Presenter: Katherine Lodge
Guest: Nicola Moore
Guest Bio: Nicola has been a dietician since 1992. She worked in a private practice and consulted to private hospitals in Rockhampton. Nicola has been working at Wesley LifeShape Clinic for 11 years, and has been the manager for the last seven years.
Nicola will be discussing about how to overcome eating cravings.
Katherine Lodge: Thank you for listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m Katherine, and today we have joining us Nicola Moore. Nicola Moore has been a dietician since 1992. Before moving to Brisbane, she worked in a private practice and consulted to private hospitals in Rockhampton. Nicola has been working at Wesley LifeShape Clinic for 11 years, and has been the manager for the last seven years.
Health Profesional Radio – Overeating
She has two very busy, active teenagers and understands the importance of healthy eating to provide the right nutrition that [indecipherable 00:31] for all different individual requirements. Today she is joining us to talk about how to overcome eating cravings. Welcome to our show, Nicola.
Nicola Moore: Hi, thanks, Katherine. Lovely to be here.
Katherine: Now, I think a lot of people get confused between cravings and actually physical hunger. Would you be able to tell us what are some of the cues and the main differences between cravings and actual, physical hunger?
Nicola: Oh, definitely. We see a lot of people who are, as you said, very confused about them. The difference is, with the physical hunger, it’s your true hunger. It’s actually your time to eat. It’s almost like the petrol light in the car has come on and… you know, when we see that when we’re driving along, we go and fill up, and then the car keeps working. That’s the same with our body. Basically, that physical hunger is your body’s blood sugar levels are starting to drop and your brain is noticing that and saying, “You know what? It’s now time to eat.” That’s actually a true hunger.
The problem with that is if we start to ignore that physical hunger, your blood sugar levels drop even further south, and that can be associated with symptoms of things like headaches, poor concentration. People can get a bit cranky and a bit irritable or start looking for food to give them a bit of a lift, especially sweet food. So that’s your physical hunger. And we don’t really ever want you to get to that point, because when you start to get to the true… you know, and it’s a bit too far gone, that’s when we perhaps overeat our food.
Whereas the psychological hunger or psychological inclination, whichever one you want to call it, your belly is actually full. You’ve just had food, and you truly are not hungry. You’re not getting those cues I was just talking about, but you’re still eating. Typically, your head hunger or your psychological hunger is informed by a couple of different cues. They include things like social cues if you’re at a party or a barbecue, or… do you eat differently when you’re with certain people or family members?
Nicola: It can be influence by environmental cues. You might walk into the football, and you smell hot chips and you go and eat them. But you’re not truly hungry for them. So environmental cues can be sight, smell – going to the movies and associating movies with popcorn, those type of things.
Nicola: And our last cue for head hunger is internal cues—when people eat because they’re bored or lonely or stressed or happy or as a reward. Again, truly not hungry but they’re eating as a result of those cues.
Katherine: Sure. I wanted to touch on some nutritional needs – because you were saying that typically our body needs nutrition every three to four hours.
Katherine: Can you explain… like sometimes, somebody will go out and have a burger for lunch, and chips, and within an hour, you’re feeling a little bit hungry. And you’re thinking, “How can that be, because I’ve just gorged on a big meal?” Why is it that sometimes we have a massive meal and within one or two hours, we’re hungry again? Or we feel like we’re hungry?
Nicola: Yeah. There’s a couple of reasons behind this, and there’s no definite answer. But there are reasons that that can happen. The first one is the way people eat. So let’s just talk about that example you just gave – a burger and chips. Often, people eat quite mindlessly, so they’re walking along or they’re talking with people, they’re eating at the same time. They’re actually very unaware that they’ve eaten.
So the way that we eat has a big impact on how we feel hunger and how we feel full. It’s what we call mindless eating. So people can eat more mindfully. I always say to people – eating with your five senses – so looking at what you’re eating, smelling it, touching it, the different textures, the crunch that it makes, just being aware of those things. Because when people eat fast, the brain isn’t being caught up with the stomach and the level of fullness.
So the first thing is making sure that you’re eating mindfully—turning off the television, trying to turn off those outside distractions, really concentrating on the food, almost getting out of our busy life and focusing on our food. The second reason that people can often feel still perhaps a little bit hungry is they haven’t had the right mix of food to start with. So for example, a question to you – have you ever just had a salad without, say, a piece of meat? You just have a lovely big salad.
Katherine: Yes, often.
Nicola: Yeah, and within an hour, you’re hungry, because there’s been no protein there. So having some protein there really holds that appetite a lot more. The other thing is the quality of the carbohydrate that you’re having. So it’s something called glycaemic index, is how the carbohydrate breaks down to give sugar. So there are some foods that break down really quickly, so you get this rapid rise in your blood sugar levels, but it drops pretty quickly, leaving us in a state of hunger a lot sooner.
But then there are some other foods that… what we call low in glycaemic index, so the energy comes out, but it comes out a lot more slowly. So you get more miles to the gallon, as such, and that holds your appetite a lot better. So there are lots of different reasons why people can get hungry sooner. There’s speed of eating, the way that they eat, if there’s amounts of protein, and maybe even looking at their glycaemic index and the quality of the carbohydrates that they’re eating.
Katherine: Right. I see. Thanks for that. Thanks for explaining that. And I’m glad you brought up a few things, such as protein, because we’ll get into that a little bit later. But it is a very timely interview because it’s the start of 2014…
Nicola: Certainly, good.
Katherine: And I’m sure a lot of people have overindulged, and I’m sure now a lot of people are thinking about “maybe I should go to the gym, I should eat healthier.” [laughs] So, if you would be able to help us by going over some tips – you’ve got five tips that will help overcome overeating. So the first one is always drink plenty of fluids every day. Can you elaborate on that about dehydration and also having the right type of fluids?
Nicola: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people mix up being hungry when they’re actually thirsty. So the first thing is if you think you’re hungry, go and have a glass of water to start with. It’s almost like just the ride wave, you know, surf the urge is what we often refer to it: Am I truly hungry? So it’s just giving your body a little bit of time to really check in with are you hungry or are you actually thirsty?
So with water… water is obviously our body’s preferred fluid that we should be drinking. A lot of people start to drink other fluids, and that can actually contain a lot of energy or calories quite unnecessarily. So for example, a mug of cappuccino that’s even made on skimmed milk might be 100 calories or 420 kilojoules. So you’re taking in a lot of energy when water would be a better option, or even a lower-calorie choice of a hot drink, say, for example a cup of tea or a macchiato.
With water also, depending on where we live and we’re doing, we may need to increase what we’re drinking. So at the moment, where I live, it’s very hot and very humid. So we need to make sure that we’re getting enough water. So we talk to people about two litres, and it is a bit of a magical number, in that we talk to people of all different sizes requiring two litres. So it is a good starting point; the problem is, as I’ve said, a lot of people drink alternative drinks and not drink enough water.
And a really good rule of thumb is just checking someone’s urine output and making sure it’s nice and clear. And if it’s not, then it’s probably a pretty good sign that they’re not drinking enough water. So we definitely need more water with humidity, with heat, and with exercise. And water is the best fluid that we should be going for.
Katherine: Sure. And as you mentioned, water is not the most exciting drink, [laughter] and I do think, doing the show and knowing about sometimes when you’re hungry, just have a glass of water and it’ll go away. I have personally tried that, and it works, and I tell other people when they say, “I’m hungry. I’m craving chocolate,” or whatever. When I tell them to go have a glass of water, they kind of look at me like, “Well, that’s not very exciting, is it?”
Nicola: And I don’t think you’re saying don’t have the chocolate. Just have some water first and see if you’re really…
Katherine: Yeah. [laughs] All right. And…
Nicola: There are some fluids that you can drink as a bit of an alternative to water. For a bit of flavour variation, just putting some sliced lemon or lime in water. Some people like occasionally to have a sparkling mineral water or soda water. Sometimes we like some bubbles in our mouths, so something like a low-joule soft drink or cordial, if we’re looking for something a little bit different. But our first preference should always be water.
Katherine: Right. And I did search online about alternatives to water, and I think a couple of herbal teas had zero calories, I think.
Nicola: Yeah, exactly!
Katherine: Like a green tea, if you don’t add, obviously, milk and sugar and honey. But yeah. A lot of herbal teas straight up is…
Nicola: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
Katherine: … zero calories.
Nicola: And you know, the herbal teas have got some other advantages in that they’re rich in antioxidants, which help with our blood fats and some forms of cancer. So there are other advantages of herbal teas as well.
Katherine: Exactly. And a second point I wanted to talk about was you mentioned before, eating protein-rich meals during the day to keep us satiated. Can you elaborate on that one as well?
Nicola: Yeah, definitely. When we say protein, people always think about meat. Look, that is obviously a protein source. So protein, it’s copped a bit of bad press over the years, protein—and quite unjustified, at that. Because we do now know that a little bit of protein spread throughout the day really holds our appetite. What it does is it just delays digestion a little bit, so the energy from our food is coming to our body, but just a little bit slower. So we tend to, as I said before, get more miles to the gallon.
Now, protein isn’t just your meat. It’s obviously in fish and chicken and eggs. But it’s also found in legumes, also in nuts and seeds, and also in our dairy products such as yogurt and milk. So when they talk about having protein throughout the day, we’re not asking people to have meat four or five times a day. It might be putting some yogurt onto the breakfast cereal in the morning.
It’s might be having some cheese on the crackers for morning tea. It might be having some meat on a sandwich or meat into a salad at lunchtime. It might be having a small handful of nuts in the afternoon and having meat and veggies at night-time. So, small amounts of protein are really important. A couple of things with protein: it’s always looking at the size if we’re talking meat, so just being careful of portions.
So if we’re talking about a healthy meal plate, for example, I always say to people – if you can divide your plate into quarters, a quarter of the plate should have some form of lean meat; a quarter should have some form of carbohydrate, and at least half our plate should have some form of salad or vegetables. That’s a really good mix. So, portions – making sure that they’re lean—so trimming fat off the meat, skin off the chicken, and just low-fat cooking methods.
Katherine: Sure. Great advice there. And you did talk about portion control, which I want to go back to. That was really good advice about the plate, because I think visually people can understand that. But what about making healthy snack choices? It says here that a good snack, calorie kind of count is between 100 to 120 calories – maybe with some of our listeners, it’s hard for them to visualise what that is exactly. Can you give us some snack options?
Nicola: Oh, definitely. If we can start talking, for example, meat groups, just as a nice little snack choice, a boiled egg, for example, is around 70, 80 calories. And that’s a really nice hit of protein as well. Another, again, talking in that food group – a lot of people will have little tins of tuna or salmon available at their workplace or at home, just a little 100-gram tin. So they’re around 90 calories. And again, really portable as well. Because often, with snacks, we may not be in our office or at home, so we need to think of portability.
A piece of fruit is around 70, 80 calories. And when we talk about a piece of fruit, we’re talking about a piece that’s basically what fits in the palm of your hand and you start to close your fingers around. So a medium-sized apple, a medium-sized orange, something along those lines, or a small bunch of grapes. So that’s around the 70, 80 calories. And you can also get little tubs of fruit. That’s [indecipherable 14:48] like if you see Golden Valley, and there’s a whole different… a range of them. That’s good when you talk about seasonal fruit. So you can get different fruit that may not be in season fresh, but you can get them canned or in little tubs of fruit.
Breads and cereals. Some people like the portability of some of the lower-fat style muesli bars, and they can range anywhere between… some of them around 60, 70 calories, up to about 150, 160 calories. So it’s really just a person’s preference as to which ones that they do have. Tubs of yogurt are really good as snacks, and again, the advantage of yogurt is that it’s got that little bit of protein in it, and the carbohydrate is a low-glycaemic index one. [indecipherable 15:41] go between, say, around 80 calories up to about 180 calories.
Katherine: I see.
Nicola: And again, they’re very portable.
Katherine: Right. Thank you for that. Another tip that you have is that we could have a small cup of healthy vegetable-based soup before a main meal. Can you tell us about this? And research has shown that a healthy calorie-controlled soup is an added bonus. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Nicola: Yeah. No, definitely. So it helps [indecipherable 16:16] a few different fronts. Again, it’s just putting some fluid to our bellies to decrease the volume that we’ve got left of food. So it helps with hydration. Again, with soup – typically, the soup that we have is hot, so we can’t eat it fast. So again, that’s what we were talking about before. It helps us with that mindful eating and just slowing down. So again, it’s just making a bit more time to drink it, so that when the main meal comes around, truly, how much more food do we need? So it helps with portion control from that point of view.
Also, with a good vegetable-based soup, it’s got some good fibre in there. And fibre is one of those things that really help to fill us up. So research has shown that if we have a vegetable-based soup prior to a meal, it really does help with that portion control of what we’ll then have at the main meal. So it typically fills up part of our stomach, because it’s hot, we have to eat it more slowly, and the fibre just gives us that feeling of fullness as well.
Katherine: Right. I see. Our last tip from you is being mindful of our eating cues. So just be careful not to give in to those cravings. Can you give us some practical advice how we can achieve this? How we can not cave in to those 3 pm slumps or the chocolate cravings? Is preplanning is a huge part of it?
Nicola: Definitely. Planning and having food available. A lot of it is… you were just talking about the 3 pm slump and the chocolate hits that people have, and a lot of that happens because people have missed morning tea or their lunchtime has been a little bit chaotic, or they haven’t got anything organised for afternoon tea, and suddenly they look around and the chocolate box looks really tempting.
The biggest thing is planning, having food available. So some of those things that we’re talking about with our snack choices, they can be in someone’s desk drawer, they can be in the cupboard in the kitchen staffroom, they can be just in the pantry at home. So good planning is really important, and making sure that we’re eating regularly does help with that.
Now, as we were saying before, eating appropriately – so if we’re going to eat something, make sure that we put it on a plate, sit down at the table, and eat it properly. Not at the desk, not at the computer, not in front of TV, not in the car. Eating at the appropriate place is really important.
Nicola: So if we do suddenly… can recognise our cues of what has caused us to eat when we’re not truly hungry, that’s half the battle won. If we can know where they are, then we can start to say, “Well, what can I do differently?” So for example, if someone… it’s because they are stressed, recognising that, “Hang on, I’m feeling a little bit stressed here, and what I normally do is I go and have a cup of tea and a biscuit, well, maybe I get a cup of tea and, instead of a biscuit, I just walk outside and just spend five minutes in the fresh air.”
So it’s just trying to alter the behaviour, because those cues will always be there. Recognising where they are and finding different ways to cope with them is really what we’re trying to encourage people to do.
Katherine: I see. And before I let you go, I just had a question about those midnight cravings. You know, those midnight snack cravings. How do we either get rid of them altogether or minimise this?
Nicola: Again, if people aren’t sleeping well… and that’s probably the first thing that I would always tackle, is make sure people have got some really good sleep habits. So, getting to bed on time, making sure that we’re sleeping through. If we are getting up through the night, again, thinking, “Am I truly hungry, or is it just because I’m awake? What else could I do instead of food?” So it’s coming back to “am I truly hungry?”
And typically, the answer is no – it’s just that I’m awake and I’m bored and I’m trying to get back to sleep, I’m trying to do something to help myself get back to sleep. That’s where, if we have a list of things that we can do instead of food… food will still be on that list, but if we’ve got a list of 10 other things and food’s only one of those 10, it becomes less important because there are other things that we can do instead.
But also having some of those snacks available. And again, eating it in the right place. As I said, food on a plate, food at the table, that’s the appropriate way to interact with food. Whereas when people are just eating and doing things mindlessly, it’s typically those high carbohydrate foods that we’re snacking on because they’re such easy things to eat. So making some food choices that are a bit more difficult, that’s a little bit more time-consuming, so that we’re aware of what we’re actually doing.
So for example, it might be putting an egg on and boiling that egg and eating that egg. So there’s actually a process involved with it rather than just mindlessly eating something. So coming back to some of those snacks that we were talking about before… but again, the first question always to ask is, “Stop. Am I truly hungry? Could I drink a glass of water? Would a cup of tea be better?” Or a cup of herbal tea, like you were mentioning before – would that hit the mark?
Katherine: Right. Well, lots of great practical tips that you’ve given us today, Nicola. I’d like to thank you for your time and for sharing them with us.
Nicola: That’s no trouble, Katherine. And if I can help one person, that’s one person more helped.
Katherine: Thank you.
Nicola: Thanks, Katherine. Bye.