We all use food in different ways. For some, it’s a working relationship to get us to our goals. For others, it’s an art form. And to others still, it’s an emotional connection. For this last group especially, cravings can be difficult and often seem overpowering.
No, willpower isn’t the answer. Urges for sugar, fat, and “cheats”, are fueled by need for the “feel good” chemical, dopamine that is released when we eat sweets. When we give into these cravings and consume these foods, we may temporarily “feel good” and therefore crave more. We crave that “high”. So when the initial high wears off and blood sugar crashes, we again crave our next “fix” and those cravings intensify. In order to stop this vicious cycle, it is important to stop and evaluate where these cravings are stemming from so you are best equipped to resist them.
Ask Yourself These Questions:
Am I stressed out?
Often, when we are stressed, we seek comfort foods to make us feel good. This is because stress releases the hormone, cortisol. When we indulge in sweets, the hormone, dopamine is released, which essentially dulls these stressors.
Instead of turning to food to cope with stress, try taking a mental “time out”. Busy your mind by listening to music, going for a walk, calling a friend for a good laugh. You’re not really craving sweets. What you’re craving is to feel good again.
Am I eating less than usual?
Studies show that restrictive dieters are actually heavier than normal eaters. This is because their self-inflicted severe diet rules tend to backfire in the form of full-on binges. It has been shown that limiting oneself to extremely low calories (think 1000 calories) and limiting carbs, leads to full-on binges later and dieters end up consuming more calories than if they had just eaten normally in the first place.
Instead, eat all foods in moderation. Rather than an entire pizza pie, opt for a slice and a salad.
Don’t try to quench a craving with other “healthy” options. For example, if you’re craving potato chips, don’t consume some crackers, pretzels and trail mix while trying to alleviate a salty craving. You will just wind up consuming more calories than if you had just eaten the pack of potato chips in the first place!
Bottom line: eating in extremes like this (restricting all week and bingeing hard on the weekends) will end up causing more fat and weight gain than if you were to eat in moderation and consume the majority of your foods from wholesome, fibrous sources to keep you satisfied, not starved.
Am I getting enough sleep?
Not getting enough sleep can cause hormone imbalances. As mentioned above, lack of sleep can cause stress on the body. In addition, the hormone leptin, which signals satiety actually drops and the hormone, ghrelin, responsible for hunger triggers, increases. In other words, the body is run-down and tired and as result craves quick sugars for a fast burst of energy.
Instead, try 100-200mg of caffeine – coffee is a great source (black). It won’t help with your lack of sleep, but will help you wake up without a high-calorie alternative. Again, everything in moderation. Too much caffeine will drain adrenals. Use caffeine as a tool to help pull through your day, but the real task will be to work on time management and getting in bed at a decent time. Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Furthermore, plan ahead and try to portion out your meals. If you’re feeling sleep-deprived, don’t rely on your brain to differentiate between reasonable portion sizes, let alone healthy options! Measure out a serving and take it with you. Put the rest of the food away.
Am I a creature of habit?
Often, our “cravings” aren’t really cravings, but a habit that we haven’t seemed to kick. For example, plopping down on the couch at night to watch The Bachelor with your favorite ice cream. Did you really “crave” it, or has it become ingrained in your brain as part of your routine?
So try to remain conscious and catch yourself: being self aware is huge when working to break habits. Catch yourself and ask “Is doing what I am doing going to get me to my goals?” Picture yourself reaching your goals, picture a fit you and evaluate the choices you are about to make – are they helping or hurting you?
In addition, change the stimulus: Is your nightly routine of mindless TV causing mindless snacking? Change it up! Go for a walk after dinner instead. Or grab a book and go read in a room away from the kitchen. Better yet, head up to bed, brush your teeth, and unwind away from the kitchen.
Some Tips To Help When Meal Planning:
Enlist the help of healthy fats
Fat is higher in calories, and healthy fats can help decrease cravings. This is because eating these healthy fats, actually provides your metabolism with a steady energy supply and avoids the insulin spikes associated with blood sugar. Add in foods like walnuts, almonds, avocado, natural almond butter, coconut oil, olive oil on a salad and egg yolks.
Include more protein
Eating more protein helps you feel fuller longer. Carbs keep you fueled as they are the body’s preferred source of fuel, but since they are burned quickly, sometimes eating carbs alone without protein or fats, wont’ keep you satiated for long.
Try to include a protein source in every meal. You can keep protein powder handy as well to mix into a shaker whenever cravings strike.
Healthy Snack Options
Below are a few healthy snack options to nosh on if you find your cravings getting the better of you. These balanced protein, carb and fat snacks will help keep you on track with your diet as well as providing that much needed brain fuel!
1. Celery and natural peanut (or almond) butter
2. An apple and 2 ounces of low-fat cheese
3. Broccoli dipped in hummus
4. Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with walnuts, cinnamon, and a dash of honey
5. Chocolate protein shake (great for sweet cravings!)
6. Handful of blueberries and 2 boiled eggs with a bit of salt, black pepper, and cayenne if you like it spicy