Cravings can sometimes overpower you and compel you to consume sumptuous food that is not always healthy - but let's face it, they are a reality of life and not going to go away!
Cravings… what are they?
A craving is a powerful desire for something. A food craving, also known as ‘selective hunger’ is an intense desire to consume a specific food and is often different to what we deem as normal hunger. I’m going to try and cover what causes your cravings for specific things and what you can do to try and combat them…
The desire for a specific food may seem uncontrollable for some, and that person’s hunger may not be satisfied until they eat that particular thing. Every person will experience cravings differently and for different things, but often they are for foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt and generally the things people try to avoid when they want to lose weight or eat healthy.
What causes them?
Your body, brain and hormones!
First of all, if you ban a food from your diet, you are going to crave it. Natural human instinct is to want something we are told we can’t have or shouldn’t do. How many times has a plate been sat down to you in a restaurant and the waiter/waitress has said not to touch it as it is hot… what’s the first thing you do – you touch it to see!!
Same kind of concept applies with food, if I told you not to eat a chocolate digestive again, naturally you are going to start craving that food as you have been told not to eat it.
Food cravings are caused by the regions in the brain responsible for memory, pleasure and reward. Our brains evolved to respond to food whenever the opportunity was available, especially when the foods were very palatable. Now, with food around us all the time, the brain naturally responds to these cues. When you eat something you love, the reward system in the brain triggers feelings of pleasure, it remembers this and makes you want to repeat it in the future.
An imbalance in hormone levels are another cause for cravings. Just think of a pregnant woman and the cravings they come out with. This is all related back to a change in their normal hormone levels that make them crave foods, sometimes unusual ones at that! It is a natural response of the body.
So, cravings are something that we all have, unfortunately they are there, and we need to look at ways to deal with them, as let’s face it, we can’t just ignore them.
How to beat cravings?
I can’t take your cravings away, nor can I make you crave lettuce and spinach instead of chocolate and cakes. I can however suggest some ways to help reduce them a little bit for you, hopefully allowing you to put up a challenge against them.
- Don’t ignore them. If you really crave a food, the only sure-fire way to get rid of that craving is to eat it. I would never suggest to someone to stop eating the foods they like completely, as it will never work. They end up craving it more and more everyday and when they eventually give in they eat up to 5 times more of it than they would have if they had just had some when they craved it in the first place.
So that’s rule number 1 – DON’T CUT THINGS OUT OF YOUR DIET COMPLETELY!
2. Drink plenty of water. Thirst can often be confused with hunger or food cravings. If you feel thirsty your body is already in an early stage of dehydration. You want to do this consistently throughout the day, every day.
So, rule number 2 – DRINK PLENTY OF WATER CONSISTENTLY. If you have a sudden urge for a specific food try drinking a large glass of water first and waiting to see if the body was just thirsty.
3. Consume more protein in your diet. Protein helps you feel fuller and satisfied for longer. So, meals that have a higher protein content can stem of cravings that can usually kick off not long after you have eaten. Studies have shown that an increase in protein in diets can reduce cravings by up to 50%.
So, rule 3 – EAT MORE PROTEIN IN YOUR DIET.
4. Avoid letting yourself get extremely hungry. We have all done it, you go to the supermarket when you are hungry, and you end up leaving with food items that are higher in fat, sugar and salt than if you had gone in not feeling hungry. Supermarkets give you easy access to pretty much any foods and make it easy for you to pick things up when you wouldn’t normally. Also, don’t let them fool you, supermarkets often place the unhealthiest foods at eye level to increase sales. Hunger can be one of the biggest reasons we experience cravings. Eat regularly throughout the day (with lots of protein and water as per rules 2 & 3!!), avoid long periods of hunger and those cravings might not even appear at times.
Rule 4 – DON’T GET TOO HUNGRY.
5. Don’t buy it. Keep your worst craved food items at a distance. If it isn’t in the house – you can’t eat it. Even if you put something in a tin, at the back of the tallest cupboard, it is still there and accessible. If you haven’t bought it in the first place you simply can’t eat it.
Rule 5 – DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM THE CRAVING. (if it is in the house for other people try and shift your mind onto something else when you crave something – going for a walk, doing housework etc. A change in thought and environment may help stop the craving.
6. Look at alternatives. Can you consume an alternative food that will help with the cravings but be lower in calories and fat/sugar? For example, if you crave chocolate digestives… would a non-cholate digestive stem the craving? If you crave a jam filled doughnut… would a ring doughnut stem the craving? I’m not suggesting eating a Ryvita if you are wanting a mars bar as the difference between these foods is too extreme. But can you select an alternative that is lower in calories that will still give you the ‘pleasure’ of eating it?
Rule 6 – FIND AN ALTERNATIVE THAT’S LOWER IN CALORIES, FAT AND SUGAR.
So, there you have it – my top 6 tips to try and stave off cravings. They will always be there, you can’t magically make them disappear, and I can’t do that for you, but hopefully looking at the above and making some changes will help you keep them at bay and control them a bit more.