Top 6 Ways to Overcome Food Cravings

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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.

Is Stress Making You Gain Weight?

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The more research is conducted on stress, the more we’re realising just how bad it is for our health.  Heart disease, digestive issues, poor mental health and so much more has been linked to living a high-stress lifestyle.  But if you’re not suffering from any of those problems, it can be really easy to ignore the effect that stress is having on you.  What you may not have considered is the impact your stress level is having on your weight.

Unfortunately for our waistlines, our physical stress response as humans is a little bit outdated – it hasn’t exactly caught up to our current lifestyles.  Today, our stress mostly comes from balancing and juggling the myriad of things going on in our life at any one time – work deadlines, family responsibilities, finding time to prepare nutritious food and exercise regularly, all whilst maintaining a healthy social life and looking after our finances and spending quality time with our partner… it’s a lot, and it’s fairly constant!  For our ancestors, stress was usually a threat of some kind, like being chased by a bear or struggling through a drought and not knowing when your next meal would be.  Short and quick bursts of stress in response to stressful situations – after which their bodies could recoup and recover from said stressor.

But in today/s world?  Rest is rare.  Our stress is ongoing, it’s always there, it’s chronic stress.  And how the heck does this all relate to weight loss, I hear you ask!  I’m going to explain it the simplest way I can – ignore the big words, they’re not important anyway.

When you are faced with stress, your body prepares for fight or flight.  You probably remember this term from your year 10 biology class.  What this means is that your body is gearing up to either fight the stressor (e.g. fight the bear that’s chasing you) or flight from the stressor (e.g. run away from the bear that’s chasing you.. a much smarter choice in my opinion, if it truly is a bear that you’re facing!).  Whether you are going to fight or flight, your body needs energy to do so.

So, your body will start to free up any stored glycogen (the storage form of glucose, from carbs and sugar) and convert it back into glucose, transport it to your muscles and around your body so that you have this quick hit of energy, from glucose (sugar), when you’re ready to face your stressor.  In the bear scenario, you would use up all that glucose as energy when you’re running away from the bear – that’s what your stress response is there for!  But what happens when the stress you’re facing is actually a work deadline and you’re sitting at your computer using little energy apart from your fingers frantically typing away at the keyboard?  Well, your body is still going to prepare for a fight or flight response.  And the glycogen and glucose is still going to be released.  And then when you don’t actually use up that energy, the glucose molecules can be turned into triglycerides (fats) and stored as body fat.  Are you starting to understand how stress can cause weight gain?

Stress = glucose released from liver + lack of energy output = glucose converted into fat = increased body fat

So how do you reduce the impact that stress has on your weight?  Well that’s a whole separate blog post.  But for now, try to become aware of the impact that stress is having on you and your health, including your weight, and try to find a middle ground between ‘busy’ and rest.