Ah, cravings. We've all had them. They strike fast and hard. Before you know it, you've downed handfuls of potato chips or half a dozen chocolate chip cookies. Not the best reaction for weight loss.
It happens to all of us, there are days when I'm on a deadline, exhausted, or just in the mood for chocolate — or worse when I'm experiencing all those things simultaneously! On those days if I am not careful I will have a block of chocolate sitting on my desk half eaten without even realizing what I am doing!
But why do we crave these foods so intensely?
We need calories and nutrients to function and stay alive. Our bodies are amazing, finely tuned machines that have evolved over millions of years to regulate our hunger. We eat when we need to, and stop eating when we are full – or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work….
However, over the years as food has become more abundant and processed, that trigger that tells us to STOP when we are full has seemed to get weaker. The second we start eating more calories and nutrients than our body needs for survival, we start shifting from physiological eating to psychological eating, from feeling hungry because our bodies need food to “thinking” we are hungry because the food we are eating is so tasty we just can’t control ourselves.
As food has become more processed, the substances we LOVE the most ... sugar, fat, and salt — have been more potently combined, leading us to WANT it even more. Remember sugar and fat don't naturally come packaged together. Fruit may contain a lot of sugar but no fat, while a steak will give you fat but not much sugar. In contrast, processed foods offer all three of these ingredients plus caffeine and a variety of chemically engineered flavor enhancers and sweeteners. This amps up your brain's response, leading to cravings.
Not only that, but the sugar, salt, and fat used in processed foods are more intense than their natural equivalents. Highly refined sugar hits the bloodstream faster than the sugar in unrefined whole foods, which means that the resulting endorphin-fueled high is increased and kicks in almost immediately but is difficult to sustain, prompting us to eat more!
Experts say that most of us have a "bliss point," which is typically described as the level of sugar, fat, or salt that gives us maximum pleasure. Foods containing this trio of ingredients seem to stimulate a hot spot in our brains that magnifies the gratification we get from each bite, making us crave them even more. It's possible for foods to be addictive in much the same way that drugs or alcohol are!
Just as a night of drinking gives you a nasty hangover, too much processed food hitting your bliss point can set you up for a sugar, fat, and salt withdrawal. That can create a "second meal effect," leaving us hungrier than usual. It takes the body two or three days to forget that sugar high.
This is why, the first 3 days of any clean eating plan is so hard, but it gets easier the longer you stick to it.
So how can we limit our cravings?
But contrary to popular belief, you can control your food cravings.
Try these tips, and you'll begin limiting the cravings.
1) Avoid your triggers.
You crave what you eat, so if you switch what you’re eating, you can weaken your old cravings and strengthen new ones. The first few days are always the hardest, and you probably can’t completely eliminate your old cravings. But the longer you avoid your trigger foods, the less likely you may be to want them. In fact, you’ll probably begin to crave the foods you eat, a real bonus if you’ve switched to fresh fruit or vegetables.
2) Destroy temptation.
If you’ve succumbed to a craving and bought a box of cookies or some other trigger food and start to feel bad while eating it, destroy it. Don’t just throw it away; run water over it, ruin it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that you’ve licked your binge. Don’t think about the money you’re wasting. If the cookies don’t go into the garbage, they’re going straight to your hips.
What was that old saying .... "A minute on your lips, 10 years on your hips"
3) Tighten Your Belt a Notch
This can help remind you of the lower bell flab you are trying to lose and help motivate you to avoid unhealthy food. It’s a simple psychological trick that creates a physical association that you can tie to the negative impact of succumbing to your cravings.
4) Indulge yourself -- within limits.
Once in a while, it’s OK to go ahead and have that ice cream. But buy a small cone, not a whole container. The trick is to buy only a single serve of your treat at a time so you won’t be tempted to reach for more.
If you bring a salad for lunch every day, it's no wonder you're likely to ditch it for pizza. Include small indulgences once or twice a week, but keep portions reasonable. Packing a cookie to satisfy your need for something sweet is a better strategy than depriving yourself until you rebel and eat a whole pizza.
5) Give your meal a happy ending
Come up with an "enough" signal that lets you know when a meal is over. For example, I like to finish dinner with a cup of herbal tea, I enjoy it, and then I know eating is done for the day.
6) Think Negative
Pair unhealthy foods and those foods you crave with a stream of unappealing images. It’s the exact opposite of what advertising agencies do. For example, next time you have a craving for coke, picture in your mind the thought of a large bag of sugar. Then imagine opening up the bag and scooping 10 teaspoons worth of sugar into your mouth.
Strategies for when a craving hits!
So what can we do when that craving hits? Because they can hit anytime, anywhere and they come on fast!
1) Wait 10 minutes and distract yourself
If only ice cream will do, it’s a craving, not hunger. Cravings typically last ten minutes, recognize that and divert your mind: Call someone, listen to music, run an errand, meditate or exercise.
If after 10 minutes you still want the food, take a little and then wait another 10 minutes.
2) Drink Water
Water is not only very important for maximal fat loss and improved health, but it can also help prevent cravings. Oftentimes, our bodies can have trouble differentiating between dehydration and hunger. When all you need is a glass of water, your body can trick you into thinking you will be satisfied with some more food. When you feel a craving, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. The cravings may subside.
3) Eat something smarter
When junk food catches your eye, figure out a satisfying nutrient-rich option you can have instead. Plain Greek yogurt with some roasted peanuts and a drizzle of honey is a healthy alternative to a Drumstick cone from the ice cream truck. Air blown popcorn topped with some spices is a great alternative to chips and still give you that crunch you are craving.
4) Brush your teeth
Brush your teeth; gargle with mouthwash. When you have a fresh, clean mouth, you often don’t want to mess it up, plus it makes the food taste different – so you won’t get the same satisfaction from it.
5) Chew Gum
Cravings can rear their ugly head when you are experiencing a stressful situation, or even lack of sleep. Grabbing a piece of gum can help stave off that craving for pastries, chocolate, or whatever the vice.
6) Take a power nap.
Cravings sneak up when we’re tired. Focus on the fatigue: Shut the door, close your eyes, re-energize.
7) Have some good with the bad
And if you have to indulge and NEED chips but you're watching your weight, portion out a handful of them with a healthy salsa and some vegetables. You'll end up eating fewer chips but still feel full, and satisfied
What if I Over indulged!
Lets face it, even with all the good intentions in the world and all strategies in place there are times when we all over indulge! So if this happens:
Don't beat yourself up
Too often we think, I'm a terrible person for eating that. Or we say, Oh well, I already had the chips; I might as well eat the ice cream, too. Associating food with guilt or negative emotions can cause a snowball effect. Tell yourself, I enjoyed my treat, and now I'm done.
Stop the second meal effect
The day after a big splurge, make sure you eat high fiber meals, at least 8-10 gms with breakfast, in the afternoon and again after dinner. This will help counter your increased hunger by putting a layer of slow-to-digest fiber in your stomach. It's easier to resist cravings when you feel full.
If this article helped, please share it with your friends and let it help them too!
Take care, because you deserve it! Katrina