12 Ways to Stop Food Cravings
We’ve all been there before. We consistently exercise, follow it up with a strict diet, and we see the changes in ourselves – a better look, a well-defined physique and the sense of more energy in our body. All is well until… Wham! A strong uncontrollable urge to eat comes over us. If left unchecked, these cravings can tip you off balance. Here’s some forethought, and a bunch of tricks to help you conquer your cravings before they get the better of you.
What is food craving really?
Unlike common hunger, a food craving is an irrepressible impulse to snack or eat a particular type of food. Most of us occasionally experience a strong urge to drink or eat something, especially those foods with high sugar content like candy, cake, pastry, ice cream, etc.
Why the craving?
There are many reasons for this. But doctors and dieticians say they usually stem from a complex mixture of emotional, hormonal and biochemical factors. For instance blood sugar imbalance is seen as the foundation for most cravings, leading to search for sugar or carbo pick-me ups. Studies also show that food cravings are heightened during times of high stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety – termed as the ‘food and mood’ connection! Nutrient deficient diets and strict restrictive diets can also result in food cravings.
At times like these, serotonin (a ‘neurotransmitter’, a natural biochemical produced in our brains that helps regulate our mood, enabling us to feel stable and to control impulsive behaviour) – dips and you give way to food cravings. Take note, it’s absolutely normal to have food cravings, and you can’t eradicate them altogether, but it is essential to keep food cravings under check if you’re serious about leading a healthy lifestyle.
1) Real hunger is not craving
Real hunger builds gradually and is quickly satiated with a healthy and nutritious meal. Food cravings, on the other hand, are seldom about real hunger and feeling full. Food cravings mostly come all of a sudden, disappears fast, if you can wait it out.
2) Be mindful
When you eat while watching TV, talking on the phone, using the computer, or any other activity, your mind is preoccupied elsewhere rather on the food you’re eating. This causes ‘mindless eating’ or overeating. When you practice mindful eating, where you savour the smell and taste of your food, you tend to appreciate the food on your plate. You soon become attuned to your body and will be able to easily differentiate cravings from real hunger.
3) Watch out for triggers
Recognise the foods that trigger the cravings. By distinguishing the feelings and emotions that lead-up to food craving, you would be better positioned to tackle it before it overcomes you. At times a particular aroma or places can also trigger cravings. Make note of this. Studies show that the longer you’re able to avoid your trigger foods, the less likely you want to eat them. It would be hard initially, but you’ll soon grow out of it.
4) Eat your breakfast
It’s the most important meal of the day to get you started. Skipping breakfast is one of the main causes of food cravings because your brain signals to your body that you’re going to lack energy and that you are hungry. However, that doesn’t give you the liberty to overeat.
5) Don’t starve yourself
This is closely linked to the above point. When your blood sugar level dips from starving, food cravings take place. Don’t go more than 3 to 4 hours without eating. By eating small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals plays a major difference. Small meals or healthy snacks help to keep food cravings at bay since you stay full longer. It’s not easy to make wise food choices when you’re hungry.
6) Distract yourself
When you sense a craving for food building-up, distract yourself by calling someone, meditating, listening to music, watching a movie, or exercising. Distraction helps you to focus on other interesting activities instead of cravings. The worst you will suffer is the first ten minutes, since typically it lasts only that long, says John Foreyt, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine. Also, if passing by the bakery, fast food joint, or candy store can set off a food craving trigger, it’s much easier to fight temptations by changing your route.
7) Eat healthy food
If you are still struggling with your craving, at best avoid eating junk food and consume healthy food instead. Remember, you might find relief when initial pangs are satiated. Bite on a celery stick rather than French fries or an apple rather than a burger. The trick is to replace with low-cal or low-fat versions of the food you’re craving – but make sure to portion-control the servings.
8) Fill up with fibre and water
Eating high fibre foods such as wholegrain breads, whole pasta, oat meals, legumes, fruits and vegetables will give your stomach a fuller feeling for a longer time, especially at night. Also, when your body lacks water, your brain often interprets thirst as a signal for hunger. Hence, it’s crucial you keep yourself well-hydrated at all times. Moreover, water mixed with fibre adds bulk to your stomach, making you feel full, thus reducing cravings.
9) Eat nuts
You can easily dampen your appetite by changing your body chemistry. You can do this by drinking two glasses of water and eating an ounce of nuts (20 peanuts, 12 almonds and 6 walnuts) says Michael F. Roizen, MD of RealAge fame.
10) Become ‘junk free’
The simple logic here is ‘if there is no junk food, you can’t eat junk.’ You tend to eat junk when junk food is easily available. So, ‘junk free’ your fridge! It’s wise not to keep any food you constantly crave within an easy reach.
11) Sleep Well
When you don’t get enough sleep, you become tired and more likely to crave food. A study conducted in University of Chicago, found an 18 percent decrease of leptin, a hormone that tells the brain there is no need for more food in people who slept only four hours a night for two nights, and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger. Lack of sleep causes an increase in appetite and a look-out for calorie-dense, high-carb foods.
12) Give in
When all else fail, just give in. It’s okay to indulge on your ‘comfort-foods’ once in a while. It’s okay to have the ice-cream or a few bites of the cheese cake. But keep in mind, moderation is the key to a happy life! Trick yourself by buying only one scoop of the ice cream or enjoy just a thin slice of the cake, so that you don’t overindulge and sabotage your weight. Then again, if you do, you can always rely on good ol’ exercise to get you back on your feet!