Are constant cravings, inexplicable hunger and emotional eating hampering your weight-loss goals? It’s time to take control.
We all get hungry, it’s a fact. And when we feel hungry, we should eat, right? Well, in nutritionist Lowri Turner’s new book, The Hunger Type Diet, she reveals that it may not actually be that straightforward.
There are different reasons we feel hungry, she explains, and by identifying these we can reach a balance that will help us maintain a healthy weight.
Getting healthy has become pretty popular lately and, as a result, there’s a whole world of information about diets floating around out there. So much so that it can be hard to know what to believe, or even what’s right for us. The one thing we do know, however, is that we should eat when we’re hungry – rather than bored or upset, for example. ‘But there are different types of hunger,’ Lowri says. ‘If the only sort of hunger we responded to was genuine physical hunger, and we responded to it by sitting down to a nice healthy salad and a piece of grilled chicken, then we would be slim all the time.’
In fact, Lowri says there are lots of different types of hunger – 11, to be exact – and you may be familiar with a few. Lowri categorises these into anxious, bored, cravings, emotional, hedonistic, never-full, PMS, stress, tired, winter blues and 40+. Phew! The point here is that hunger can exist for a variety of reasons. For example, hormones, caffeine, alcohol and sleep all affect your hunger. In the book, Lowri explores each hunger type in more detail to help you identify those that affect you and ultimately make a change. To give you a taster, we’re going to focus on the three we think affect us the most: bored hunger, stress hunger, emotional hunger.
When our diaries are chocka, we barely have time to even glance at the biscuit tin. But when there’s time to twiddle our thumbs? It’s a different story.
According to Lowri, there’s little more to it than simply having nothing better to do – and it’s all to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that essentially makes you feel good. ‘Food can increase dopamine, so eating becomes not only a way to fill your time and relieve boredom, but also, if it’s in the form of a high-sugar, high-fat snack like a doughnut, a way to give you a high,’ she explains. No wonder we’re reaching for that choccy bar on a slow day.
A switch in behaviour is your best bet to beat the Bored Hunger rut. The good news is that if you do anything for long enough, you can form a new habit – then, it’s easy. So, next time you find yourself mindlessly reaching for a snack out, try your hardest to replace it with something healthier. It’s going to be hard at first, but once it’s a habit, you’re set.
Whether it’s work, family or social commitments, it’s safe to say that we all feel stressed at times. Stress hunger, according to Lowri, rears its head when you’re feeling under pressure: using food as a coping mechanism, using food for energy or opting for large breakfasts at the start of what you anticipate will be a stressful day, for example. And there are certain areas of the body that will be hardest hit by consuming food in this way. ‘If you eat because you are stressed, you are likely to put weight on across your chest, tummy and back, while keeping slim arms and legs,’ says Lowri.
This is because stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol in the body, and this leads to an imbalance in blood sugar. Blood sugar that is unstable, with big swings up and down, leads to fat storage as the body removes excess sugar from the blood and stores it as fat. However, with chronic stress, the body doesn’t just lay down this fat anywhere. It lays it down where it can act as a fast-access energy store – in close proximity to our vital organs. Our heart, lungs and the rest of our vital organs are stored in our trunks, which is why we tend to gain fat around our tummies, backs and across the bust when we’re feeling stressed. Not so great, huh?
And it’s a vicious circle. ‘The desire for sugar and caffeine is an effort to lift blood sugar that has dipped too low,’ explains Lowri. ‘If you give in to these cravings, you blast your blood sugar upwards and then it plummets again.’ Bad news for fat storage then, as it’s this spike in blood sugar which is to blame.‘It exaggerates the stress response in your body you already have, which means more cortisol and more adrenalin. This further promotes the cortisol-related pattern of fat storage,’ adds Lowri. The obvious answer is to slash stress, but this is easier said than done. So, if reducing stress isn’t possible, the next best thing is supplementing with vitamin C and B vitamins and eating protein and essential fats to keep your adrenals well nourished.
We’ve all heard of comfort eating – whether that’s reaching for a tub of Ben & Jerry’s after a break-up (and polishing the whole thing off) or tucking into a comforting carby dish after a hard day’s work, but why is eating such a comfort? ‘If you have emotional hunger, you use food to manage your emotions,’ says Lowri. ‘The reason you need those comfort foods (thick slices of bread, piles of mashed potato, bowls of pasta or pieces of fruit) is that these foods raise the level of the neurotransmitter, or brain hormone, serotonin.’
Ever felt instantly calmer after stuffing yourself full of high-carb foods? Of course, that’s why it’s called comfort food – the resulting increase in serotonin reduces both anxiety and aggression. But giving into emotional hunger over and over again will only aggravate the situation further and make matters worse. After all, filling up on high-carb food choices tends to lead to an unbalanced diet that neglects nutrient-rich foods like vegetables and proteins, not to mention the fact that once we come down from these sugary carb highs, we’re back to feeling down again. Hardly a long-term solution, never mind the issues it leads to concerning weight.
‘One of the central messages of this book is the importance of keeping your blood sugar stable to balance your hunger type hormones and reduce cravings,’ Lowri explains. So next time you’re after that soothing sugar high, try a healthier sugar alternative like xylitol, stevia, jaggery or agave syrup as a first step. Then, when you’re ready, the next step is to try to understand the underlying reasons for your emotional overeating.