We tend to think appetite is the equivalent of the “empty” gauge on a dashboard: It lets you know you’re low on fuel, so you stop to fill up. In practice, however, that’s a better way of describing the mechanisms of hunger, which are different from those of appetite. Hunger is a biological drive to make sure you eat enough, while researchers say appetite has more to do with the choices we make based on learned desires. Appetite is a complex mix of body chemistry, habit, social behavior, and psychology that’s notoriously difficult to manage. But the task isn’t impossible, especially as researchers and therapists devote more attention to understanding the power of appetite and how to subdue it. Here are some key tips for monitoring and subduing your appetite:
1. Ask yourself why. For many people, meals aren’t the reason we gain weight — it’s all the nibbling and snacking we do in between. Experts point out that much of this kind of eating has nothing to do with hunger. Rather, it’s boredom, or stress, or a learned habit independent of appetite (3:30 p.m. — time to get a snack at the vending machine!). There’s a simple antidote: Ask yourself, honestly, why you are putting food in your mouth. If hunger is not the first reason, then stop.
2. Find alternatives. So if so much eating is about boredom, stress, or habit, what to do when you are bored, stressed, or in need of a ritual? Easy: Take a walk. Put on music. Do a stretch routine. Go outside. Phone a friend. Read a favorite magazine. Knit. Yodel. Whatever gives you pleasure and relaxation. If you can create a new routine to deal with the everyday challenges that doesn’t involve food, you will make major strides toward losing weight.
3. Turn on the lights. When you wander into the kitchen at night, flip on all the lights. Research at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that you literally feel in the spotlight when you’re brightly illuminated. The added self-consciousness and sense of being on display make you less likely to do things you shouldn’t — like going on an ice cream bender.
4. Go to the candle store. Next time you get a craving, light a scented candle: Studies suggest that certain aromas can take the edge off your appetite. The smells that work best include green apple, peppermint, and banana.
5. Pressure your appetite. You won’t find this advice in the National Library of Medicine, but when you feel weak-willed against your appetite, try pinching the small area of cartilage where your jaws hinge just below the ears, which some acupuncturists claim is an appetite control point. Hold for about half a minute.
6. Eat power pleasers. To eat less at meals and snack time, choose foods that studies find have a high satiety index — meaning they’re significantly more satisfying than other foods. Surprisingly, even though fatty foods fill you up and provide pleasure, they’re not high scorers on the satiety scale because we tend to want more of them. Among the most satisfying foods: popcorn, jellybeans, potatoes, brown pasta, baked beans, grapes, and oranges.