(Oprah.com) -- Feeling ravenous can undermine a sensible diet in at least two ways. First, it can make you eat when you don't need any food --sometimes the feeling is the product of a bored or worried mind rather than an actual indication of hunger. Second, it's real enough to send you into an eating frenzy at your next meal.
By adopting a few smart strategies, you can make it through those moments of weakness -- or prevent them from happening in the first place.
Moments of weakness call for smart snacking and thinking. Six strategies to put hunger in its place.
Pile on the protein
Calorie for calorie, nothing matches the satiating power of protein, says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutritional science at Pennsylvania State University and author of "The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories."
That's why a morning dose of skim or low-fat milk or yogurt is key -- it gives your breakfast a protein boost. A hard-boiled egg can do the same. Dannon's Light & Fit yogurt is a great snack option to help consumers manage their weight.
If you really struggle with midmorning or afternoon hunger, try a Slim-Fast Optima shake for breakfast or lunch. It's formulated with a mix of protein, fiber, and fat intended to keep hunger at bay. In the company's trials, the 190-calorie shake controlled hunger for nearly five hours.
If you'd rather tame your appetite with something savory, wrap a slice of turkey or lean ham around a carrot stick or apple section. "One slice has minimal fat compared to the protein it delivers," says Rolls.
Fill up on fiber
Fiber takes up space in your belly without adding many calories, says Rolls. It also slows the rate at which food travels through your digestive system, she says, and that keeps you feeling full longer.
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains all pack lots of fiber and a hefty dose of vitamins. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or whole grain cereal topped with fruit, add milk or yogurt, and chances are you'll make it to lunch without a trip to the vending machine.
A hormone called ghrelin stimulates appetite and makes your stomach growl, says Mehmet Oz, M.D., vice chair of surgery and professor of cardiac surgery at Columbia University and co-author of "You on a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management." But just a handful of nuts can cause ghrelin levels to take a dive.
Calorically, the most dangerous part of a meal eaten out is the first 10 minutes when you arrive, famished, and clean out the breadbasket, says Oz.
"If you eat a few nuts 30 minutes before dinner, your hunger will drop off dramatically," he says. "By the time you sit down for the meal, you'll be able to slow down, enjoy the food, and stop before you're stuffed."
Take a brisk walk
Studies show that a little vigorous exercise can temporarily suppress hunger. "Before you decide to grab a snack, walk up a few stairs or stroll around the block," says Oz. You may find that you're no longer hungry. Or you might discover that you weren't hungry to begin with. "If it's anxiety or stress that was causing you to want to eat," says Oz, "exercise can help.
Even taking a few yogic breaths at your desk might be enough to unwind." Try breathing in slowly to the count of five, then exhaling for the same period of time. Repeat at least three times.
Keep your hands busy
Choose a snack that slows down your eating and makes you work for the calories, says Oz, like edamame (soybeans) and pistachio nuts in the shell. And their high protein content makes them an especially satisfying choice.
Soothe your taste buds
Sometimes hunger is simply a desire to taste something, says Oz. In that case, a piece of licorice, a strong breath mint, or even a Listerine breath strip might be enough to satisfy your urge.
With a minty taste on your tongue, "Your taste buds will be numbed and you won't want that slice of cheese or piece of cake," Oz says. E-mail to a friend
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