Dealing With Cravings
Understanding and Overcoming Food Cravings: A Practical Guide
Cravings are usually different from hunger.
You aren’t actually hungry, you just crave sugary, salty and fatty foods and can’t stop eating them. The reason we develop cravings is that these foods trigger pleasure in the brain. Each time we eat these foods, we are conditioning our brain to want more and this is how cravings work. The food manufacturers are also very clever. They know the exact combination of food that can make us want their products and be unable to resist. They call it the ‘bliss point’.
The first step in your quest to beat cravings is to work out if it is genuine hunger or a craving. Are you hungry in your stomach, which is a physical signal and can probably be satisfied by a boiled egg, or is it more a signal from your brain and only the food that are craving will do and is therefore a mental craving?
What to do:
Next time you are craving an unhealthy food run through the first step and work out if it is hunger or a craving. Then you need to take action. If it’s hunger, then have a boiled egg or some hummus and carrot sticks, and then have a look at the meal before and work out where you went wrong for next time. We can also mistake hunger for thirst as they are very similar signals and so make sure that you are not thirsty. Always have a glass of water first to make sure that this isn’t the problem.
What can you do instead of giving into that craving? I like to move my body and change the scenery. Going for a walk, doing a stretch or yoga class. Anything to take my mind off the craving. Sitting on the sofa with the TV is probably the worst thing I can do as this is not a good enough distraction. Cravings tend to last no more than 10 minutes, which means that you should be able to find something to do to resist the urge. You could also try doing something that engages both your hands and brain – a puzzle, washing or tidying up or writing a plan for the week ahead. You could also take a bath, phone a friend or apply hand cream or nail polish so that you can’t access the food.
You also need to look at your environment and work out where your tigger points are. Have a think about the time of day that you tend to crave food. Is it in the evening when you are tired or is it after a meal as you have always had something sweet to finish your meal? If it’s usually after a meal, then having a small bowl of yoghurt with some berries and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon can help. This contains protein, fat and fibre which will all help to balance your blood sugars and fill you up. The cinnamon is great for cravings. It helps to regulate blood sugar control so that you have fewer cravings in the first place. You can also use it to sweeten foods instead of sugar. You can buy cinnamon tea which is useful to have to hand when cravings strike. Brushing your teeth after a meal or having a sweet herbal tea such as peppermint or fennel can also help.
To reduce temptation further you also need to remove food that you crave or tend to overeat from the house. I hear lots of people say they buy it for their children or partner and that’s why it’s in the house in the first place. If this is the case, then in order for you to succeed in breaking those cravings you need a sit down with the family and speak to them. Can they support you and not eat these snacks in front of you? If they must buy them, can they hide them and not tell you where they are. Keeping them in the car or garage in a locked box might help. This will probably improve their health as well so don’t feel bad or guilty that you are making them reduce their snack habit. Also make sure that you don’t shop for food when hungry! The supermarkets know exactly where to place food to tempt you and they deliberately waft smells around the store that are difficult to resist if you are hungry. Ideally shop online if you find it difficult to resist.
Stress can be a big trigger for cravings and if you are using food to calm your stress then you need to recognise this and find other ways to manage stress. There is no right or wrong way to manage stress – but eating won’t make the stress any better. Good options for stress management are practising some yoga or deep breathing exercises. Tammy has some lovely sequences on the website to help. Other ways to help with stress are listening to some music, going for a walk, taking a bath, reading a book or phoning a friend.
Lack of sleep can be a huge barrier to beating those cravings. Lack of sleep can increase a hormone called ghrelin, which tells your body when to eat and it suppresses leptin a hormone that tells you that you are full. Also feeling tired will make you more prone to making poor food choices and reaching for tea or coffee to prop you up throughout the day. I have found that a lot of people have really suffered with poor sleep this last year with the stress and anxiety. There are a few things that can help with sleep, the most important I think is turning off your phone or screens at least 90 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light they emit mess with our circadian rhythm and can really affect our sleep. You can also calm your mind before bed by journaling or planning the next day. Mediation or deep breathing can also calm the mind. I like to drink a cup of ‘bedtime’ herbal tea to help me nod off.
Don’t feel guilty. We all have moments of weakness and give in to cravings. You need to be able to forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let one weak moment define a day. Or one bad choice mean that you go on a devour the whole cupboard. Feeling guilty will actually make you feel worse so if you do decide to eat something that’s not on plan take control and decide when to eat it – and enjoy it. Eat it slowly and mindfully and enjoy every mouthful. If you are eating it quickly so it disappears quickly then recognise this feeling and forgive yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t need to eat the whole packet to make it go away. This won’t help you. Enjoy one and then put the others away for another day.
Avoid these mistakes:
Don’t skip breakfast. If we skip breakfast this can affect our blood sugar levels and leave us unable to resist the snack. Aim to eat within 90 minutes of waking and make sure your breakfast contains a mix of protein, fat and fibre. All the recipes on the website do.
Choose the right carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread, cereal, white rice and highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and muffins will spike your blood sugars and leave you literally hungry for more. Choose wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa or wholemeal wraps or root vegetables such as squash or sweet potato.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. I have written a post on these already. They deliver a sweet taste to the brain without delivering any energy which confuses the brain which pumps out insulin (the fat storage hormone). This creates an even stronger message of hunger and desire for sweets which can lead to even more sugar cravings.
Too much caffeine. Caffeine affects your body’s ability to process sugar and so can lead to more cravings. Ideally limit to 1-2 cups before midday.
Staying on course:
Have nourishing food in the fridge and cupboards. If you have good food available, you are more likely to make a healthy choice which will keep cravings away.
Meal plan. Use the template on the website to help you plan your meals for the week.
Be kind to yourself. This is not a linear journey and we aren’t all perfect all the time.
Get support. Have a friend you can call when things are tough, use the Facebook group to ask for help. You are not alone and there will be others feeling the same way as you so do ask for help.
The best way to manage your cravings is on a day-to-day basis. Keep it simple and keep your blood sugar stable with the GreggWallace.Health meals. If you are used to a high sugar diet, it can take a while for your blood sugars to stabilise and for the cravings to ease. It does get easier over time.
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Author: Katherine Bright MBANT, CNHC