Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hunger or craving: You decide

I've been thinking a lot about hunger recently. When I start thinking about food, the first thing I do now is to drink a large glass of water. If I am still hungry after drinking the water, then I know it's time to eat.

But I found this information on the South Beach Diet web sit -- a definition of hunger vs. craving -- and I think it's too good not to pass on. It actually made real sense to me, especially the part about snacks. A few months back. I decided to take snacks out of my diet, and although I had success for a few weeks, I soon found myself thinking about food -- a lot. It began to overtake other thoughts, and that's when I knew I had to put snacks back into my eating plan -- but only if I was hungry. Most days I am.

Optimum time between meals is four hours. So if I eat breakfast at 6, that means by 10 a.m., 11 a.m. at the latest, I should be eating lunch. Dinner would be at 2 or 3. Of course that's impossible. But at 10 a.m., if I snack on food, I can easily make it until 1 p.m. to eat lunch. A snack about 4, and dinner at 7 completes my eating for the day. It also regulates my blood sugar, which means my cravings are gone. But on the days that I don't follow this schedule, I think about these definitions. They put things into perspective.

When It’s Hunger
Hunger is the feeling you get when you experience a normal and gradual drop in blood sugar about four or five hours after a meal. It's your body's way of telling you that eating is overdue. Hunger signals can come from your stomach (growls, pangs or a hollow feeling), or your brain (which may include feeling headachy or fatigued).

Adequately satisfy your hunger with the right foods, such as lean protein and plenty of vegetables at every meal. Another way to ward off hunger is to enjoy a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Studies show that it takes relatively few calories to prevent cravings but many more to satisfy them once they occur. "The quality of calories in your satisfying meals and snacks, along with a dessert that contains protein, should help keep your hunger at bay," says Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet. "We encourage you to eat until you’re full and snack before you get hungry." South Beach recommends turkey roll-ups, reduced-fat cheese, celery sticks with hummus or fresh fruit. I love Laughing Cow cheese wedges (35 calorie each) spread on celery ribs. Really yummy and filling.

When It’s a Craving

Cravings happen within a couple of hours of your last meal. "Cravings can be caused by exaggerated spikes and dips in blood sugar that occur after you eat highly processed carbohydrates -- white bread, cake or other highly refined baked goods, white rice or white pasta. These foods are digested so quickly that they cause an almost immediate rise in blood sugar followed by a rapid dip soon after," says Dr. Agatston. It's this drop in blood-sugar levels that causes a craving.

In addition, the sight and smell of food can produce cravings. When this happens, the South Beach Diet says to employ the "Three-Bite Rule." Simply take three bites of something you’re craving that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to indulge in, such as a decadent dessert, and then put it aside for a few minutes. South Beach says that most likely you won’t come back to it, that just a few bites is enough to satisfy.

My problem: If I am really craving something, three bites will never happen. More power to you if you can make limit yourself to three bites.

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