Food cravings are something many of us struggle with. Whether you crave a certain food daily, or you’ve tried dieting and given up because of food cravings, you know what it’s like to give in to your cravings.. and that’s usually followed by feelings of guilt, regret, shame, failure, the list goes on..
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to IGNORE food cravings. You don’t have to fight against them, or rely on your willpower to get through them, or distract yourself from them. You can actually reduce or even eliminate food cravings simply by understanding why you have them, and making a few small changes throughout the day so that you don’t have that 3pm sugar craving or midnight chocolate feast.
1. Eat more protein
Protein is known for many things, but few people know this: eating protein slows down your absorption of sugar, which means more balanced blood glucose levels, which means less sugar cravings. It can also help you lose weight because your insulin production is often reduced when you’re eating quality protein at every meal and snack.
Protein-rich foods include meats and seafood, beans, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, tofu and tempeh. Avoid processed meats like salami and luncheon.
2. Get more sleep, or better quality sleep
Research has shown that sleep deprivation causes increased food cravings. Part of this is because you begin to rely on food for energy, so when you’re feeling tired you’re more likely to reach for a high-sugar food to give you that short-term energy boost. The other reason sleep impacts your food choices and cravings is because it impacts your hunger and satiety hormones, so you’re less able to determine when you’re actually hungry and also when you’re full. You’ll see below why hunger can cause cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.
3. Increase your vegetable intake
Certain nutrient deficiencies have been linked to particular food cravings. You’ve probably heard that a craving for chocolate, particularly pre-menstrual, may be due to the magnesium content in cacao beans. The bad news is, processed milk chocolate from the confectionery aisle in your supermarket has little to no magnesium content, so your craving won’t actually be satisfied. There are lots of other nutrient deficiencies that can cause specific food cravings – too many to list here. I’ll do another blog post on it soon!
My advice to you is to increase your vegetable intake, and a wide variety of different vegetables in order to improve your nutritional intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
P.S. Potatoes don’t count as vegetables – sorry!
4. Don’t focus on restriction
Close your eyes, right now, and DON’T think about penguins.
It’s hard right? As soon as you’re told NOT to think about something, that’s where your mind wanders. It’s the same with diets and restriction. If you’re focusing on what you CAN’T eat, that’s what you’ll be thinking about. And I don’t know about you, but if I sat down and thought about chocolate cake for a few minutes I would probably start craving it.
Focus on the foods you want to eat, the foods that are healthy for you and provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function and thrive. Shift your attention away from deprivation and towards abundance – there are so many delicious foods you can enjoy that don’t contain refined sugars and trans fats.
And you know I hate the word CAN’T. Get it out of your vocabulary when it comes to food choices. You can eat whatever you want! You’re just choosing healthier options, and enjoying a balanced lifestyle without guilt.
5. Snack between meals
Ever felt ‘hangry’? You’re not likely to reach for a healthy snack in these instances. When your blood sugar levels drop low due to hunger, your brain will send out a strong craving for carbs – because the brain needs glucose to function, and carbs and sugar turn into glucose in the body. So cravings for foods like hot chips, muffins/cakes, lollies, bread and biscuits could be a sign that your blood sugar has dropped too low.
How do you keep your blood sugar levels stable, and avoid getting hangry? Eating regular meals and snacks that contain adequate protein can help to stabilise blood sugar.
My clients are sometimes surprised when I recommend snacking even if they’re not hungry. The reason for this is that in today’s society, so many of us have dysfunction in the production and signalling of our ‘hunger’ hormones, and we miss the hunger cues until we are absolutely starving. So eating small amounts even when you’re not hungry can be helpful in re-training your body to produce and stimulate a healthy hunger response.
5. Establish healthy ways to cope with stress
Stress is a HUGE factor in food cravings. Any kind of emotion or feeling that you are ignoring can lead to ‘comfort eating’ or ‘emotional eating’. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, meditation, relaxation practices and eating healthily will reduce the impact stress has on your body, and therefore reduce the impact of stress on your food cravings and eating habits.
Of course, avoiding the source of stress is ideal, but we can’t always control that in the short-term (i.e. a stressful month at work, or a difficult time within your relationship). Looking after your body with food and exercise, allowing yourself time to relax and being present with your emotions and feelings instead of ignoring them is a great way to reduce the impact stress has on your whole body, as well as reducing food cravings and the need for emotional comfort from food.
Most of my clients think I’m strange when I don’t ask them to give up the foods they are craving. But when we start from the very cause of the craving and correct that, then the craving is either not there at all, or it’s turned into more of a habit. And believe me, habits are a lot easier to change than full-blown, intense cravings! I’d suggest picking just one of the above that you feel applies to your food cravings most, and make a few small changes. Watch how your cravings reduce or even disappear, and you’ll begin to understand why battling with your willpower isn’t a solution for food cravings.