The Hunger Haze

A3BB78CE-D2FB-4E0F-ACAC-BDD533C1BC79.jpgI've heard before that if you're thirsty, it's too late -- you're already dehydrated. While my own history of dehydration problems clearly disqualifies me from mounting a criticism of that statement, more trusted sources do say that unless you're an elite athlete, that's a myth. However, here's one truism that's definitely not a fairy tale: If you're hungry, it's too late -- you're already crazy!

Research backs it up:

"Our study demonstrates that ghrelin [a hormone that 'acts on the brain to tell the body when to eat in an attempt to keep a constant body weight'] actually activates certain regions of the brain to be more responsive to visual food cues, thereby enhancing the hedonic and incentive responses to food-related cues," says Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University and principal investigator in the study. “Ghrelin is a hormone that triggers hunger, and is secreted by the stomach [when it is empty]."

Translation? When those hunger juices start flowing, your inhibitions start tumbling. As the good doctor says:

"An easy analogy would be to think about when you go shopping on an empty stomach, you tend to buy more food and products higher in calories. The reason is that your brain views the food as more appealing, largely due to the action of ghrelin on the brain.”

So what can you do to head off the evil, evil cravings?

Learn when you get hungry. Start taking notice of the time when your hunger pangs strike. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sure, but what about mid-morning? Mid-afternoon? Late at night? A food diary can help here if you record when you eat as well as what you eat. If you know you have a tendency to scarf down a pint of Ben & Jerry's at around 9 p.m. every night, you'll be able to prepare yourself to fight the urge.

Watch for early hunger signs. Here you'll need to pay attention to your body rather than the clock. Be alert for any minor signs: a feeling of emptiness, a slight rumble, that bag of Doritos looking awfully good, whatever. Learn to recognize when you're about to plunge off the starvation cliff.

Keep healthy snacks at the ready. Remember how great fruit is to snack on, with all that fiber and built-in portion control? Keep plenty of fruit, as well as other healthy, convenient snacks such as pre-portioned nuts and cut veggies, at the ready at all times to head off the pangs. Promise yourself -- no, force yourself -- to eat one of your healthy snacks first when you feel hungry and visions of cheeseburgers are dancing through your head. Wait a few minutes then before diving into the chips or cookies. Odds are that satisfying the urge to eat will reign in the hormones enough to make you less desperate.

Your own hunger -- not Twinkies, not Chex Mix -- is the enemy when you're trying to lose or maintain weight. Don't let it sneak up on you! Be aware of your needs and bring in the preemptive snacks so that for you, it will never be too late.


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