Wouldn’t life be simpler if, instead of cravings for cakes and chocolate, your body cried out for green vegetables and salad?
Sadly, unless you’re Bugs Bunny, that’s never going to happen.
The good news is that there are ways to control your cravings so they don’t lead to unhealthy eating habits and an expanding waistline!
Prevention is better than cure
At 10am it’s chocolate time, by noon you’re craving KFC, at 3pm you can’t live without that Coke, and by 9pm you’re spoon-deep in a tub of ice cream. Sound familiar? If you feel like you’re constantly craving one food or another, it’s likely that you’re simply not eating properly.
Firstly, you may just be hungry. Do you eat enough calories from protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates? Do you eat fairly regularly?
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to crave high-calorie, high-fat foods. Cravings are also often related to dips in blood sugar levels, which occur when you don’t eat regularly enough, or don’t eat nutritious, balanced foods. In fact, sugary or fatty foods can cause dips in blood sugar – as can prolonged periods of hunger – making you more likely to reach for more sugar! It’s a vicious cycle.
Eating regular, well-balanced meals, with plenty of lean protein (eggs, fish, lean meat, legumes, leafy greens) will ensure your blood sugar levels are stable, and you’re getting the calories your body requires throughout the day to support energy levels. This can make a huge difference to getting your cravings under control.
Smart snacking on fruit, nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower seeds etc.) chopped vegetables, high protein yoghurt or low-fat cheese can also help you prevent the dreaded mid-afternoon energy slump (which often occurs due to dips in blood sugar levels, once again!) and the cravings that accompany it.
Also, keep in mind that a lack of certain nutrients can lead to cravings. For example, inadequate protein intake may cause you to crave ice cream, and a lack of carbohydrates may cause you to crave fries. The same goes for micronutrients – chocolate contains zinc and magnesium, so your afternoon Mars bar may simply be satisfying a physiological need for magnesium-containing foods such as broccoli!
No “no-no” foods
When people want to lose weight or change their eating habits, they often deem certain foods “forbidden”. This may seem strong-willed and smart, but in reality it guarantees your cravings for these “forbidden” foods to intensify. Deciding “I’m never going to eat any chocolate again” is a guaranteed way to ensure you’ll end up craving it constantly until you succumb to your desires. It’s better to enjoy the occasional, planned treat than to deny yourself a food altogether.
Restricting a certain food group, such as carbohydrates, also effectively guarantees a craving for those foods. For example, if you eliminate bread from your diet for an extended period of time, it’s bread that you’re most likely to crave.
Staying interested in what you’re eating is key to preventing cravings. A monotonous, boring diet in which you only eat certain foods will inevitably lead to cravings. The key is this: everything in moderation!
A little satisfaction
If you can’t prevent it, often the best way to beat a craving is actually to satisfy it – within reason.
The problem with many cravings is that they get out of control when you don’t satisfy them initially. Ever found yourself craving chocolate but determined to resist, so you eat everything you can find in the fridge, only to feel completely unsatisfied, until you end up eating the chocolate bar eventually, on top of everything else?
For that reason, it’s best not to eat “around” the food you are craving. If you really feel like having that piece of chocolate, do it. Don’t try to substitute it with a range of other foods if you know you’ll end up eating the chocolate anyway.
If you obsessively avoid the food you’re craving, you’re also far more likely to binge on it when you do give into the cravings than you would if you’d eaten just a small amount when you first began craving it. But be warned, this advice can be dangerous if you ignore the “little” part. If you know you can’t stop after a little, it’s best not to start at all.
If you are facing a craving that a small portion won’t fix, try putting the Four Ds into practice. This is a system used in smoking cessation programs to help smokers relieve their need for a cigarette, even when they’re desperate.
- Delay for a few minutes, and the urge will pass
- Drink some water
- Deep breathe
- Do something else to take your mind off eating
Seeking solace in a hamburger?
Cravings are not just physiological – emotions can also play a huge part in why you crave the foods you do.
It’s easy to associate certain foods with specific times or places that make you feel soothed or comforted. These associations can be directly related to your cravings. For example, if you’re tired or ill, you may crave chicken soup like your Mum used to make. If you’re lonely, you might crave ice cream because that’s what your parents gave you to cheer you up when you were a child. In times like these, it’s important to focus on the nurturing that your body really needs. For instance, do you need a break? More rest? More nutrients?
There is a very fine line between a craving, and what may be an episode of emotional eating. Next time you experience a craving, ask yourself if it has any emotional motivation.
It might be hard to admit to yourself that you’re reaching for food to help make you feel better, and even harder to face the stress and emotions that have led you to seek comfort from food in the first place. But if you can establish a connection between a craving and an emotional need, you can learn to satisfy the emotional need, instead of numbing it with food. This will be much more effective in making you feel better too, than eating a block of chocolate and feeling guilt and regret for it later on.
Before you go craving mad…
Everybody experiences cravings now and then, whether for physical, emotional or other reasons. It’s nothing to stress about and nothing to feel guilty over. The most important thing to remember is to not let your cravings get out of control – learn to recognise what’s triggering your cravings at a physical and emotional level, and try to prevent the craving if you can. If you can’t prevent it, remember that sometimes satisfying your cravings a little, before you go craving mad, is the best way to respond.