Curb Your Appetite During COVID-19 Quarantine

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 15:33

Before the COVID-19 crisis the topic of “How to curb your appetite” was actually a top Google search. Now more than ever I am seeing people comment on how they can’t stop eating. Totally get it. Tackling this issue requires a multi-prong approach.

First, we need to differentiate what is actually physical hunger and what is emotional eating. Often we think we are hungry when we are really just stressed, bored, anxious and trying to distract ourselves with food from feeling those uncomfortable feelings. This is a fairly straightforward thing to figure out. Ask yourself these three simple questions:

  1. When was the last time you ate? If it was in the last 2 to 2.5 hours it’s very unlikely you would physically need fuel.
  2. What is it you're craving? Does protein sound good? Or is it just simple carbs and sugar you are craving? Usually, if you can’t imagine eating an actual meal like a turkey sandwich you probably are not physically hungry and just craving sweets or some self-comfort from treat foods.
  3. Is your body showing signs of hunger (grumbling tummy, light headed, low energy etc.)?

So, if you determine from the three questions above you are likely NOT physically hungry, you will want to read my blog on curbing emotional eating. Some simple steps I will reiterate here:

  • Get proactive where it counts. Often when we are emotionally eating we are simply stressed about things going on in your life. Take a moment to look at where you can be proactive – making to-do lists, sending out resumes if that’s relevant, creating a budget for yourself, etc.
  • Find ways to nurture and comfort yourself that doesn’t involve food (engage in a hobby, self care regimen, meditate, spend time with loved ones, etc.)
  • Recruit support from friends and family to help keep you on point and not sabotage you by ordering pizza for dinner. Control your environment. You can’t eat what isn’t there. Willpower is like a muscle, the more you use it the more fatigued it gets. So instead of constantly trying yourself, simply remove temptation to help set yourself up for success.

Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. What do you do if you're actually physically hungry beyond what your calorie allowance permits? Physical hunger is triggered by hormone shifts – ghrelin, cortisol, insulin, leptin etc. Without having to be an endocrinologist you absolutely can help yourself out here by manipulating your food choices. 

First goal is to stabilize your blood sugar. This helps keep insulin from surging, subsequently crashing your blood sugar and thereby making you hungry again because your blood sugar is low. This is why when we eat processed grains and refined sugars we end up constantly hungry and craving more. Because these foods spike blood sugar, insulin gets released in a high dose to help remove the sugar from your blood, but then it ends up leaving you with low blood sugar creating a sugar crash. Be sure to eat all macro nutrients in every meal. Protein, fat, and carbs to help stabilize any blood sugar spike. And, make sure your carbs are from whole foods (not refined and processed). So, whole grains like oatmeal, wild rice, quinoa, beans, legumes etc. and not white bread, white pasta, white processed cereal.  Eat fruit instead of fruit juice or refined sugar like candy bars and pastries.

Second, we need to do our best to expand your stomach without eating too many calories. When your stomach expands it releases a hormone called Leptin. One of the things leptin does is give you a feeling of satiety helping you recognize you’re full, and curbs ghrelin which is a hunger hormone that tells you to eat. We do this with foods that have high “volume” with low calories. Tons of veggies, beans, lentils, legumes for example. They are loaded with water and or fiber, helping to expand your stomach making you feel more full but with very low calorie intake. Speaking of, drink a ton of water. It not only expands your stomach, but we often mistake dehydration for hunger so staying hydrated is important. Try pounding an 8oz glass of water before each meal as well to fill you up before you start eating. Lean protein is also a good option because you can eat a lot more of it. Things like white fish, chicken breast, and egg whites allow you to double your portions size and still get less calories than things like whole eggs, bacon, burger patties, etc.

Third, sleep! Sleep is so important for nearly all aspects of your health, but it has a large direct impact on your hunger. This is because how you sleep dramatically impacts your hormone balance. When you don’t sleep your body not only mistakes exhaustion for hunger, but it also releases hunger hormones like cortisol and ghrelin that prompt you to eat more. When you do get 7 to 8 hours your body releases more HGH which is a hormone that helps burn fat and keep us youthful and it keeps leptin levels high, while keeping ghrelin and cortisol lower. So do not skimp on the sleep!

Last, nutrition is key. This one is less likely, but still possible. In some cases we can have nutrient deficiencies that can beget cravings or cause us to feel hungrier. I always go for nutrient dense foods. I supplement with whole foods as well from green super food powders to collagen or whey protein powders.  The good thing about the greens is that it has fiber in it, which helps to further fill you up. So be sure to choose nutrient rich foods and if you really want to go the extra mile consider an organic greens supplement that’s high in fiber and nutrient dense.