Whether you desire salty or sweet, every woman succumbs to sinful cravings on occasion. “Usually, you end up eating four other things before you actually eat what you want,” says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She suggests stocking healthy foods in easy-to-reach, visible places, and hiding occasional treats on higher shelves. “Organize your kitchen, organize your life” is her mantra.
Before raiding the refrigerator, “distinguish your hunger from thirst,” says Gerbstadt. Fatigue may also be a sign of dehydration. Women often confuse fatigue with hunger, says dietitian Natalia Rose, author of Raw Food Life Force Energy (Regan Books, 2006). In addition to drinking at least eight glasses of water daily, women “should be eating more water in their food,” Rose says. Fresh fruits and vegetables hydrate the body; conversely, processed foods and caffeine cause dehydration.
You’re not getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential to healthy-eating habits. “If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep, you’re less likely to lose weight,” says Gerbstadt. She explains that lack of sleep raises cortisol levels, a hormone that increases stress, blood pressure and blood sugar. Cortisol also increases appetite and cravings for sugar, while promoting weight gain.
Depression, stress and anxiety can lead us to the kitchen for comfort. “Women need to tune into themselves and question what they’re eating,” says Rose. Women develop destructive habits if they eat “when lonely, stressed or have no one to come home to but the cat,” she adds. Rose recommends replacing bad eating habits with another indulgent ritual, like a “relaxing bath, meditation or breathing exercise – before setting foot into the kitchen.”
Some medications and supplements, like steroids, antidepressants and antihistamines can cause excessive hunger. Hormonal birth control, such as the pill, can also aggravate the appetite. Worse, increased estrogen eases the absorption of fat. If you take a medication that may cause weight gain or excessive hunger, ask your doctor about how to control your diet and suppress your over-stimulated appetite.
Your hormones are in overdrive
A fluctuation of hormones before and during your menstrual cycle can sabotage even the strictest diet. Estrogen influences your appetite and menstruation causes hormone levels to surge. A study by Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), found that excess body fat leads to increased estrogen-activity, as does a high-fat, low-fiber diet. Conversely, a low-fat, high-fiber diet decreases estrogen levels and PMS symptoms.
You’re skipping meals
“Women are more likely than men to skip meals,” says Gerbstadt. “It’s this starvation and binge cycle that leads to overeating.” Not eating regularly will cause your blood sugar to plummet. “Eating every two to three hours is the key to maintaining a high metabolism,” says Dr. Lisa Drayer, dietitian and author of Strong, Slim, and 30 (McGraw-Hill, 2006). Eating breakfast is non-negotiable. “If you’re skipping breakfast, you’re setting yourself up for bad choices all day,” says Susan Levin, staff dietitian for PCRM.
You’re not combining foods
If you’ve just eaten a bowl of pasta but still feel famished, it’s no surprise. “A bowl of pasta will not sustain you,” says Deanna Conte, a dietitian and personal trainer in Boston, Mass. “Carbs are digested in only one hour, [whereas] protein and fat are digested in four to seven hours.” The perfect meal, dieticians agree, is one that combines carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
You’re eating too many processed foods
If processed foods are prevalent in your diet, your body is probably undernourished. “The less nutritious your food, the less satisfied you’re going to feel,” says Levin. “If you eat a whole bag of Doritos, you’re still going to feel hungry. You’ve gotten no nutrition and your body knows it. Your body wants vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. It wants high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods that aren’t calorie dense,” she says.
You’re eating on the go
Eating while standing up or in transit destroys a diet. “It’s not when you eat, but how you eat,” says Alex, a member of Overeaters Anonymous. To maintain her 70-pound weight loss, she eats mindfully – not in front of the television. “I realized I ate food I didn’t even like,” she admits. “My mind was screaming ‘stop!’ but my hand was still stuffing food in my mouth.”