It is 2 a.m., you’re still wide awake, and the only thing on your mind is chocolate. Will you stay strong or will you succumb to your sweet tooth’s calling?
Food cravings are every weightwatcher’s worst nightmare, and they can shatter dieting success in the blink of a sleepless eye. Cravings for unhealthy food can occur even if you’re not on a weight-loss diet, but the fact that you can have your cookie and eat it too doesn’t mean you should organize a fridge raid under the cloak of night just because your brain says it would be a great idea at the moment. So, what exactly are food cravings, why do they occur, and how can they be avoided?
Cravings vs. Hunger: Do You Want Fries with That?
The first step in the quest for overcoming food cravings is knowing the enemy, i.e. being able to tell apart actual hunger and a mistaken sense of it. Here’s the deal: hunger is your body’s need for non-specific fuel which occurs at regular intervals during the day, whereas cravings usually pop up unexpectedly, are in most cases are extremely intense, and involve a belly-deep hankering for a specific type of food.
In essence, it’s the classic tale of needs vs. wants: in case of hunger, your batteries are running low, but with cravings, your organism isn’t exactly in dire need of a dietary top-up: it just needs a quick fix to patch up focus, dopamine, or serotonin dips.
Unfortunately, that old trickster, your brain, isn’t the only piece of the cravings puzzle: other factors play a role in food desires, too, such as hormones, emotions, stress, and even substance abuse. With those guys in play, fighting off cravings can get pretty tough, so it may be a good idea to have a few anti-cravings strategies up your sleeve.
If You Can’t Fight Cravings – Nip Them in the Bud
Limiting your daily caloric intake seems like a rational way to curb cravings, right? Nope: telling yourself that you can’t have that triple-glazed donut is exactly the opposite of fighting cravings. Instead of making a list of foods you mustn’t eat, try one of the following tricks.
Stock Your Plate with Healthy Bites
Eating wholesome meals at regular intervals throughout the day is the safest and easiest way to prevent hunger – and food cravings, too. By structuring your diet around healthy foods rich in protein, complex carbs, healthy fat, and critical micronutrients, you’ll keep your belly full, which will make it easier to distinguish between appetite spikes caused by psychological factors from your organism’s physical needs.
Wait for It… And Check Yourself
In case you’re having problems telling hunger and cravings apart, you should simply wait half an hour before you reach for the cookie jar. In case your belly’s still rumbling, it’s time to take a meal – but if all you feel like eating at that point is a specific type of food, you’re experiencing a craving. You can also try swapping unhealthy treats for their less fattening counterparts: for instance, homemade low-fat frozen yoghurt with fresh fruit will make an excellent alternative to ready-made ice cream with a ton of sugar in it.
Out of Sight, Mind, and Waistline
Cravings can also catch you off-guard due to sheer exposure to your favorite unhealthy food. The smell of chocolate, pizza, or French fries will awaken your inner foodie, and if you’re not armed with steel-strong dietary discipline, you’ll be at risk of succumbing to the craving by default. This is where the old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” can come in useful: by avoiding contact with tempting staples, you’ll be less likely to fall prey to cravings. The takeaway? Don’t buy unhealthy foods; prevention is more efficient than inner battles against nasty chocolate hankerings.
Ommm through Craving Attacks
You probably know that meditation has a range of health benefits, but did you know it can help deal with cravings, too? It’s true: a 2011 study has found that mindfulness meditation holds the potential to reduce the intensity of food cravings and prevent emotional eating which usually results in weight problems. Instead of cleansing your fridge of unhealthy foods when your mood takes a nosedive, try cleansing your mind of clutter before it’s too late. Whoever said that a few Ommms a day can’t keep weight gain at bay?
Work Cravings Out of Your System
When food cravings hit home hard, the tough hit the gym, not the pantry. Engaging in physical activity regularly isn’t just healthy for your body: it’s also an excellent mental detox method that will keep your attention locked to rep counting and distract you from intrusive thoughts starring all that mouth-watering junk food. For bonus points, you can also try using a smart body tracker app that will provide accurate feedback on training progress and motivate you to stay on the healthy track even when all you want to do is retire to your food cupboard for a silent munching spree.
Staying true to your healthy eating agenda isn’t always smooth sailing: food cravings know when and where to find you, and they will come looking. When yearnings for unhealthy snacks come knocking on your door, you shouldn’t be too quick to open it: you’ll be letting in more than just a quick mood fix. Every Oreo package can be a Pandora’s box if dietary discipline isn’t your biggest asset, so pick your poison carefully – or better still, don’t pick it up at all.