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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Easy Ways to Move More At Work

Bet your HR department didn’t warn you about this occupational hazard: More than 40 percent of people say they’ve gained weight at their current job, according to a recent Harris Interactive survey commissioned by CareerBuilder. Even scarier: Out of the respondents who said they’ve added lbs, 59 percent gained more than 10 pounds, and 30 percent gained more than 20 pounds.

“There’s a major decline in physical activity from 18 to 19 years old,” says Bradley Cardinal, PhD, a professor of social psychology of physical activity at the University of Oregon, who says there can be another when you enter the workplace—particularly if you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk all day long. Plus, as you move up the ranks, you typically run around doing errands for the company less frequently, says Cardinal—so you’ll likely spend more time parked at your desk as you climb the corporate ladder.

The good news: Making little changes throughout your workday can impact the number on the scale—and more importantly, your overall health—in a big way. Cardinal’s previous research shows that short bouts of activity—as brief as two minutes each—may impact your health just as much as hitting the gym for 30 minutes a day (so long as these bouts add up to 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week).

What’s more, even people who work out can benefit from increasing their activity all day long, says Cardinal, since it can help prevent some of the scary side effects associated with sitting most of the day, like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Ready to get moving? The easy workday swaps below are a good place to start. Each of them will help you burn more calories, reduce your bad cholesterol, increase your good cholesterol, improve cognitive functioning, and decrease your level of C-reactive proteins (which signal inflammation), says Cardinal.


To recap:

-Park in a spot farther away from your office (but still a safe distance) to walk a little more before and after work.

-Take hourly activity breaks (each one should be at least two minutes long) to do squats, pace, do desk push-ups—whatever. Other options that accomplish the same thing: Try a walking or standing workstation or sit on an exercise ball rather than your regular desk chair.

-When you need to discuss something with a coworker, walk over to her desk and stand while you talk to her.

-Instead of making a drive-thru run on your lunch break, walk to a nearby restaurant to pick something up. Do you bring your lunch? Take a few minutes to walk outside mid-day.

-Make it a rule to automatically take the stairs any time you’re going less than four floors.

-If you can, take public transit. You’ll have to walk to and from the stop, even if you drive to the station. Plus, you can stand during the ride.

-When you have to meet with colleagues or industry contacts, suggest having a walking meeting or—if the person loves working out—going for a run or doing a fitness class together.

photo: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
Your Body’s Biggest Enemy
The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle: Stand Up for Your Health
Make a Change: Try a Standing Desk

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The Easy Solution for Lower Back Pain

Pain in the back can be a real pain in the you-know-what. If you’re looking for relief, take note: Walking is just as effective at easing lower back pain as muscle-strengthening exercises, according to a new study out of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

For the study, researchers put 52 patients with chronic lower back pain on an exercise regime—half on a strength-training program, and the other half on a walking program. None of the participants had been physically active on a regular basis before beginning their respective routines. Both groups trained two to three times per week. The walkers began with 20-minute treadmill sessions (a five-minute warm-up, followed by 10 minutes of faster walking, capped off with a five-minute cool-down) and eventually built up to 40-minute sessions. At the end of six weeks, both groups showed a significant reduction in back pain, as well as improvements in walking speed and back and abdominal muscle endurance.

While walking doesn’t target specific muscles the way strengthening moves do, it still helps build muscle tissue, says Nick Shamie, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the UCLA Spine Center and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, who was not involved in the study. That may be why participants in both test groups saw similar results. Plus, Shamie says, it’s one of the safest forms of aerobic activity, but it still gets your blood flowing and endorphins pumping. “I think walking is a great form of exercise, and it’s underrated,” he says.

Up to 80 percent of Americans will have back pain at some point in their lives. If you’re suffering, see your doctor to find out if walking could help alleviate the problem.

In the meantime, check out these other backache remedies:

Yoga workouts to relieve back pain

Back pain exercises to stabilize the sacrum

The yoga workout that soothed Adam Levine’s back

More tips for staying back-pain-free

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Pain Management: How to Choose a Painkiller
Pain Relief: The Science Behind Pain
Medicine Cabinet Myths

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3 Easy Tricks to Beat Motion Sickness

Motion sickness can throw a real wrench into your travel plans. And once it strikes, it feels like nothing can provide you the quick relief you need from feeling nauseous, dizzy, and downright terrible. Soon, that may no longer be the case.

NASA is working with California-based startup Epiomed Therapeutics to develop a new medication to treat motion sickness.

The nasal spray, called intranasal scopolamine (INSCOP for short), has been shown to be faster acting and more effective than when administered as a pill, according to a press release from NASA. Scopolamine, the nausea-fighting drug used in the nasal spray, is currently typically administered as a patch.

But why do astronauts—and Earth dwellers—get unsettling motion sickness in the first place?

“Motion is sensed by the brain through four means: the inner ear, the eyes, and skin and joint sensory receptors throughout the body,” says Keri Peterson, M.D. internal medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and Women’s Health advisor. “When the signals from each of these does not match—for example if you are in the cabin of the boat and your inner ear senses motion but your eyes do not see motion, then the brain perceives a discrepancy in signals and you can get motion sickness.”

With the floating and bouncing around that astronauts do in space, it makes sense that these confusing signals can trigger stomach-churning and light-headed responses. But you don’t have to be space-bound to be hit with head-spinning motion sickness symptoms.

Fortunately, while INSCOP isn’t available to the public (yet), there are other ways to keep your wits about you (and your food down) the next time choppy water, air turbulence, or an out-of-control cab driver gives you a case of the spins. Try these three tips:

Seat yourself wisely
“Always ride where your eyes will see the same motion that your ears and body feel,” says Peterson. So in a car, ride in the front seat; on a boat, position yourself on the deck and keep your eyes on the horizon; on an airplane, try to score a window seat over the wing of the plane, she suggests.

Grab a fan
Direct a stream of fresh air at your face, if you can. Though there’s no documented medical reason behind this strategy, it’s possible that makes you feel better because it lowers your body temperature, says Peterson. Hey, worth a try.

Get medical
Peterson also recommends Dramamine or scopolamine patches to nix the nausea, dizziness, and vomiting that result from motion sickness.

photo: Pixland/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Ease Any Stomach Pain
The Scary New Health Risk in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s
The Best Supplements for Dizziness

Look Better Naked: Buy the book to learn how to look (and feel!) your very best.

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The Easy Way to Be More Approachable

Want more attention when you’re out on the town? Try hitting the sack. A lack of shuteye makes you less attractive and less approachable to others, according to a new Swedish study.

Researchers photographed 25 people twice: once after sleeping for seven to eight hours a night, and again after logging just four hours of sleep. After that, 40 people judged both photographs on looks and rated how likely they would be to chat each person up. The results? People were less willing to socialize with sleepy-looking men and women.

That’s partially because—well—the tired people weren’t looking so hot. And since attractiveness can fuel sexual behavior, there was a lower willingness to socialize with them, says lead researcher John Axelsson, Ph.D., associate professor at Stockholm University.

Want a quick fix to look more alive? Ditch the bags under your eyes. A pearl-sized dollop of eye cream, dabbed under each eye before bed, can take years off your peepers. Most creams contain topical anti-inflammatories—chemicals like caffeine that dehydrate tissue, tightening the skin into a taut, dense layer to hide the dark circles. Skin care expert Autumn Henry, lead esthetician for Exhale Spa’s flagship location in Midtown Manhattan, recommends using both iS Clinical’s C Eye Advance and their Youth Eye Complex. (Find a dealer at

But looks aside, if you’re lacking ZZZ’s, you’re also lacking energy. (Want to wake up fast? Try these energizing yoga moves.) And no one wants to talk to a cranky zombie. So the next time you’re a little zonked at the bar, remember that your body language will reflect positive thoughts, says Tracey Steinberg, dating and flirting expert.

Instead of dreaming about your bed or ruminating on the bad happenings of the day, think positively while you catch his eye—it’ll instantly make you more approachable no matter how many hours (and cups of coffee) you’re running on.

Additional reporting by Brian Boye

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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