No matter how enthusiastic you are about trying to shed a few pounds, hunger and cravings can get in the way of those weight loss efforts. Dr. Amy Shah, a physician, nutrition expert and author of “I’m So Effing Hungry: Why We Crave What We Crave - and What to Do About It” hears complaints about hunger and cravings from her clients all the time.
Shah says one reason people are “so effing hungry” is that food manufacturers have engineered their products to be addictive, as they’re loaded with salt, sugar, oils, fats and additives designed to “trigger intense pleasure responses.” We get a hit of dopamine, our feel-good chemical that keeps us craving, when we eat those ultra-processed foods, which can make it hard to tell if we’re hungry or just want more dopamine.
To tell if you’re truly hungry, Shah recommends “the vegetable test,” where if you feel like eating, you ask yourself if you’d eat a bowl of cooked or raw veggies. If it’s a yes, you’re really hungry, but if not, you may just want food to relieve stress or for pleasure. To tame food cravings, Shah suggests:
- Use peppermint oil - In one study, inhaling a peppermint scent every two hours helped people defuse cravings and eat fewer calories. Peppermint tea can help, too, according to Shah.
- Work out to control appetite - “Exercising in general somehow makes your decisions about food just better,” she explains. “You have better control and your satisfaction levels are more balanced.”
- Eat walnuts to stay full - Research shows that eating walnuts activates a part of the brain involved in appetite control.
- Get enough sleep - Shah says this may be the most important step for appetite control. She explains that sleep-deprived people have higher levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone that signals we should eat, which makes them feel hungrier. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep to help avoid that.