You know the feeling. It sneaks up on you with all the subtlety of a torpedo. There’s a twinge of pain at the temples. Clarity evaporates. Boom! Suddenly you’re snarling like Marcia Brady in a Snickers ad annoyed with everything and everybody.
You’re way beyond hungry. You’re hangry! And it’s no surprise that term was added to the OxfordDictionaries.com lexicon in 2015, because we all get a little hostile when we’re hungry.
Add the stresses of dieting consciously cutting calories, carbs, fat and saying no to that glass of wine with dinner and the birthday cake at the office party while pushing your body harder to exercise— and you may find yourself completely overwhelmed with anxiety and emotion.
What Can I Do to Stop Feeling Hungry All the Time Without Eating? Photo Gallery
“An inconsistency in timing and portions of meals when you’re dieting can set you up for that uncomfortable, nearly uncontrollable feeling of being irritated and hungry,” says San Diego-based dietitian and nutritional consultant Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD. “You may even experience physical symptoms such as chilliness and pale lips and skin.”
Science shows the diet blues are not uncommon. As researchers Wendy Liu, PhD, at the University of California at San Diego and David Gal, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Chicago put it, “People on diets are known to be irritable and quick to anger.” In a 2011 study, they found that “exerting self control [caused] people to exhibit increased preference for anger-themed movies, greater interest in faces exhibiting anger [and] greater endorsement of anger-framed appeals.” In other words, someone no one else wants to be around. In another 2011 study, scientists at the University of Cambridge found that dieters feel a surge of aggression when they’re hungry because the brain’s levels of serotonin—the feel-good chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite and has a calming effect—become erratic, making it more difficult to control stress and anger.
But slimming down doesn’t have to stress you out—or make you persona non grata. Here, the experts weigh in on how to make losing weight more pleasant.
AVOID GETTING FAMISHED
Common wisdom says that the secret to shedding two pounds a week is to trim 500 calories from your daily diet. That amounts to a meager 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day for most women and just 1,800 to 2,000 a day for men. That can leave us feeling like we’re running on empty 24/7. Turns out, restricting calories or (worse!) skipping meals doesn’t just make our stomachs rumble—it actually takes a psychological toll. In a 2010 study published.
Carbs are the dEVil in the minds of most dieters these days, but going too low-carb is a major mOOd BUStER causing tiredness, anger and depression, even dizziness.
in Psychosomatic Medicine, women who followed a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet “increased the total output of [the stress hormone] cortisol and monitoring calories increased perceived stress.”
The culprit? Glucose, the sugar your body makes from foods you eat. Unlike other organs i in your body that can tap a variety of nutrients i to keep functioning, “our brain’s only fuel source is glucose,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of The Complete Guide to Beating i Sugar Addiction (Fair Winds Press, 2015). “As glucose levels drop from decreased food intake or stress, low blood sugar triggers a similar reaction to suffocation. Only instead of i fighting to get a breath, you’re overcome with massive cravings and irritability until you eat. i If anybody is standing between you and that i Twinkie, it is like getting between a mother ; bear and her cub. Watch out!”
Running on empty can also make us lash i out at those we’re closest to, found researchers i at Ohio State University. In a 2014 study of i 107 married couples, they measured spouses’ i glucose levels and asked each participant to ; stick pins in a voodoo doll representing his or her partner. The researchers found that the i lower the subjects’ blood sugar levels, the more pins they pushed into their doll. In fact, the people with the lowest blood sugar levels i stabbed the doll with twice as many pins as those with the highest scores.
“Once you hit the ‘hangry’ mark,” notes Bazilian, co-author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean (2015, Rodale), “it means you should have had that snack about 30 minutes before.”
To ward off these attacks, it’s important i to eat at regular intervals throughout the day—no more than three hours apart, she advises. Set an alarm to remind you to eat (a ; stabilizing combo of protein, healthy carbs and a bit of fat is best); carry a nosh to eat i on the go in case healthy choices aren’t available, because wolfing down a candy bar ; definitely isn’t the answer.
While a hit of sugar may seem like a great quick fix, “it then causes a problem that will ; come back markedly amplified,” explains.
Teitelbaum, who’s also the creator of the smartphone app Cures A to Z. “It’s like going to a loan shark if you have a financial problem.” Instead, have a high-protein alternative (think nuts or jerky), and make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your calorie buck by eating nutritionally dense foods (think eggs, bone broth, kale, sardines). To further keep stress at bay, try a supplement to support the adrenal glands so they don’t over-produce cortisol. “I give my patients a combination of vitamin C, vitamin B5, adrenal glandulars and licorice,” says Teitelbaum. “It can smooth out the problem quite quickly.”
DON’T DROP ALL CARBS
Carbs are the devil in the minds of most dieters these days, but going too low-carb is a major mood buster, often causing tiredness, anger and depression, even dizziness.
The truth is our bodies—and minds—run on carbs. Slash starches and sugars and everything from energy levels to brain function plummets. According to a 2008 Tufts University study, women on a carb-restricted diet did worse on memory-based tasks compared with women who cut calories but not carbs. But when the low-carb group introduced them back into their diet, their cognitive skills leveled out.
More than any other macronutrient, carbs affect the brain’s levels of serotonin—the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and calm. “All carbs trigger the brain to make more serotonin,” says Los Angeles nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD. “Too little of them, and we can feel miserable and depressed.”
At least for a while
A recent Australian study found that starting a low-carb diet was similar to weaning yourself off an addictive drug. People experienced powerful feelings of unhappiness and discomfort at first, but the negative feelings of going without pleasure-providing foods eventually faded away.
To ease the transition, says DeFazio, it’s essential not to eliminate all carbs. Definitely avoid the simple, refined variety cakes, candy, white bread and pasta. “But you can steady mood by substituting healthier complex carbs like sweet potatoes, baked fries, brown rice, whole-grain bread and high-fiber cereals,” suggests DeFazio, who recommends that 50 to 60 percent of daily calories should come from carbs, even on a V diet. “If you cut them completely, you will crave sugar even more and eventually end up bingeing on junk.” Avoid this cycle by eating a balanced diet that includes protein, healthy fat and complex carbs, DeFazio advises.
MAKE OMEGA-3S YOUR ALPHA FATS
The omega-3 fatty acids found in many cold-water fish and some plants can play a big role in bolstering mood and behavior. Because our brains are about 60 percent fat, “the fatty acids from food help to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these cells to better communicate with one another,” says DeFazio. Low levels of omega-3s are linked to depression, pessimism and impulsivity.
Meanwhile, researchers have found that depression rates are typically lowest in countries like Japan, where omega-3-rich fish are a dietary staple.
Aim for at least two servings a week of fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), which have the most effective “long-chain” type of omega-3s. And add daily servings of plant sources of fat like flaxseeds, chia, avocados and walnuts, which all contain omega-3s that keep you feeling full while actually enhancing your slim-down.
DON’T TRASH ALL TREATS
Before you toss that box of chocolate truffles, you may want to consider these recent findings on deprivation.
“Science shows we all have a limited reservoir of self-control,” says DeFazio, “and when it’s depleted—by, say, repeatedly choosing carrots over carrot cake—we’re more likely to behave aggressively.” It’s not the absence of cake that has us twisted, it’s the act of resisting it—over and over that causes so much distress. This may explain why our willpower is strongest in the morning and weakest in the evening, after a day of denial.
While the most obvious way to avoid the self-regulation bugaboo is to remove temptation from the outset, most experts agree that severe deprivation ultimately has a reverse affect. “You’ll end up bingeing in the end,” says Defazio.
Instead try replacements consuming healthier or lower-calorie foods that satisfy the craving so you don’t feel deprived. For example, ease a chocolate jones with Chocolate Chex or chocolate sorbet. When you crave crunchy, salty food, try baked chips or microwave popcorn. When the sugar beast roars, “animal crackers do the trick for me,” DeFazio says. “You can have 10 to 15 for about 130 calories; they are crunchy and slightly sweet—my son likes them, too!” If you can limit your intake to two or three squares, indulge in some dark chocolate, which has.
Stock up on these wonder workers to boost your spirits and ward off hanger.
Green Tea antioxidant powerhouse, green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that helps combat stress. “Research shows it may help reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that contributes to putting on belly fat,” says Wendy Bazilian.
spinach hether in a salad or as a sauteed side, spinach is an excellent source of folate (vitamin B9), a deficit which has been linked to depression.
Eggs ust two eggs give you the entire daily quota of vitamin B12, a nutrient that’s crucial to your brain’s supply of good-mood chemicals,” adds Bazilian.
wild Salmon This fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that “can prevent surges in stress hormones and protect against heart disease, depression and PMS,” says Lisa DeFazio.
Dark Chocolate About an ounce of 70 percent or higher dark chocolate can release the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, says Bazilian.
wainuts These tasty tree nuts are rich in the plant form of omega-3s, which amp the happy neurotransmitter serotonin. Plus, they’re one of the only documented food sources of melatonin, which promotes sounder sleep.
polyphenols that boost serotonin. And once per week, enjoy a single serving of a treat you really crave pizza, cake, cookies but get back on track at the next meal!
DON’T OVERDO YOUR WORKOUTS
We know exercise is key to burning fat and calories. And with all those feel-good endorphins that workouts unleash, it does great things for brain chemistry, right? Sort of. Yes, mood-enhancing effects are known to kick in within five minutes of a moderate workout. But there’s such a thing as pushing too hard. “Endorphins are released to ease the discomfort brought on by many stressors— moderate to intense exercise being one of those stressors,” says Michele S. Olson, PhD, a Pilates instructor and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Montgomery, AL.
“The higher the intensity, the greater the endorphin rush,” she continues. “However, if the intensity of the exercise is prolonged, with no breaks, exercise can actually cause one to feel distressed.”
This discomfort is even more likely to occur when we’re restricting calories. Then a whole host of other chemicals rise, such as the stress hormone cortisol, blood lactate levels elevate too quickly, sleep is affected, and fatigue comes early on. Suddenly, what was a good- for-you workout turns into one that is stressing your body and decreasing your mood state, explains Olson.
“It happens all the time with athletes,” she adds. “It’s called overtraining syndrome.”
To optimize weight loss—and boost mood— she recommends 45 minutes a day, five days a week of interval training, alternating bursts of intense activity with less strenuous exercise. Interval training typically includes doing aerobic activity—running, walking, biking—in bursts, interspersed with body-weight exercise like push-ups, lunges and jumps. On the two other days, she suggests doing Pilates or yoga. Moderate-intensity steady exercise was the second best for mood while heavy exercise nonstop to max capacity actually had a negative effect on your state of mind, Olson found in an experiment she conducted. “This is why interval training is so effective,” says Olson. “It’s on the more intense end of the continuum, but, because of the break periods, you get psychological relief, which actually motivates you to tackle the next heavy bout.”
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
Researchers insist that dieting greatly improves mood over the long-term because shedding pounds and enjoying improved physical health naturally make people happier. Nothing tastes better than meeting your goals—and with the right strategies, you don’t have to be hangry to get there.
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