Cravings are all about blood sugar. If your levels are consistent throughout the day, your eating patterns will be, too. But when you starve yourself for hours, cravings call. And you will answer.
"Your blood sugar can fall too low after just four hours of not eating," says Valerie Berkowitz, M.S., R.D., nutrition director at the Center for Balanced Health in New York City. So you search the fridge, food court, or seat cushions for carbohydrates, which will provide a quick boost.
Trouble is, fast-rising blood sugar triggers your pancreas to release a flood of insulin, a hormone that not only lowers blood sugar but also signals your body to store fat. And in about half of us, insulin tends to "overshoot," which sends blood sugar crashing. "This reinforces the binge, because it makes you crave sugar and starch again," says Berkowitz.
The most effective way to keep blood sugar in check is to avoid foods that are made with added sugar soda, some fruit juices, baked goods. You can eliminate those entirely. As for foods that contain high amounts of starch pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, or any other flour-based food we'll admit they're delicious, and they can also provide vitamins and fiber. But you should limit yourself to 30 to 40 grams (g) of total carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and 10 to 20 g at any given snack. (Check labels.)
In addition, follow these three rules.
Eat regularly approximately every 3 hours. This allows you to eat smaller meals without becoming hungry.
Have protein and fat (meat, cheese, nuts, or eggs contain both) at every meal. This slows the digestion of carbohydrates, which helps prevent spikes in blood sugar.
Go whole grain. Shop carefully for carbs. Make sure any bread, pasta, or rice that you eat is 100 percent whole grain. Because whole grains contain fiber, their effect on your blood sugar is reduced.
8 Ways to Tame a Raging Appetite
1. Guarantee Success
How long do you think you can stick to a new plan? Find a duration that you're 100 percent confident you can achieve, even if it's just a couple of days. "Once you make it to your goal date, start the process over," says Mary Vernon, M.D., president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. "This not only establishes the notion that you can be successful, but also gives you a chance to start noticing that eating better makes you feel better, reinforcing your desire to continue."
2. Find More Motivation
If your diet's only purpose is to help you finally achieve six-pack abs (or even just a two-pack), it may be hard to stick with for the long haul. The solution? "Provide yourself with additional motivators," says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D. He suggests monitoring migraines, heartburn, acne, canker sores, and sleep quality, along with common measures of cardiovascular health. "Discovering that your new diet improves the quality of your life and health can be powerful motivation," says Volek.
3. Don't Dwell on Mistakes
Okay, you over-indulged. What's the next step? "Forget about it," says James Newman, a nutritionist at Tahlequah City Hospital, in Oklahoma, who followed his own advice to shed 250 pounds. (That's right, 250 pounds.) "One meal doesn't define your diet, so don't assume that you've failed or fallen off the wagon," he says. Institute a simple rule: Follow any "cheat" meal with at least five healthy meals and snacks. That ensures that you'll be eating right more than 80 percent of the time.