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Losing Weight: Learn how to Handle Your Cravings

You shouldn't be hungry. You've just had lunch an hour ago, and
it was a substantial meal. You had good portions and you ate
until you were almost full, but you're definitely feeling like
having something more. Maybe nothing big, a snack or a bowl of
cereal, but you definitely want to eat something. This is a
classic case of having a craving, and it's one of the most
frustrating challenges people have to battle while trying to lose

An overactive appetite isn't easily ignored. It can be
distracting and irritating until it's satisfied and so many
people give in 'just the once,' only to eventually form
craving-oriented habits that sabotage their efforts to eat well
and maintain a healthy weight.

I'm Hungry!

Well, are you really? Food cravings often are not the same as
genuine hunger. There are a number of factors that determine
whether you actually feel hungry or just desire a certain taste
or boost. The key lies in determining the difference between
physical hunger and a mental craving.

Hunger is marked by physical symptoms. Your body is telling you
it needs something to keep your system running properly. These
symptoms include:

* Emptiness or tightness in the stomach, frequently accompanied
by growling.

* Dizziness or trouble focusing.

* Exhaustion.

These symptoms do not respond to waiting or distraction, but
continue to intensify until you have eaten sufficient food to
correct the imbalance.

By contrast, cravings are marked by primarily emotional and
psychological criteria, such as:

* Desire to eat something with a specific taste.

* Wanting to eat something to unwind, as a reward, or for

Causes of Cravings

Genuine hunger is caused by genuine need - your body lacks vital
nutrients, and will continue to tell you so until these needs are
met and it can continue to function. Cravings, on the other hand,
tend to be caused by a number of non-vital but nonetheless
important stimuli.

For example, hormone imbalances can lead to hunger cravings. The
body's primary boosting hormone is serotonin, which is part of
what leads to feelings of happiness and satisfaction. If the body
is low on this hormone for any reason, including exhaustion,
depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, or menopause, it could look
for a substitute in sugar, which tends to provide a quick energy
boost. Cravings also grow out of (and into!) habits. If you're
used to having a late night dish of ice cream and then stop in an
attempt to control your weight or blood sugar, your body will be
used to the routine and may trigger a craving for the snack at
your usual time.

Craving Control

First, you need to understand that having cravings does not mean
you have poor willpower. In many cases, they're not about
willpower at all. They're often just an emotional response to
factors influencing your mental state. So don't start with
personal recriminations, instead focus on ways you can make
things easier for yourself.

As with any effort to gain self-control, it is more efficient to
replace bad habits with good habits than to simply try to drop
the old habit. Consider that late night bowl of ice cream we
mentioned earlier. This is a case of habitual cravings and
snacking, and maybe it would be hard to just cut it out. Consider
instead having a warm mug of a sweet herbal tea with a little bit
of honey. This gives your body the 'sweet' taste it wants, as
well as filling your belly with something to tide you over, but
without the concentrated calories of the ice cream.

This substitution principle can work out well in general - keep
healthy snacking alternatives on hand, and try to reduce
portions. Instead of munching through a bag of chips, try eating
a small serving of healthy nuts with a tall glass of water, then
waiting and seeing if the craving abates.

Consider these other craving-taming techniques:

* Incorporate additional healthy habits into the rest of your
routine, so that cravings will become less pronounced.

* Eat high fiber foods, because these add bulk and a sense of
fullness for a longer period of time.

* Make sure your body is getting good nutrition in general, as a
healthy body is less likely to mix up signals and send false

* Exercise and socialize, to make sure your mental state is kept
up and you don't feel as stressed. Many cravings are a stress
reaction, and keeping a healthy mental balance can certainly

Taking control of cravings is an important step in changing from
unhealthy habits to healthy ones, and it can be daunting.
However, it is a challenge that can be met one step at a time, in
small degrees. Don't beat yourself up for the cravings; instead,
look at them for what they are, and know that you can take
positive steps to keep them under YOUR control, where they

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