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Appetizing Appetites: How to Keep Cravings Under Control

cravingsAlthough food is a necessity, it can also become a necessary evil when your cravings get the best of you. We’ve all succumbed to those late night moments when we are craving something sweet or salty and indulge in not just one or two, but an entire box of cookies. Ever wonder why you are still hungry afterwards, despite having consumed several servings of a food?

According to Rea Frey, nutrition specialist and author of Power Vegan: Plant-Fueled Nutrition for Maximum Health and Fitness, we continue to receive hunger cues after binging on these types of food because our bodies need foods that contain actual nutrition, not just empty calories. “Our bodies are smart and will keep signaling that they need food until you ingest some nutritional density – not just processed foods,” she says.

It can be difficult to know when to put down the fork, leave a few bites on the plate or keep shoveling down a meal. Many of us end up eating every last bite when we sit down to a delicious meal, even if we are stuffing ourselves beyond what our bodies really need, or what we even want, says Keri Glassman, New York-based nutritionist.

That’s why it’s important to consume foods that help you feel full and keep those cravings under control. Learning how to decipher between foods that will increase or decrease your cravings is the key to a healthier lifestyle and minimal snacking.

Foods to Avoid

A general rule of thumb is to avoid anything white, says Frey, such as white flour, white rice or white pasta. “If it is white, it is usually processed, lacks nutrients and won’t keep you full,” she says. White flour also spikes insulin levels, which causes you to crash, leaving you hungrier than before.

Sugar is also a culprit when those cravings are in full force. “Besides the sugar in fruit, which should still be ingested somewhat sparingly, processed sugar, which is refined sugar added to foods for sweetness and flavor, is lurking in most processed foods, such as cereals, muffins, juices, cookies and bread,” says Frey. “Sugar doesn’t fill you up, so you can down a huge coke and muffin and be hungry thirty minutes later.”

If you wonder why you can’t just eat one chip, there is a reason. Instead of giving in and tackling the entire bag, ditch the chip to help reduce cravings. “The combination of salt and fat is one few have enough willpower to control, especially if they are hungry,” says Bridget Swinney, registered dietitian, author and founder of the Healthy Food Zone. “Chips aren’t very filling, so it’s easy to eat the whole bag without thinking and still want dinner.”

Alternative Food Choices

Although a wonder food that will stop all cravings doesn’t necessarily exist, there are some foods that will boost your ability to stop the cravings for sweet and salty foods.

Always choose nutrient dense foods, suggests Glassman. “Nutrient density refers to getting the most bang for your buck,” she says. “A handful of jelly beans won’t satisfy because they are little more than sugar – there is no nutritional value. In contrast, if you consumed 100 calories from a small apple and a spoonful of natural peanut butter, you would get fiber, healthy fat and protein – not to mention all of the other vitamins and minerals your body can use.”

Foods rich in fiber may also help you feel full longer, thus reducing your appetite. Opt for a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast instead of crunching on sugar-coated cereal. Oatmeal is full of fiber, folate and omega-3 fats that offer your body and your appetite optimal health.

Andrea Paul, chief medical officer at BoardVitals.com, recommends cutting calories during the evening hours, when snacking is often at its worst. “The best way to fix this is by eating small amounts of heart-healthy, protein and fiber-rich foods during the day and then to set a time in the evening after which you cannot consume anything other than water, such as 7 or 8 p.m.,” says Paul.

Know When to Stop

The reality is that our bodies count on information from lots of different sources to determine when we should take our last bite, says Glassman. Feeling full is a key sign to stop.

“Whether it is six bites or a plate and a half, try to stop eating when you are satisfied and not when you are stuffed,” she says. “Chew slowly, pause between bites and truly enjoy your meals. That way, you can quit when you’ve had just enough and are only taking in what you really need.”

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