Let's talk about something doctors and psychologists call phantom hunger. According to registered dietician Brooke Benlifer, phantom hunger is the desire to eat after our bodies' caloric needs are met. Think about it like this: You have two appetites. The first one asks for food in response to the amount of energy you've burned. The second one sends out "feed me" signals for various other reasons, none of which are healthy. Here are four of the biggest offenders:
- Eating the wrong foods. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein cause blood sugar levels to plummet. That makes you crave more food, even though you've consumed plenty of calories. The fix here is simple. Stick with whole grains and proteins, which stabilize blood sugar.
- Another cause of phantom hunger: Emotions. Dr. Roger Gould is the author of Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever. He says that our appetites go haywire when we're bored, anxious, lonely or stressed. Of course, to end emotional eating you need to deal with the source of the problem. Gould says you can get through a rough patch by taking a walk, listening to music, or calling a friend instead of raiding the icebox.
- The next offender: Lack of sleep. Sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus says that skipping snooze time drives down levels of a hormone called leptin and raises levels of a hormone called ghrelin. Leptin tells your brain that you're full, and Ghrelin stimulates appetite. So, if you don't get enough sleep, you feel hungry when you shouldn't, and you keep eating even after your stomach's full.
- We think we're hungry when we're surrounded by food. This one's biological. Dr. Leann Birch is a professor of Human Development at Penn State. Her research shows that it's impossible to get a 3-year-old child to overeat, but by age 5, it's a different story. From then on, if there's food in front of us, we'll pig out. Luckily, the answer to this diet dilemma is as easy as: out of sight, out of stomach.