Cravings, True Hunger, and Reading Nutrition Labels

Sometimes, you haven’t eaten enough food, so you eat. Maybe some pizza, maybe a salad, perhaps a bowl of soup, but you eat it, and you aren’t hungry. That’s hunger.

Sometimes, you really want pizza. You think about pizza. And not just generic pizza, but a really specific combo of flavors and toppings. You could eat a whole meal, but still want pizza, even though your body doesn’t need the calories. That’s a craving.

I’ve been craving chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but either an oatmeal chocolate chip pecan cookies or some sort of chocolate mixed with coconut. It’s not about hunger, it is about something else. I’m not sure whether it is stress, anger, or some other emotional eating trigger, or just the cumulative feeling sorry for myself that I can’t eat like I used to eat, even though that eating was making me unhappy and unhealthy and I’ve made the choice to stop doing it.

We caught a 24-hour flu bug at our house. I woke up this morning, finally, without a fever and able to breathe through my nose, so it was incumbent upon me to go to the grocery store to replenish our stocks of soup, lemon, and ginger.

I made a huge mistake. I ate a small breakfast, and a small mid-morning snack, with the end result being I was low on calories, low on protein, and generally low on energy by the time I hit the store.

I caved. Sort of. I bought these:

Here’s why I picked these out of all of the other things I considered, which I will not list because I don’t want to trigger another craving!

Our fabulous nutritionist has walked us through reading nutrition labels and has given us five questions to ask before buying something that comes in a box, bag, or container other than its own skin, shell, rind, or peel:

  1. What’s the serving size?
  2. How many slices of bread is it?
  3. How much protein does it have?
  4. How many calories?
  5. What kinds of fats does it have?

Serving size?
The person or people who determine the serving size that goes on the nutrition label are more concerned with marketing than nutrition. You have to make sure that the serving size for which the label provides information matches the quantity you are going to consume. A label might give the nutritional data for one cookie as 120 calories with 18 grams of carbs. Eat three cookies, which isn’t unreasonable, and suddenly, you’ve eaten the caloric equivalent of dinner. But you’ve only had three cookies.

The serving size for a Zone Perfect Chocolate Coconut Crunch bar is one bar. OK, I can restrain myself and just eat one.

How Many Slices of Bread?
This sounds odd, I know, but here’s what it means. A serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams. Your basic slice of bread has 15 grams. I’ve set a goal for myself of having 45 to 60 grams of carbs daily; the equivalent of four slices of bread. Now, I don’t all get it from bread, and in fact, almost never do, but a slice is a handy equivalent to consider. What it really means is that a day for me might include:

breakfast of 1/4 c. of oatmeal (~18g carbs); snack of a cheese stick (no carbs); lunch of a veggie stir fry with chicken (~10g carbs if I use low-starch veggies); snack of 7 oz. of Greek yogurt (8g carbs) with 1/4 c. walnuts (3.5g carbs); fish and low-starch veggies for dinner (~10g carbs).

(Actually, though I at oatmeal today, I generally do a high protein breakfast, mainly eggs and non-starchy veggies. Oatmeal just felt better to my fuzzy, sick head.)

A Zone Perfect bar has 23g of carbs, which is a little closer to two slices than to one, so high for me. If I wanted to eat it, I’d have to reduce carbs in my other meals.

How Much Protein?
The nutritionist’s rule of thumb, which has helped me say no to many questionable foods I was about to drop in the cart, is that the grams of protein need to be at least half the grams of carbs. In other words, if something has 30g of carbs, it better have 15g of protein, or it isn’t a good choice.

Thank goodness the bar has 15g of protein, but only 23g of carbs. Many of the other protein bars, by the way, score really low on this question. The Luna Chocolate Dipped Coconut bar has 9g protein but 25g carbs. The Clif Coconut Chocolate Chip, 10g protein and 43g of carbs. Yes, 43 grams of carbs. Egad.

How Many Calories?
Ideally, I aim for meals that are in a range of 220 to 320 calories, with snacks in the 120 to 160 range. The Zone Perfect bar clocks in at 210 calories, which blows it for me as a snack, but really, I was looking at it today as a meal replacement. Not a great one, but I’ve been sick and not eating on a regular schedule, so that’s how I justified it.

Had I been eating this as a snack, I would’ve tried to cut it in half, which would not have been nearly as satisfying. That’s another reason, actually, that I haven’t bought these before, because I’d rather have a bigger snack, like yogurt or hummus and veggies.

What Kind of Fats?
Here, I’m mainly trying to avoid trans fat and limit saturated fat. This bar has zero trans fat, and 4g of saturated fat.

Truly, once I go through this analysis, I almost never buy the treat I’m tempted to buy. They just don’t seem to pack the punch, from a nutrient-density point of view.

I have to admit that I wanted to eat a second bar after dinner just now (dinner was a new recipe, Thai chicken soup, that was delicious!), but I stopped to look at the ingredients in the bars.

The first three ingredients were soy protein nuggets, corn syrup, and chocolate flavored coating. The coating has sugar and fractionated palm kernel oil, among other things, in it. Here’s a great explanation of what fractionated palm kernel oil is, and why it isn’t quite as bad as a hydrogenated oil, but isn’t all that great for you, either.

I’ve been toying with the idea of having a square of dark chocolate to put this day to bed, but decided to blog it out instead. I went over my calorie goal for the day, definitely exceeded my carbohydrate range, and did not go to the gym. That makes the decision much easier to face.

Ginger tea and TV in bed it is!

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13 Responses to Cravings, True Hunger, and Reading Nutrition Labels

  1. sweetopiagirl says:

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.

  2. Laina says:

    Those are my preferred meal replacement bar. Hope your cravings pass quickly.

    • Andie says:

      Between comparing carbs and searching for ingredients I’m allergic to, I think I stood in the aisle at the grocery store for about 30 minutes. I’m sure they had security watching me because of my suspicious behavior. They do seem to be the best except for some extreme muscle-building ones that I’m guessing taste totally gross. I hope to never find out.

  3. Kudos to you for blogging it out and resisting!!! I can’t keep any bars around; I will reach for them when I’m not hungry time and time again. I do like them when I travel, though.

    • Andie says:

      That’s the trick – they are great in an emergency, but having them in the house … it did help when my husband reminded me to put the box away after I’d taken a photo of it for the post. It was right next to my screen, which wasn’t helping matters.

  4. Great post! Keep fighting those cravings 🙂

  5. Tori Nelson says:

    The cravings are no fun to deny, but the end result will be worth it! Good for you!

  6. Oh my! This week cravings have played a huge part of my days unfortunatly. I gave up and picked myself up and today was finally a day with no guilt. I have never thought of comparing with slice of bread but what a good idea! Hope you feel better soon 🙂

  7. S.N.S says:

    Thank you for this post Andie – it’s so informative and helpful. I am only just learning about what my carb, protein and fat ratio should be so this has given me lots to think about.

    Fair play for dealing with your cravings so rationally and absolutely – you’re so close to your goal now:)

    • Andie says:

      I’m glad this was helpful. I worry that I have become one of those crazy people with an irrational fear of carbohydrates, but I was so out of balance for SO long, and I sabotaged myself so often by overeating foods that are essentially healthy …

  8. Pingback: Let’s Talk Food | afoodaddict

  9. Colline says:

    It was interesting to read what you consider when buying a product. The first thing I look at is whether the product has preservatives in it or not; then I look at the sugar content.

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