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EATING WELL AND HEALTHY EATING                                

Dr Nancy Tice

Sunday, March 6, 2011.

Learning to manage your hunger is a very important key to staying on a weight loss plan long enough to lose the desired weight. Hunger is a natural by-product of limiting your food intake, and it's very important to learn the difference between true hunger and a psychological desire to eat. Once you are able to identify these feelings, you'll need to learn to control your responses to them.

The basic process of hunger can be likened to a traffic light: green means start eating, yellow cautions that you're nearing the fullness point and red means stop. Our physiology is actually designed to give us the green, yellow or red lights, which could theoretically end the whole calorie-counting business in favour of simply eating according to physical hunger and fullness.

Unfortunately, the practice isn't that simple. For one thing, distractions get in the way of physical sensations. Though our body says "green light," we might not be able eat at that moment. Often, people eat when they are too hungry and continue to eat well beyond a comfortable feeling of fullness. Doing this consistently can lead to weight gain.

Satiety refers to how long you'll feel full. In other words, how long the light will stay red before turning green again. Many factors influence satiety. A long list of hormones and physical mechanisms trigger hunger and satiety. For example, low blood glucose and a hormone called neuropeptide Y (NPY) are thought to stimulate hunger. Conversely, hormones such as serotonin and cholecystokinin (CCK), as well as many nutrients in the blood, contribute to satiety.

Despite the list of reactions that physiological hunger and satiety trigger, appetite is what most often determines how much we eat. Nearly everyone eats for reasons other than just being hungry. Some people have learned to eat "by the clock," so they eat on a schedule whether they are hungry or not. Others eat in response to mood: sadness, anger, anxiety, boredom or happiness. These triggers are types of psychological hunger, and they can be very powerful cues to eat - and to overeat. This is why it is helpful to keep a food journal and write down how you’re feeling before, during and after you eat for reasons other than hunger.



Mechanisms that control learning behaviour vary. Hunger and appetite are the big GO signals; satiation and satiety are the main STOP signals. A useful scale to gauge your hunger by is:

1. You're so hungry you feel dizzy and irritable.

2. You need to eat and you’re having trouble concentrating.

3. You feel physical signs of hunger (stomach rumbling).

4. You're starting to feel like food.

5. You feel just right - perfectly comfortable.

6. You are comfortably full.

7. You feel a little too full.

8. You feel stuffed.

9. You’re very full and might need to unbutton your trousers or loosen your belt.

10. You feel intensely uncomfortable.

If you recognise that you often wait too long to eat or you often eat beyond the point of comfort, you might gain some benefit by keeping a written record of your own feelings of hunger, using this scale. Take a look at what and how much you eat - when you are too hungry versus the times you eat when hunger is just beginning. See if you can move your eating schedule to accommodate your true need for food.

What else can you do?

-    Eat protein foods at each meal. Protein acts as an appetite suppressant to help control hunger pains.

-    Avoid simple sugar foods. And, if you do succumb to them, ensure they are mixed with a meal.

- Eat smaller meals. Eating smaller meals more frequently will help reduce the intensity of hunger pains and keep your metabolism revved up, helping you use calories more efficiently.

-    Consume high fibre foods. At each meal, consume high fibre foods first to fill your stomach and speed satiety.

-    EXERCISE! It regulates appetite to control hunger and food intake (not to mention burning calories and building muscle).   

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