Understanding the forces, environmental and psychological, which control your appetite will help you understand how to avoid cravings, and how to learn to use food as fuel, not as a coping mechanism.
If you want to break this down to a very fundamental level of understanding, we have to take it back to our ancestors. After all, this is where we learned to eat.
As hunters and gatherers, humans have always naturally seeked high caloric, non-toxic, and nutritious food. Back then, the fat that we obtained from these types of foods would become accessible in periods in a time where there was no food. So long during long periods of walking, out bodies learned to anticipate potential periods of not having food. So, what we did with the healthy fat was convert it to "stored fat" for times of potential starvation. As a result, our bodies naturally produced hormones in the brain that continued to send signals to eat high calorie foods, when it could be obtained. Today, food is just more readily available, and the problem now, is that we aren't eating to walk, we are usually walking to eat.
However, the meaning of "High Cal" has evolved to a whole new level, (i.e. double cheeseburger, large fry, and a Coke). So it's important to note that while today's obesity rates are at an all-time high, we have always been inclined to eat foods that are high in fat and calories. We just use food in a different way now; for the taste, to cope with stress, to celebrate & reward, or because it brings us comfort.
Today, the food industry is a major business. People are selling food for the taste, not the nutritious value. In order to still eat clean, you have to be able to define what it is you are eating, and why you are eating it.
The problem these days is that food triggers the same pleasure center in the brain that happy feelings do. We like when this section of our brain lights up, and inevitably, entertaining some happy vibes, often leads to wanting more. This is why a lot of people think that they are food addicts. Endorphins, the "feel good" hormones, make you want more. The problem, and why obesity if such a problem, is that we don't usually get the same endorphin release from the same amount of food. We need more and more. And we don't want apples and oranges, we want salty, tasty, and flavorful food. You know, the good stuff.
People who are overweight tend to require more calories and to tend to eat more because there is very little dopamine released when just consuming small portions; your body needs more and more to create that same euphoric feeling of enjoyment. This works just like any other addiction.
The other problem is that food companies know human behavior. This is why you see labels saying how things "taste," or you see words like "sweet" and "savory." These words send signals to your brain to consume, consume, consume. The more flavors the better.
But don't give up!
Here are some ways to fix these issues:
- Don't restrict your calories in order to lose weight. Instead, cut out processed foods that are high in salt or sugar. The less you eat of these types of foods, the less your body will crave of it. Leave room for occasional treats, not daily treats.
- You have to eat every 2-3 hours, or when you are hungry. Listen to your body, but make good choices. If you keep your metabolism going, you won't find yourself starving. The problem with going long periods without eating, or drinking water, is that as soon as we do eat, we eat twice the amount of calories, and it's usually something bad.
Start your 2-3 hour eating schedule from whatever time you ate Breakfast. (2 Hours for highly active people, 3 for moderate to no activity.)
For example this is what my day looks like:
Breakfast: 5:30 a.m.
Snack: 7:30 a.m.
Snack: 9:30 a.m.
Lunch: 12:30 p.m.
Snack: 2:30 p.m.
Snack: 4:30 p.m.
Dinner: 7:30 p.m.
Snack: 9:30 p.m.
3. Don't eat because of emotions or situations. Eat when you are hungry. If you stop eating high caloric foods, you will be able to control these situations better.
4. Control your portions. Portions have increased 63% in calories from 1936 to 2006.
5. Enjoy when you do eat. Eat slow, eat mindfully, and eat smart.
6. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them. Give yourself rewards when you feel it is needed, but not daily. 2-3 times a week is ideal.
7. Exercise. You will want to eat healthier foods if you do. And you need to keep a higher amount of expenditure than intake in order to truly lose weight.
8. We are a nation that is also drinking our way into obesity. Water, water, water. Splurge on coffee, tea, or a fresh juice like lemonade or grapefruit juice.
9. Cook with more seasoning instead of salt, avoid eating out more than twice a week, and only eat red meat 1-2 times a month.
10. Keep bad food out of your reach while at home. Just don't buy it. This should help with the nighttime snacking.