Trying to eat a healthier diet and lose weight, but find that your appetite for treats and junk foods sabotages your efforts?
There’s some good news – researchers have turned up dependable ways to fight off those cravings.
Investigations into how your brain and body control appetite offer some simple methods for outsmarting the hunger pangs that destroy your willpower. Try these and see if they help. . .
Cool Your Appetite
One way to fight your over-eager hunger is by enlisting the help of the part of your brain that can send the body “Don’t eat!” signals.
This brain area, the hypothalamus, quells your appetite and warns the body to stop eating when it senses your body is getting warmer.
Most of us have experienced this kind of thing. Think about how your appetite can disappear during very hot weather. Or how when you’re sick with a fever the last thing you feel like doing is eating. Your body is set up to eat less when the temperature climbs either inside or outside the body.
Now researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have taken this one step further. They investigated exactly how the hypothalamus interprets body warming as a no-eating zone.1
Part of how this works is linked to the fact that some parts of the hypothalamus are not within the blood-brain barrier. Most of the brain is protected by this cellular wall that prevents some substances circulating in the blood from getting into the brain. Left without this protection, the unshielded parts of the hypothalamus are able to react to hormones and everything else that is getting pumped around the body.
Get Hot, Stop Eating
That lack of shielding also makes these brain cells more sensitive to changes in body temperature. And the scientists found that hypothalamic neurons are very responsive not only to increases in body warming but also to chemical signals from capsaicin, the substance in hot peppers that gives food a hot, spicy taste.
The result: when you exercise enough to sweat, or eat enough hot peppers to set your tongue on fire, both of those events get the attention of your hypothalamus. The result: An internal chemical message starts shutting down your appetite.
How to Feel Full on Very Little
Another appetite appeasing strategy recently uncovered by research is that certain fats set off hormones that make you feel full and less likely to overeat.
A study at the University of Georgia shows that taking in the kind of polyunsaturated fats in foods like walnuts and salmon lowers your body’s ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry. At the same time, these fatty acids increase the body’s manufacture of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full and satisfied.2
“Appetite hormones play an important role in regulating how much we eat,” says researcher Jamie A. Cooper. “These findings tell us that eating foods rich in PUFAs (poly-unsaturated fatty acids), like those found in walnuts, may favorably change appetite hormones so that we can feel fuller for longer.”
Plants vs. Meat
One last tip if you’re concerned about your weight: If you’re not having much luck keeping the pounds off, a study suggests a vegetarian diet may do the trick.
A study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine showed that a vegetarian diet containing vegetables, legumes (beans), grains, nuts and fruits plus a daily small amount of plain yogurt may help you lose considerably more weight than a diet that emphasizes meats and other animal products.3 Note that this list doesn’t contain high-glycemic carbs like rice, bread, potatoes and sugar.
In this study, the vegetarian diet had the added benefit of eliminating what is called “subfascial” fat – body fat that coats muscles. This type of body fat can increase your risk of being insulin resistant and make you significantly more likely to develop diabetes.
Let’s face it, nowadays those who want to keep their weight under control face an uphill battle. Unhealthy eating choices seem to be everywhere you turn. We live in what experts call a “toxic food environment.”
In plain English, they mean that temptations surround us – TV and the Internet are filled with mouth-watering come-ons for burgers, pizza, tacos, candy and dangerously sweet soft drinks, restaurants offer a feast of sugar, other carbs and unhealthy fats. Supermarkets are packed with snacks high in sugar, fat and carbs.
It seems like you can hardly wander a block from home without being tempted to eat something you shouldn’t.
And most of it doesn’t cost much, so even if you’re living on welfare you can afford to stuff yourself.
It’s worth trying these hunger-controlling techniques. You might find you can rein in your appetite and make these temptations less less tempting.