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