Is it possible to walk past a bakery without a craving? Even as a confirmed doughnut addict, I’ve done it. You can too.
We’ve all had food cravings. They can really be murder when you’re on a diet. Dieting would be so much easier if the cravings were gone, wouldn’t it? Luckily, if we understand the causes of those cravings, we can do a lot to tame them.
I’ve found that cravings have three main causes.
Physical cravings – nutrient lack and blood sugar cycles
When the body doesn’t get what it needs, it triggers cravings. If a person continues to eat empty calories, the cravings will increase because it’s still not getting what it needs. This can develop into a vicious cycle and is really no fun to go through.
Also, if you eat a lot starches with no protein, your blood sugar will spike – then it will fall off rapidly, triggering more hunger.
Some foods also cause cravings by being too processed or having things in them that cause hunger signals in the body. Some people feel this effect from sugar free sweeteners, for instance.
Mental Cravings – Psychological addiction
A person can get used to eating certain things and really miss them when they are gone. That’s normal enough, but sometimes we can feel like our day isn’t complete without a certain food or drink. This can become a real problem if the food or drink is high calorie or bad for us. Think of the daily soda, the daily coffee with extra cream and sugar, the daily doughnut.
Emotional Cravings – self sabotage and emotional pitfalls
Sometimes we overeat because we are stressed. When we are depressed, we crave carbohydrates because they can affect our neurotransmitters and make us feel better. Sometimes we also fear success or don’t think we deserve to change ourselves for the better. This leads to self sabotage.
Do any of these phrases feel familiar? “I’ve earned this.” “I deserve this.” “One won’t hurt.” “One more won’t hurt.” “I’ve blown my diet for today anyway so I might as well have as much as I want.”
Knowing how cravings work, what can we do about them?
Fixes for Physical cravings:
Watch the types of things you eat. I’ve found that if I limit my starches in the morning and avoid sugar at the same time that I eat more protein, my day goes better and I don’t start the blood sugar spike/crash cycle. I don’t get hungry as often and I stay full longer.
Generally speaking, if you eat more protein than carbs, limit your starches, eat a variety of vegetables and legumes, get healthy fats, and avoid processed food, you will have fewer cravings. If your body is getting what it needs, it will have less reason to make you hungry at odd times.
Fixes for Mental cravings:
Fight habits with habits. Use the food craving as a reminder to have something else that’s similar, but better for you. You can help this along by making sure your healthier alternatives are made ahead and ready to grab, so it’s actually more work to get the bad stuff.
Replace your behaviors. Use short bursts of physical activity to give yoruself something to do. Maybe ten wall pushups and a glass of water, or a short walk, or a few jumping jacks in front of the TV. Distract yourself.
Don’t give up. If you slide, get back on plan as soon as possible. Chew gum to keep your mouth busy. Drink more water or tea. Don’t give up.
Fixes for Emotional cravings:
Look for the root cause of why you eat. If you eat because you are lonely, think about getting out more, volunteering, being more affectionate with your family. Journal to help clarify your thoughts. Be mindful of your emotions, watch what they do, and figure out if it’s food you really want, or if it’s something else.
When you do eat, do that mindfully too. Really experience the meal and enjoy it. Studies show that people who do that are more satisfied and eat less.
Meditation, hot baths, journaling and walking are all great ways to beat stress, and beat cravings along with them. Caring for a pet can help too.
Finally, work on your self talk. Practice positive thinking. That can include looking for solutions to problems instead of complaining, or stating things in a positive way instead of focusing on the absence of something. If you slip up and think negatively, redirect, forgive yourself, and move on.
Instead of “I need to lose weight,” you can say “I am gaining health.” Instead of “I’m a loser,” you can say “I’m becoming a winner.” Treat yourself like you would a valued friend.
Putting it all together
By understanding ourselves and our needs, setting small manageable goals and not giving up, success is nearly guaranteed. If you have a temporary setback, start again. You can always start again.
You can be successful in beating your cravings.