What are Food Cravings?
All of us have been there. One minute you are going about your daily business and the next, you find yourself helplessly looking into the fridge or going through the pantry to find something to put into your mouth.
What has really happened here is that you were overwhelmed by a food craving! Food cravings have known to be irresistible urges for certain types of foods and will only be satisfied when you had your fill of that particular food.
Why do People Crave Food?
Research has often associated food cravings with emotional cues and mind games. Typically someone may be faced with a food craving when they are either stressed out and are looking for what is known as comfort food. Comfort foods often get recorded in memory as a solution to an unpleasant problem, situation or emotion.
Or perhaps you have started dieting and have restricted yourself too much from one particular food group, let’s say carbs, for example. This practice will only put your body in craving mode because you have enforced some self-imposed food rules on yourself which would not have been there otherwise. As a result such restrained eaters end up experiencing more cravings and are more prone to overeating forbidden foods when offered the chance. The truth of the matter is that making certain foods off limits will often lead to obsessing and bingeing.
Recognize Emotional Eating
Now that we have an idea that we do not always eat to satisfy hunger, but also turn to food for comfort, stress relief and reward; reactions that are dictated by emotions, it is time to recognize emotional eating.
However, emotional eating does not fix the problem, but only makes you feel guilty for overeating and the original problem still remains an issue. Moreover, emotional eating can easily sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Know that emotional hunger is a powerful sensation but is different from physical hunger. For instance, while physical hunger comes on gradually, emotional hunger triggers on suddenly. It can often hit you as an overwhelming and urgent feeling of hunger that demands to be satiated instantly.
In addition, emotional hunger will leave you craving specific comfort foods whereas in the case of physical hunger, you are more willing to eat any kind of food including healthy options like vegetables. But you will never find yourself wanting to eat vegetables when faced with a food craving.
And despite having your preferred foods with the onset of a craving, you will keep wanting more and more until you are uncomfortably stuffed.
Finally, while physical hunger is easily identifiable by a growl or discomfort in your belly, emotional hunger is not located in your stomach. Rather, it is based in your head, from where it refuses to leave until satisfied. You can’t seem to get it out of your head and its primary focus will be on certain tastes, smells and textures instead of the quality of food.
With emotional eating the results are as disastrous as its effects since it leads to feelings of regret, guilt or shame. You know that you have not eaten for nutritional reasons and these feelings make you feel bad about yourself.
How to Stop Cravings?
Now that you know a little about the triggers of cravings, you can start looking at some ways in which to regulate these food urges. Perhaps the most important among these is to identify the cause of your craving that is whether you are actually hungry or simply looking for comfort food.
To avoid eating unintentionally, you need some effective strategies that will help you control cravings.
Here are some quick tips to get you started.
Before eating at an irregular time or out of your daily routine, you need to question yourself whether you are really hungry. Oftentimes, people will neglect to determine their level of hunger before they start eating and so the unpleasant bingeing start. Instead take a minute to identify whether there is any actual hunger as this is the first step to not giving in to cravings.
Look for a Distraction
One way to divert attention away from food is to find an alternative thought. However, for the right distraction to work, it is important to find the right channel to redirect your focus. This means that you will probably need to identify the current state of your emotions, whether you are feeling bored, anxious, mad or depressed and then find an activity which will release that emotion.
For instance, if you are stressed then engaging into a workout may help, or if you are upset, then calling a friend and sharing your thoughts with them may help you feel better. Feelings of boredom may be warded off by reading a good book or watching an interesting movie instead of turning to food.
Shifting focus to an activity that is visual and not food related can really work well. For some people something as simple as chewing sugar free gum may even do the trick as the sensation of having something in their mouth may curb their wish to have food instead. As it turns out, sometimes cravings may kick in because what we experience is thirst rather than hunger.
Wait it Out
This one is closely related to the previous point and takes a lot of will power but is still doable. Waiting out a food craving once again means distracting your mind to something else, so that the initial urge to eat will gradually subside. Typically, cravings last about 20 minutes and if you manage to wait it out, you will not crave anymore.
A simple suggestion is take a drink of water, coconut water or some warm herbal tea instead, or walk around the block before you decide to nibble on something, as these actions separate you from the craving. This separation gives you time to consider the healthy diet that you are trying to maintain and reflect on how eating this food may divert you from your plan. While it may seem the most difficult way to stop cravings, waiting out food urges is also the best way of beating them altogether.
Cut Yourself a Break
This tip involves enjoying food in controlled portions. If you are a big fan of pizza, then have some pizza; only eat one slice of pizza instead of your regular three or four slices.
Remember that cravings will also set in if there is too long a break between meals. This can result in setting you up to choose sugary, salty and fatty foods that cut hunger faster over others that satiate nutritionally. It is important to eat nutritionally dense foods regularly to prevent irrational eating behavior.
Improve your Gut Health
Another approach to controlling cravings is maintaining good gut health. Here, serotonin which is a type of chemical that is responsible for a number of bodily functions including mood, appetite and digestion comes into play. When serotonin levels are low in the body, you are likely to experience more cravings. The reason is that higher serotonin levels cause us to feel good and boost our mood. However, when the same levels drop, we feel as if comfort foods can fix the problem.
Since serotonin levels can be determined by many different factors, including the state of your gut health, it is important to maintain proper gut health. A healthy gut helps absorb nutrients from the food and release the right amount of serotonin into the blood stream.
Good gut health can be achieved by maintaining balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Some foods that can help you achieve this include probiotics such as those found in yogurt and other fermented foods.
Daily Physical Activity
One very effective solution is making daily exercise a priority. Along with being a powerful stress reducer, physical activity can do wonders for your mood and improve your energy levels. It has also been researched that exercise is a great way to deal with food temptation. Since many of the cues of food cravings are emotional, exercise can counter those and strengthen the brain’s power of thinking ahead and controlling inhibitions, making it easier to say no to otherwise delightfully tempting bad foods.
While physical activity is one way to go, relaxation is another. Making time for relaxation in your day will give you time to loosen up and unwind and regulate your heightened emotions.
Meditation is one of the most effective techniques for relaxation. The practice not only gives you a chance to wind down physically but also disciplines your mind to control any emotional confusion leading to food cravings. With regular meditation you can become more aware and also better prepared to control food cravings related to emotional eating.
Remember that both exercise and meditation are activities that spend time engaging the body and the mind, therefore keeping you occupied. With something purposeful to do in your time you are less likely to be thinking about food or giving in to your cravings.
Dealing with Sugar and Salt Cravings
Eating lots of sugar, or simple carbs without the backup of fats and proteins can quickly satisfy hunger and give the body a boost but then just as quickly leave you famished again craving for more. Plus sweets taste good. But the problem comes when we don’t simply indulge in occasional sweet treats but start to over consume.
Some ways to cut your sugar cravings can include the following:
Give in a Little
For instance when you crave something sweet, go for a smaller portion or a fun size candy bar instead of a full portion. Indulging in a little bit of what you love will prevent you from feeling denied or deprived of sweets.
Try to Combine Foods
Say when a sugar craving sets in, satisfy your sweet tooth by combining a sweet treat with some healthy foods such as mixing some almonds and goji berries with chocolate chips and satisfying your craving while also getting some nutritional value from the goodness of almonds and goji berries.
Go Cold Turkey
Cutting out all sugar at once can work for some people, but not everyone. However, those who do manage it, report that the first 48-72 hours are the toughest and then cravings diminish after a few days. Others have reported being able to train their taste buds and be satisfied with less.
Try Some Gum
Another way to combat sugar cravings is to use gum as some research shows that chewing gum helps reduce food cravings.
Opt for Fruit
Fruit contains sugar naturally and makes for a better option than refined sugar in candy and junk foods. Keeping fruit handy when sugar cravings hit is not only an effective way of managing the cravings but also getting nutrients and fiber along with the sweetness.
Once again killing cravings involve training the taste buds. In the case of salt cravings, the steps are once again very similar to those mentioned earlier with tips like cutting out salt gradually from your meals on one hand and going cold turkey on the other.
Our modern day diet is seriously overdosing on salt almost close to double the recommended amount. And it isn’t even the flaky stuff that we shake onto our food but the salt that is already present in the food. This typically means eating foods that are processed and packaged which load up on salt not only for flavor but also for texture and color.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Whether your cravings center on sweet or salty foods, a good rule of the thumb is to avoid trigger foods for 21 days. As mentioned previously, your taste buds can be trained, so breaking a food craving means avoiding those foods for a specific period of time. Instead look for healthy alternatives, both in the sweet and salty range that can satisfy your taste buds, but without the negative effects linked with junk food consumption.
Some better alternatives to the usual comfort foods can include snacking on mixed raw nuts, fresh berries, hummus, avocado or having a cup of herbal tea.
Or, take a look at these foods that can help stop cravings from setting in.
Some Foods that Control Appetite
As mentioned earlier, the trick is to stay full to stop cravings. This means eating regularly and frequently so that hormones which trigger hunger do not kick in. If you let yourself go hungry your cravings will be too intense to resist. Add in these wholesome foods into your diet that will suppress your appetite and help you stay full and satisfied.
Soluble fiber in apples, known as pectin is helpful in reducing the amount of calories and sugar that get absorbed into the bloodstream after a meal. This makes apples the ideal fruit to snack on with the choice of either eating one before or after a meal to keep you full longer or even in between meals to help regulate blood sugar levels. Apple pectin has the potential to keep you full for up to 1-2 hours.
Another great option to control hunger is adding bran into your diet. Bran is primarily dietary fiber and contains a number of essential fatty acids. It offers nutritional value as well as insoluble fiber content that can help keep you full longer. Bran has the capacity to absorb water and moisture in the stomach and physically expands in the stomach. This feature makes the stomach feel full and the need to eat more is reduced.
The best way to target cravings is to keep your stomach filled between meals. If you are looking to find food options without the calories then green tea is an ideal choice. There are no calories in this beverage but a number of benefits that include giving a feeling of satiation, boosting metabolism and affecting the body’s appetite regulating hormones.
Nuts and Seeds
Even though nuts and seeds are known to have a high fat content, remember that not all fats are created equal. The type of fat found in nuts and seeds increases the release of satiety hormones and others work as hunger suppressants. These foods make a great snack idea and can also be added into salads or vegetable side dishes.
Adding leafy greens into your diet is so easy since they can easily be cut into salads, added into stir-fries and included in entrees as well. In fact, add them to every meal so that you can curb your appetite by consuming their fiber content as well as benefit from the so many nutrients that they contain.
I hope this article was able to help you to understand the basic dietary and lifestyle changes that can get you out of the vicious cycle of food addictions and cravings. It is meant to help you make better eating choices which can assist in improving your overall health!