Hunger is one of our primal human urges, but it's a tough thing to grasp, a marionette with many masters. A variety of hormones and neurotransmitters pull the strings and they, in turn, are manipulated by your body clock.
There are two kinds of hunger: physiological and reward-driven. One is ruled by your body's instinct to find the energy it needs to survive, while the other is psychological, influenced by smell, sight, stress and social/environmental settings, otherwise known as the gauntlet of daily life. And then you find yourself with a fistful of cookies at midnight.
The problem is your body often struggles to differentiate between the two: Do you really need fuel, or did ESPN just flash a commercial for a flame-grilled bacon cheddar burger? New research is revealing ways you can control your brain's reward system to shrink your waistline.More: 9 Flat-Belly Foods
For instance, Heather Leidy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, used functional MRI technology to find out how people's reward centers responded to appetizing images of food after they'd eaten or skipped breakfast. She found that eating a protein-rich breakfast can dampen hunger all day. Use this strategy, and those that follow, to gain the upper hand on your appetite.
Just remember that hunger is like LeBron James: You can't shut it down, but you can contain it.
PLUS: There are 46,000 foods in the average supermarket. How to choose what to put in your cart? Here's your shopping list: The 125 Best Foods.
1. Know Thyself
Physiological hunger arises from an imbalance in your calories-in/calories-out equation. To deal with hunger rationally, you have to tally your calorie consumption and compare the result with your total calorie burn. This helps you identify and ignore reward-driven cues.More: 6 Foods That Ward Off Hunger and Fight Fat
Use a calorie-target calculator to estimate the calories you need to maintain your weight. Write down everything you eat and drink for a couple of days. If you're near that calorie number and your weight is staying steady, then most of your hunger pangs are reward-driven. To lose weight, cut your intake by up to 500 calories a day.