If you’re following the South Beach Diet you already know how to make the healthiest food choices most of the time. But one of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to your appetite is: Is it a craving, or am I really hungry? By the end of Phase 1, you will more than likely have stabilized your blood-sugar levels and, as a result, minimized your cravings. But now and again cravings can resurface, so it’s important to be able to tell what’s driving your need for food. Here are some simple guidelines that can help you determine the difference between hunger and cravings:
When It’s Hunger
Hunger is the feeling you get when you experience a normal and gradual drop in blood sugar about four or five hours after a meal. It's your body's way of telling you that eating is overdue. Hunger signals can come from your stomach (in the form of growls, pangs, or a hollow feeling), as well as from your brain (which may include feeling headachy or fatigued).
Make sure that you are adequately satisfying your hunger with the right foods, such as lean protein and plenty of high-fiber vegetables at every meal. Another way to ward off hunger is to make sure you have a midmorning and midafternoon snack. Strategic snacking is especially important when you’re following a healthy eating plan. Studies show that it takes relatively few calories to prevent cravings but many more to satisfy them once they occur. "The quality of calories in your satisfying meals and snacks, along with a light dessert that contains protein or is served with some protein, should help keep your hunger at bay," says Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet. "We encourage you to eat until you’re full and snack before you get hungry.” Some snack ideas include turkey roll-ups, reduced-fat cheese, and vegetable sticks with hummus. On Phase 2, go for fresh fruit with natural peanut butter or keep some South Beach Diet 100-Calorie Snack Bar or Protein Fit Bars on hand.
When It’s a Craving
Cravings, on the other hand, happen within a couple of hours of your last meal. Ironically, eating some foods can make you hungry! "Cravings can be caused by exaggerated spikes and dips in blood sugar that occur after you eat highly processed carbohydrates like white bread or cake or other highly refined baked goods, or white rice or white pasta. These foods are digested so quickly that they cause an almost immediate rise in blood sugar followed by a big dip soon after," says Dr. Agatston. It's this drop in blood-sugar levels that causes a craving. Sometimes, the mere sight and smell of certain foods can produce cravings as well. For many people, desserts cause the biggest cravings. And this is when the South Beach Diet "Three-Bite Rule" comes in handy: Simply take three bites of a decadent dessert you wish you could devour, then put it aside for a few minutes. Most likely you won’t come back to it. You’ll soon discover that just a few bites can be very satisfying.
The good news is on the South Beach Diet you’ll be eating so often and so well that hunger and cravings should rarely occur. And if they do, now you’ll now know the difference.