You went to bed too late
Skimp on sleep and you mess with your hunger hormones: ghrelin surges, leaving you feeling hungry, and leptin (which helps you feel full) sinks. Sleep loss also appears to boost blood levels of a chemical that makes eating more pleasurable—similar, believe it or not, to the effects of marijuana, according to a small, recent study from the University of Chicago. Participants who slept only about four hours at night (instead of a healthier 7.5 hours) couldn’t resist what the researchers called “highly palatable, rewarding snacks”—foods fit for the munchies, like cookies, candy, and chips—even though they had a big meal two hours before. Your goal, starting tonight: seven to nine hours of shut-eye. These tricks can even help you lose weight while you sleep.
You opt for the short stack instead of the omelet.
And almost every time, not long enough after your last syrup-slathered bite, your stomach is grumbling and you're left wondering how that's even possible. Oh, but it is: Researchers at the University of Missouri found women who ate a high-protein sausage and egg breakfast felt less hungry and more full throughout the morning, and even ate fewer calories at lunch, compared to women who had a low-protein plate of pancakes and syrup in the morning, or skipped breakfast altogether. And speaking of bypassing breakfast, try not to: in another study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), results showed eating a healthy breakfast, especially one high in protein, reduced brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior, compared to breakfast-skippers. “Protein can fight off cravings and increase satiety at meals,” says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, LDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Get some high-protein breakfast ideas here.
You only eat low-fat this and fat-free that
Those processed foods aren’t necessarily better for you: some have extra sugar, others more salt, and many might not even save you calories. But we digress. You’re right to try and avoid trans fats, and not go crazy on the saturated versions. But you can (and should) make room for a little heart-healthy unsaturated fat in your diet, because similar to protein and filling fiber, it can also help you feel full: “Fats slow stomach emptying, as well as trigger satiety hormones,” says registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses - The New Superfood. All fats, including the healthy fats in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, are high in calories, so stick to proper portions. The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults limit fat to 20 to 35 percent of total daily calories (or 44 to 78 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet).
You need water
Those pangs of hunger may actually be your body telling you’re thirsty, says Ginn-Meadow, who serves as senior education coordinator for University of Maryland Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology. So before grabbing a snack from the pantry, sip some water or have a cup of tea and wait a little to see if your cravings pass. Staying well-hydrated may also help you manage your appetite and weight, according to a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Scientists studied the dietary habits of more than 18,300 adults and found the majority of people who upped their daily water intake by one, two, or three cups cut up to 205 daily calories, as well as reduced their consumption of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol. These signs mean you could be dehydrated.
You sweat all the small stuff
We’ve all been that person mindlessly munching through a bag of chips while frantically trying to meet a deadline, or spooning ice cream from the pint after getting into a fight with a friend. But when you’re stressed out all the time, cortisol hormone levels remain high, which then trigger hunger hormones. “Also, chronically elevated cortisol produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels, and is also tied to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes,” adds Sass. “In this state, when blood glucose is high, but insulin isn't functioning normally, hunger is increased, because the body thinks the cells are being starved.” See if one of these 37 soothing stress relievers will work for you.
You (still) eat white bread
You have absolutely heard the advice to switch to whole grain versions: they contain fiber, so they are more filling; they contain more nutrients, so they're healthier for you; and they are a good source of complex carbohydrates—the kind that take longer to digest, so blood sugar rises more slowly and steadily. Refined grains—found in that white bread you insist on using, as well as white rice and many sugar, white-flour foods like cookies and crackers—have been stripped of their fiber and cause blood sugar levels to spike, then plunge, leaving you hankering for more bread, or another cookie or three, soon after. “Essentially when your blood sugar drops it signals a need for fuel, even if calories have just been stored,” explains Sass. Another reason to break the white-bread habit: Researchers tracked the eating habits and weight of more than 9,200 Spanish university graduates for an average of five years, and found those who only ate white bread were more likely to become overweight or obese than those who favored whole grain bread.
You wait too long between meals
istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Four to five hours apart is about right. If it’s going to be closer to six hours, have a small snack in between, says Ginn-Meadow. “Eating on time allows you to better recognize hunger and satiety cues,” she says; “it also lets your body completely digest complex carbs and protein, which can help maintain a healthy metabolism.” Just make sure your meals are balanced with nutrient-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and lean protein.
Your social feeds are filled with food pics
You scroll through shot after shot of the gorgeous birthday cupcakes your sister-in-law Instagrammed. You know she totally did not bake them herself, and yet your stomach is still grumbling. There’s a reason, according to a scientific review published in the journal Brain and Cognition. Researchers say when we see an attractive image of food, blood rushes to the parts of our brain associated with taste. So even if we’re not physically hungry, we want to eat. Use these social media tricks to help you slim down.