The Easy Way to Cut Cravings

Feel like inhaling every snack food in sight? Chances are you didn’t get enough sleep last night. Sleep deprivation may trigger cravings by increasing levels of a molecule in your body that makes eating more pleasurable, according to new research presented at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting earlier this month.

For the study, researchers from the University of Chicago Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin had nine young, slim, healthy adults spend two six-day stints in a sleep lab. During the first session, they slept 8.5 hours a night—and during the next, they slept just 4.5 hours a night.

The researchers found that the participants’ peak levels of 2-AG—a molecule that influences how much pleasure you get from eating—were 15 percent higher if the subjects were sleep deprived. The molecule is something called an endocannabinoid, which can trigger cravings for calorie-dense foods similar to the munchies caused by marijuana’s cannabinoids, says study author Erin Hanlon, PhD, research associate at the University of Chicago’s section of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism.

“Sleep deficiency influences hedonic mechanisms so that highly palatable or high-reward foods are preferred and consumed,” she says. Translation: Skimp on the shuteye, and you’ll want to load up on high-fat and high-sugar foods the next day.

Previous research shows that sleep deprivation contributes to increased appetite, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. While sleeping fewer than six hours a night spikes hunger by influencing levels of appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, this study explains why junk food might be so hard to resist after a sleep-deprived night—even if you aren’t feeling hungry. Researchers aren’t sure why a lack of shuteye raises 2-AG levels, but they say it could be your body’s way of ensuring you increase your energy (aka calorie) intake to perk up after a less-than-restful night.

According to previous research published in the journal SLEEP, nine hours a night is the optimal amount of sleep when it comes to your waistline. Still, everyone’s exact target number is different, says Nathaniel Watson, MD, MS, co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center. Want to find yours? The next chance you get, go to bed when you feel tired and wake up in the morning sans alarm. After a few days of this, calculate the average number of hours you snoozed each night, says Watson. That’s how many you need to stay healthy—and slim.

Can’t remember the last time you woke up bushy-tailed and bright-eyed? Get the Zzzs you need with these sleep tips and tools:

10 Sleep Myths Busted

How Sleep Deprivation Makes You Fat

Yoga for Bedtime

15 Tricks to Sleep Better

How to Sleep with a Man (and Actually Sleep)

QUIZ: Are You Sabotaging Your Sleep?

Sleep Tips for More Energy

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More From Women’s Health:
7 Ways to Stop Craving Junk Food
Why You Can’t Stop at One Cheese Fry
What Your Food Cravings Say About Your Health

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6 Breakfasts That Crush Cravings

If you feel hungry all the time, your morning meal (or lack thereof) could be to blame: Eating a protein-rich breakfast may help control appetite and curb the urge to snack in the evening, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The research, conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia, included 20 overweight or obese females aged 18 to 20 who normally skipped breakfast. Participants rotated through three different groups: a group that ate a 350-calorie cereal breakfast that contained 13 grams of protein, a group that ate a 350-calorie breakfast made of eggs and lean beef that contained 35 grams of protein, and a group that skipped breakfast. After six days of following an assigned eating pattern, the women went through a day of testing, during which they provided blood samples, answered questionnaires about their hunger/satiety level, underwent brain scans, and were offered a variety of post-dinner snacks. Researchers gave participants a week off between each phase of the experiment.

After having a protein-packed breakfast, participants reported feeling less hungry and ate fewer indulgent snacks after dinner. What’s more, the brains of people who had eaten a protein-rich meal in the a.m. showed less activity in response to images of food later in the day. “Eating a high-protein breakfast stimulates the secretion of a very potent satiety signal (the gut hormone Peptide YY), leading to increased fullness,” says Heather Leidy, PhD, lead author of the study. “These responses appear to last throughout the morning hours and into the afternoon/evening.”

Even if you’re not big on meat, you can still reap the hunger-busting benefits of eating a high-protein breakfast, Leidy says. Just try to incorporate plain Greek yogurt, nuts, cottage cheese, or soy-based meat substitutes into your a.m. meal. Not a breakfast person? These tasty protein-packed options will change your mind:

Yogurt and Berry Parfaits
29 g protein

Smoked Turkey Hash
36.3 g protein

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese
33.9 g protein


More great recipes loaded with protein:

Fruit-Filled Protein Shake
50.6 g protein

Protein Cottage Cheese
35.2 g protein

Banana Protein Pancakes
27 g protein

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More From Women’s Health:
Protein-Packed Recipes for Weight Loss
The Best Protein Bars: Strong Food for a Strong Body
50 Ways to Cook Chicken

Lose up to 15 lbs in just six weeks with The 8-Hour Diet. Buy the book!

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The Low-Calorie Way to Satisfy Cravings

Before you gorge yourself on a massive piece of pie, consider this: Having a few bites will satisfy you just as much as a larger serving, according to a new study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

Researchers from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab fed study participants portions of apple pie, chocolate, and chips. Some received a large portion (1,370 calories), others received a small one (195 calories). The participants who were given larger portions ended up eating a lot more than the people given less—237 calories compared to 134 calories. And not only that, both sets of participants later said they were equally satisfied.

“Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN, expert on portion sizes, and author of The Portion Teller Plan. We tend to eat everything on our plates, even if we’re no longer hungry, according to Young. Research shows that we rely more on visual cues to tell us when we’re full, rather than our internal cues.

The good news is that when it comes to satisfying a craving, a little snack can go a long way. And while it’s not easy to reduce the amount of food you’re consuming, especially when you’re presented with a huge, mouth-watering portion of something delicious, it’s really the key to weight control, Young says.

To eat less—but still totally satisfy your cravings—teach yourself what serving sizes actually look like, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It.

For example, 3 oz of protein looks like a deck of cards, while the tip of your thumb is about the size of a tablespoon, and the tip of your index finger is the size of a teaspoon. Just be aware that using body parts as a way to measure foods can be tricky: Someone who is a lot taller and larger is going to have a different sized palm than someone who is smaller, so the measurement will not be accurate, she says. Here, an easier (and more reliable!) way to measure food portions:

And click here to see 28 healthy snacks that won’t make you pack on the pounds.

photo: Jupiterimages/ (top), Thinkstock (bottom)

More from WH:
Foods That Make You Do Bad Things
8 Weight-Loss Tips That Work
The Truth About Serving Sizes
Burn Fat Fast! All it takes is 60 seconds a day to balance your body’s chemistry and turn on your fat-burning furnace! Buy 60 Seconds to Slim today!

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The Morning Routine That Banishes Food Cravings

Do you always feel ravenous by 10 a.m.? Here’s a counter-intuitive way to fix that: Work out before work. Turns out exercise actually reduces the brain’s motivation for food, according to a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

In the study, researchers examined the food motivation of 18 normal-weight women and 17 clinically obese women over two separate days by exposing them to images of food or flowers while using electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to measure the strength of their brain waves. On the first day of the study, the women walked briskly for 45 minutes on a treadmill before researchers showed them the images, but on the second day, the experiment was repeated without the exercise. The women logged their physical activity and food intake on both days.

“We were looking at how strongly the brain’s response associated with attention was directed toward food stimuli,” explains study co-author Michael J. Larson, PhD, assistant professor of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Center at Brigham Young University.

What researchers found was that both the normal-weight and obese women paid less attention to the food images right after exercising, regardless of their weight. Meanwhile, exercise had no effect on brain response to the flowers. According to Larson, this means that exercise appears to affect the way our brains respond to food in particular, which could in turn affect our decisions about what and how much we eat–at least right after exercising.

Moreover, the food and physical activity logs of the study subjects revealed that exercise didn’t lead to overeating later in the day. In fact, women who began the day with exercise got more physical activity throughout the rest of the day, without eating more to compensate for the extra calories burned.

If you don’t have time to work out before work, that’s okay–there are other ways to stave off cravings throughout the day.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
6 Ways Stop Eating Mindlessly
Curb Your Sweet Tooth
Healthy Snacks to Satisfy Every Craving
50 Filling Cures for an Empty Stomach While Dieting

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