How to Stop the Hunger Games (and eat only when you need to)

180143501With the demands of modern life, you may find you have to schedule time in just to eat—traditionally breakfast around 7 a.m., lunch at about 12 noon, and dinner between 5 and 7 p.m.

But mind the first rule for nutrition and chowtime, “Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.” What is hunger? Simply a message from your body that the food you last ate has been digested and it’s time for more. Your brain and stomach will tell you when your body is not running at its best through headaches, lack of concentration or stomach aches.

Stop the Hunger Games

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How do you chase your hunger away? You could have a Snickers chocolate bar or fuel your body with nutritious healthy foods like hummus with raw veggies or a baby spinach salad with toasted nuts and red onion. Some experts suggest eating every three to four hours. When you don’t eat for eight hours or more, your blood sugar drops; however, when you eat every six or seven hours blood sugar spikes could lead to a surplus of insulin in your blood. Your body is more likely to store fat when there is too much insulin in your blood. Your best bet is to eat when you’re hungry, which you may find is every three to four hours. You help speed your metabolism and your body gets the energy and fuel it needs. No noisy stomach aches, please!

Make satisfying your hunger a priority. Here are five reasons to stop the hunger games:

1. Don’t Skip Breakfast

Hectic mornings mean many people skip breakfast. They may find the morning doesn’t start well because you’re feeling a little off. Well, you haven’t eaten for nearly 12 hours, and your body needs its fuel to get going. Breakfast literally means to break the fast; the longer you go without food, the hungrier you will be. Quick suggestions may be plain yogurt with a little honey or some frozen cut fruit left to thaw in the fridge overnight, ready for morning. Hardboiled eggs can be prepped ahead of time, too, for a great protein fix.

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2. You May Be Overeating

What triggers you to eat more than you need? No breakfast can push you to overeat at lunch or dinner. When you’re at a buffet or family dinner, too many food choices for your plate can have you loosening your belt buckle. Overeating patterns have been linked with depression, boredom, stress and loneliness. Research also shows that dining out with friends influences food choices and amount consumed. The truth is, when you eat balanced meals full of nutrients when you feel hungry, you are less likely to want to go back to the buffet for seconds or thirds.

3. You Have Constant Food Cravings

When you’re hungry you shouldn’t necessarily shop for food. You might find your receipt may reflect your food cravings. Learn how to satisfy your hunger with healthy, nutritious foods that fill you up and boost your mood. Don’t let your food cravings control your hunger. When you wait too long between meals, you may not be getting enough of certain nutrients your body needs. You will attempt to correct the nutrient deficiency by craving salty or sweet foods. We’ve all been there! Food cravings also can stem from emotional eating or cultural triggers. You may crave Grandma’s apple pie or lasagna because of the emotions tied to the food rather than your need for nutrients or even being hungry.

See how to swap cravings for better food choices.

4. Ayurvedic Approach to Eating

Ayurveda is an ancient form of medicine from India, based on food choices for different body types. These types or doshas are Kapha, Vata and Pitta. Pitta types tend to run better on three scheduled meals a day, and they may feel very hungry if they are late to eat. The Vata type is balanced when they eat several meals throughout the day, including nutritious snacks. The Kapha may find balance from eating two larger meals throughout the day. The Ayurvedic method individualizes a person’s body type and physical tendencies to determine the best eating patterns—another indication that everyone is different.

Find out more about your dosha: What We Can Learn About Eating Well From These Cultures

5. You May Need More Food

Take note of your diet and your activity levels. A vegetarian or vegan should pay attention to certain nutrients to avoid deficiencies in the body. For instance, a salad won’t do for a meal. They need to balance it out with beans, rice and vegetables with key nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and vitamin D.

Active types should note when you exercise your body requires energy throughout your day, and you will be hungry for more carbohydrate foods like oatmeal and potatoes (don’t give into high-sugar, processed energy bars). You may be hungry more often when you exercise on a regular basis. Eating a meal high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat, one to two hours before your workout, helps with your energy. To replenish, eat a meal after your workout with protein and simple carbohydrates.

Most people will benefit from several meals in a day to keep their blood sugar levels steady, instead of one or two larger meals. Listen to your body, eat well and enjoy your food.

Sources:
Haas, E., et al., Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2006), 388-393.  
“Why does eating every 3-4 hours work?” My Body Tutor web site; http://www.mybodytutor.com/pages/eating-every-3-4-hours, last accessed May 2, 2014.
“An Ayurvedic Prescription for Reaching Your Ideal Weight,” Chopra Centered Lifestyle web site; https://www.chopra.com/files/newsletter/Jan13/Health-Jan13.html, last accessed May 4, 2014.
Haan, S., et al., “Key Nutrients Vegetarians Need to Watch,” SparkPeople web site; http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1530, last accessed May 2, 2014.