LA VIDA: Is Stress Making You Fat?

Make Foods Work In Your Favor Foods have different effects on your stomach, your blood and your brain. Here are some that may help your hunger and the brain chemicals that affect it. Turkey contains tryptophan, which increases serotonin, improving your mood and combating depression. It also helps you resist cravings for simple carbs. Fish and walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have long been known as brain boosters and cholesterol clearers. But they've also been shown to help with depression in pregnant women. Depression contributes to emotional overeating. And since many of us have low omega-3 intake, eating foods that contain the acids may help lift our spirits and keep us from reaching for a doughnut. Green tea contains catechins, thought to inhibit the breakdown of fats as well as the production of an inflammatory substance that can trigger hunger. One study shows that drinking three glasses of green tea a day can help you reduce body weight and waist circumference by almost five percent in three months. The tea also increases metabolism.

Sleep Yourself Skinny When your body doesn't get the seven to nine hours of sleep it needs every night to become rejuvenated, it looks for other ways to compensate for your brain not secreting the normal amounts of feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine. How does it typically do this? By craving sugary foods that will give you an immediate release of these chemicals. The lack of sleep throws off your entire system. It can become an even bigger factor as you age. When you get older, the pineal gland in your brain produces less of the sleep hormone melatonin, resulting in subsequent cravings for carbohydrates. So make sure you get enough shut-eye. It can help keep you thin.

Pick and Stick Variety may be the spice of life, but it can also lead to overeating. When you have a lot of choices for a meal, it's easier to slip out of good eating habits and into bad ones. When you sit down at a dinner and are presented with a menu that's the size of a phone book, it's easy to give in. One way to help: Eliminate the choices for at least one meal a day. Pick the meal you rush through most and automate it. For most people, it's lunch. So find a healthy lunch you really like—salad with grilled chicken and olive oil, say, or turkey on whole-grain bread—and have it every day. Yes, every day. Research shows that putting a cap on the variety of foods and tastes you experience will help you control your weight. It sounds strange, but it's true. How does it work? When you have meals rich in flavor variety, it takes more and more calories to keep you full. Think of Thanksgiving, when you eat a lot of different things, stuff yourself and still have room for pumpkin pie. When we experience meals with lots of diverse flavors (Mexican or Indian cuisines are other good examples), we tend to eat more to satisfy our taste buds. No one wants to get bored with food. But if you make this a habit for at least one meal a day, it will decrease your temptations and help you stop thinking about food so often. In fact, for our patients, we usually prescribe two meals that are the same each day. It's one of the ways to automate your brain so that your habits will follow.

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