. Part of the plan must  be increased intake of high protein foods.  They speed up metabolism while helping to keep you full.  Limit carbohydrate intake except for those high in fiber.
  8. Drink plenty of water.
  9. Activity and exercise!!  Whenever possible.  Encourage at least 30 minutes of structured exercise each day.   However, try to keep your child moving.  Playing interactive video games, shopping, shooting baskets, cooking, etc.  or whatever keeps them from spending too much time in front of the TV or computer.

The above ideas incorporate mentally and physically what needs to happen when your child falls off the wagon (notice the reference to TAP from my last blog – thinking, awareness, and planning).  Talk to your child about New Year’s resolutions and have them make one regarding nutrition that is realistic and attainable.  Remember you need to keep positive and consistent.  Your child needs to keep at it! 

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Claire’s Chicken Soup – Healthy Comfort Food Kids Love!

My alarm clock this morning was a howling, screaming wind outside my window.   I got up to let my dog out and was happy to finally feel the December chill  in the air.  Good day for soup.  Good time to share one of my family’s favorite soup recipes.  I usually make it (or one of it’s many variations) once a week in the winter months.  The beauty of it is that my daughter enjoys helping me make it but loves to eat it!  It is a low calorie, low fat delicious comfort food that really fills your belly.  There are so many variations of  it, too.  Even if your child or teen doesn’t think they like veggies, it would be hard to not like this soup!

Claire’s Chicken Soup

2 large chicken breasts, with skin

16 oz. low sodium chicken broth or stock

1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (real carrots that you have to peel taste best!)

1 1/2 cups chopped cabbage

Handful of chopped  curly parsley

1 large onion, quartered

Boil chicken breasts and onion in 6-8 cups water.  Boil until cooked (approximately 30-40 minutes depending on size of chicken breasts).   Remove chicken breasts and set aside to cool.  Add carrots, cabbage and parsley (you may  need to add more water).  Boil until carrots are firm (not mushy).  Turn heat to simmer.   Shred chicken and add back into soup (discard skin).  Add chicken broth.  You may need to add more or less broth according to taste.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe can be altered to your child’s preferences.  You can use any veggies you like:  corn, broccoli, green beans, edamame, peas, tomatoes.  You can also throw in a  1/2 cup of barley.  If your child really wants  noodles,  make sure to cook these separately so they don’t get soggy.   Add them sparingly at serving time.  If they prefer chicken to vegetables, go heavy on the chicken.

Have fun making this soup with your child!  This is a great way for them to get some kitchen skill experience (chopping, peeling, cutting – with your close supervision) and to experiment with different ingredients.  Keep warm and bon appetit!

“Cookery is not chemistry.  It is an art.  It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.”

Marcel Boulestin

A Weigh to Encourage…Baby Steps

My daughter came home very excited about a good grade she got on test.  She was so proud of herself.  That same day I had looked at her grades and seen, in my opinion, a less than ideal grade on a quiz in another class.  After she finished telling me how great she had done, I was quick to point out the other grade and asked her what was going on in that class.  I can still picture the dejected look on her face.  Why did I do that?  What did I gain from that?  As a parent, I often fail with regards to providing positive feedback to my children.  They could do ten great things, but I will pick out the one thing they did wrong and spend the most time on that.  The experts say when we do that, the only thing that child remembers is the negative stuff we said.  Even though we may quickly praise them, when we say “but what about….”  it totally negates whatever good things we said.  

When providing support to your child or teen when they’re working on changing their nutrition/exercise habits, there are two things that come to my mind.  First, focus on the POSITIVE.  Ignore the negative as much as possible.  They will get the message.  Make sure you acknowledge everything they do that contributes to their efforts on making a change.  If you are at a restaurant and they make a healthy choice in selecting an entree, make sure you don’t follow that with asking them why they skipped their workout after school.  I’m not saying to not address a behavior if you feel it’s necessary.  Save that for another time – and I’ll talk about that in another blog!!  For now, let any compliments or kind words you give your child be just that.  Don’t lessen the impact by bringing up anything negative.  Secondly, small steps lead to big change.  I think we often want things yesterday.  Weight loss and maintenance is a lifelong commitment.   Change and new habits take time.  Think about what happens when we rush to do something.  Often, we make a mistake, do it haphazardly,  or forget something and then have to do it over.  Apply that to losing weight.   If your child makes one change, say having sugar-free jello for dessert once a week, and is able to stick to that, don’t think it’s not enough to make a difference!  It is – and, with loving support from you, will lead to other permanent changes  to healthier eating behaviors.  Each small change builds on the next.  When your child feels they have been successful at something, it encourages them to keep trying.  And when they see results, maybe losing one pound, getting a compliment from someone, or realizing they are not as winded when playing a sport, it builds their confidence and makes them feel better about themselves.  Just remember it takes time.

These things may seem obvious.  Yet we expect so much from our kids.  I thought prior to the holidays when things start to get chaotic and we may occasionally “lose it,”  consider this a reminder to remember your job as your child’s biggest supporter of whatever their healthy nutrition goals might be!  Be positive, be patient, and be kind.

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  Mark Twain