The Hunger Games we face every day are the opposite of Katniss Everdeen’s hunger she lived with every day in District 12.
Most of us either haven’t felt real hunger in days, weeks or months because we snack or graze all day long. On the other hand, others are hunger all the time and have intense cravings because they eat too many foods and beverages that provide little–if any–satisfaction and they trigger our hunger hormones.
If you can relate, there are three ways to eat to win the Hunger Games. They include:
1. Use a hunger scale and eat according to your true physiological hunger cues;
2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast; and
3. Avoid “naked” carbohydrates.
Use the Hunger Scale
All of us have the ability to control our calories, but you just have to listen to your body. Using the hunger scale below, try to eat when your body feels like a 4 on the scale and stop when it’s about 6-7. You want to avoid being so hungry that you overeat and at the same time, you don’t want to eat until you’re Thanksgiving-full or ready-to-unzip-my-pants full.
Your body will metabolize and utilize foods best when you eat the right amounts at the right times. This strategy also works to help us from caving in to cravings for less healthy choices. If you binge on foods, using the hunger scale will essentially stop binges because most binge-eating stems from emotions rather than true physical hunger.
Keep a food journal for 5-7 days and make sure you mark where your hunger is from 1-10 before and after eating.
Try to keep your hunger controlled and within the 4-7 range on the scale. (When you wake up, it’s okay if you’re a 2.)
When you’re eating a meal, take a few minutes to pause during the meal to assess your hunger. If you’re still below a 6, continue eating. Remember, it takes 15-20 minutes for the stomach to provide the brain signals of fullness so take your time at meals, and get to know your body and when you need to stop eating to reach the feeling of 7 after a meal.
Numerous studies show that eggs and other protein-packed breakfasts help temper hunger and up the satiety so you’ll eat fewer calories during the entire day. Obesity researchers believe that the quality of protein–rather than the quantity–may be more important when it comes to enhancing satiety while dialing down hunger hormones.
In one study, subjects who ate high–quality protein foods from sources such as eggs and lean Canadian bacon for breakfast, reported a greater sense of fullness compared to when more protein was eaten at lunch or dinner. Other studies also have reported that dieters experience better weight loss when they eat protein-rich foods earlier in the day and carbs more at dinner.
While the jury is still out on how much protein is best, I suggest 25 grams of high-quality protein for breakfast as a start. A large egg has just 70 calories and 6 grams protein so enjoy 1-2 whole eggs and additional whites as part of your first meal. I personally love quick, veggie omelets, scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms, or a slices of frittata. I eat eggs several times a week and can attest that they do help keep your cravings for carbs on the back burner. And if you have to eat your breakfast out, try some of the best-bets like the Starbucks’ Turkey Bacon and White Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, Dunkin’ Donuts Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap or the Subway Egg White and Cheese on Flatbread, which Consumers Report recently ranked as one of the best.
Another great high-quality protein for breakfast is milk protein so Greek yogurt is among the highest protein sources of all dairy foods so 6-8 ounces of a nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt will provide you with about 25 grams protein.
Here’s an option for making your own open-faced egg, spinach sandwich.
3: Avoid Naked Carbs
What’s a naked carbohydrate? These are foods and beverages that are great-tasting, and their calories are primarily from carbohydrates. Naked carbs include candy, white toast with jam; baked goods, soda, juice, sugary cereals, among others. In addition to being carby, they usually lack fiber and protein which all help to slow down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.
When you eat these types of carb-rich, nutrient-poor choices,you’ll want to make sure to eat or drink them with protein, fiber and fat to help temper the blood sugar response. Keep simple carbohydrates (added sugars) to no more than 10% of your total calories or about 200 calories a day if you’re a woman and 300 calories a day if you’re a man.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD