Cravings and something everyone struggles with from time to time. So you aren't alone in dealing with this
Cravings can be triggered by many things including sights, sounds, aromas, environment, stress, and more. A perfect example of this is a typical trip to your local mall when you walk by the pretzel stand or cinnamon roll shop – sights, sounds, aromas, AND environment – oh my! Another example common for a lot of people is stress – the stress of a deadline, stress when faced with something you dislike (taxes or balancing the checkbook. Sound familiar?). Another is boredom.
Since our appetite and our eating habits do not exist in a bubble, things that are part of our daily lives can trigger cravings.
The better we understand our cravings though, the more equipped we are to deal with them constructively. It’s not realistic to think you will NEVER have sugar, but the reality is that most people are consuming WAY too much added sugar. Sugar is in SO many of the foods we eat, and we usually aren’t even aware of it (bread, crackers, sauces, chips - you name it) and it can be quite addictive.
In this session, we’re going to look at EIGHT ways to deal with your SUGAR CRAVINGS (or other junk food habits)! You’ll also begin to understand why your cravings are not always your fault.
We are inundated every day with foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. Fast food, packaged food, and junk food are quick and easy, but we’re paying the price with our health and our waistlines. When we consume these processed, nutrient-void foods, our body knows it’s not getting what it needs, so it craves more…. more nutrients…but many times, we are just giving our body more food…empty calories, lacking in nutrients.
The average American consumes about 150 lbs. of sugar per year. That’s 12.5 lbs. a month or almost 3 lbs. a week. Yikes! It’s hard to imagine it’s that much! And, you may be thinking, you’re not average because you really don’t eat that many sweets. Most of the sugar we consume is hidden in processed and fast foods, cereals, snacks, white flour products - it’s even in salad dressings, sauces, and beverages. Even products labeled “healthy” are often loaded with sugars. Sugar makes us feel happy, energetic and it can even make us feel calm sometimes.
Here are 60 names sugar goes by
Sugar releases brain chemicals that make us feel good emotionally – temporarily. Following the initial rush of flavor, excitement, and comfort, comes the crash! And, just when you were feeling “up,” you are likely to feel worse than you did before you had that sugar, so you want and need even more. It can be a hard cycle to break.
Here’s why your cravings are partially not your fault. Did you know that food companies hire food scientists to create foods with tastes and textures that are hard to resist? It’s their job to find that perfect ‘pleasure point’ of the food being “manufactured.” They know there are certain substances that people will want more of. Yes, there’s a science to it!
Like sugar, MSG is highly addictive, and therefore some of our food cravings are not our fault. This isn’t to say that we don’t have control over what we eat because we do. We make our own choices. But it helps to understand why some of our choices may not be so healthy. When food or food-like substances are PURPOSELY DESIGNED to create addiction, we need to remember that it’s in the food industry's best interest to create food that would have us overeat…right? The more we eat, the more money they make.
There is a great article entitled “Food Cravings Engineered by Industry, which details how big food companies keep us eating through a combination of science and marketing.” Copy this link into your browser to learn more if you’re interested: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/food-cravings-engineered-by-industry-1.1395225
Of course, there are many possible causes for cravings including, but not limited to, stress, nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalance, and fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This is another reason why it’s good to keep a food journal so you can become more in tune with what you’re craving, what you’re eating, and what you may be missing in your diet. You may also learn more about the triggers, which often signal that change may also need to happen somewhere off your plate.
Note: If you have cravings that persist, please consult with your doctor to determine if nutrient deficiencies and/or hormones could be the cause. Many people are deficient in some nutrients (even when they have a healthy diet) and it’s common to have hormone fluctuations and/or imbalances at different stages of our lives. Look for a doctor that specializes in this area.
So, what can we do to reduce cravings? By adopting the following eight practices, you can reduce your cravings for sugar or other unhealthy foods and drinks.
1. Don’t skip meals. We’ve covered this a bit before and it’s super important when it comes to eliminating cravings. When we skip meals, we may think we're reducing our calories for the day. The problem with this is that by mid-afternoon, hunger hits with a vengeance, we give in to the temptation and then we get mad at ourselves for failing. This often leads to eating even MORE empty calories, more sugar, more processed food, because now we again feel we are starving, and we’re stressed from failing. It’s easy to just start to shovel in the closest food you can find when you’re “starving.”
When you can spread out your meals as evenly as possible throughout the day, ensure that your meals are based on whole foods, and add a healthy snack when needed, your blood sugar is likely to be more stable. This means no more energy crashes which result in a craving for sugar to get your energy level back up.
Often, sugar cravings are our body’s response to needing energy. By eating balanced meals throughout the day, our energy levels stay up, thereby reducing cravings.
2. Don’t bring temptation home This sounds simple, but it’s oh so true. If you want to make good choices, only keep good choices in the house. I like to keep the veggies and fruit at eye level and up front for my kids. When they see healthier choices first, they go for what’s within easy reach. Keeping washed, pre-cut veggies with a pre-made yummy dip means healthy snacks are all ready to eat.
Plus, if the junk food, sugary cereals, cookies, cakes, ice cream, chips, etc., are not there, you can’t eat any, right? Stock your kitchen with whole foods that fill you up, satisfy your hunger and give your body the nutrients it needs. This greatly aids in the reduction of cravings because you don’t feel so hungry.
3. Eat enough protein and healthy fat The low-fat diet craze caused people to fear all sources of dietary fat, including the healthy fats that our bodies desperately need to function properly. Healthy fat is crucial to providing essential fatty acids, the absorption of vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and is a source of energizing fuel. To make up for the lack of fat and taste in their products, the food companies added more SUGAR! Low-fat foods are not very satiating, which leaves us hungry again a short time later. This leads to consuming more calories, which is not good if your goal is weight loss.
By eating more whole foods that are packed with the nutrients our bodies need, the less junk food we crave. Our bodies need real food – whole food in its natural state - to thrive. Providing our body with what it needs can reduce addictive cravings.
If eliminating junk food from your pantry shelves is a challenge for you because your children or spouse have snacks they “have to have,” try replacing one type of snack at a time. For example: Maybe instead of Doritos, which are full of artificial ingredients and MSG, transition to something like organic tortilla chips. Be sure you have a great fresh salsa or guacamole for the dip and serve with a plate of fresh-cut veggies too! Starting with small changes and transitioning little by little can avoid a major mutiny. You don’t have to do a major overhaul all at once. This can take some time. It’s good to introduce new foods and see what everyone likes. You never know what may become a new favorite.
4. Get a good night’s sleep Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep each night? And do you get quality sleep? What does sleep have to do with healthy eating and achieving your ideal weight range? A lot!
Think about the difference between how your entire day goes when you wake up tired vs. how you feel and how your day goes after you get a full night’s rest. It’s typical that we make different food and activity choices throughout the day when we are rested and feel energetic compared to days when we are dragging.
Tiredness, stress, and exhaustion all trigger food binges. When we’re tired, we get stressed more easily. Research, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, shows that short or poor-quality sleep is linked to obesity by de-regulating appetite and increased energy consumption. Our appetites can increase when we’re tired, which makes sense. Studies show how signals from the brain, which control appetite regulation, are impacted by sleep restriction. Our body craves more energy, and we get more energy from food, so we end up eating more, and usually end up making less healthy choices.
5. Be a food label detective We’ve been taught to look at the calories and fat content on labels, but not the actual INGREDIENTS. It’s shocking what our food is made up of these days. When we consume sugar, we CRAVE more sugar, so it’s important to know where it’s lurking.
To eat healthy food, you need to know what’s in it! That means you must read the label! Sugar is often disguised under different names as well as being listed more than once under different names.
Before you put something in your grocery cart, know what it is that you're buying to eat. The front of the package is designed to be an advertising billboard to “sell” you the product and the food manufacturers know how to trick us! They know the buzz words that fool us, don’t they? Words like “healthy,” “natural,” “baked,” “whole grain”, etc. You might think baked would be healthier than fried, right. Maybe. Did you know, for example, that Baked Lays Potato Chips contains more sugar than Regular Lays Potato Chips? You wouldn’t even think there would BE sugar in potato chips, right?
Even most loaves of BREAD contain high amounts of sugar. IGNORE what the front of the package says and look at the list of ingredients. If it sounds like a science experiment full of names you can’t identify, put it back on the shelf.
If reading food labels seems overwhelming to you, there is a great free app called Fooducate. You scan the barcode on the food package with your smartphone and it will give it a grade between an A and a D as well as the reason for the grade. It’s fun to start with the food in your pantry and see what grades it gives. This can also be a fun way to get the kids involved in learning more about food labels.
6. First eat something healthy Don’t tell yourself you can’t have something you feel you’re craving!
Instead, tell yourself, “I can have it, but first I’m going give my body something nutritious, such as a banana and a few nuts or a fresh salad with some protein.” This way, by the time you’re done with the healthier choice, you are way less likely to be craving the sugar anymore and will skip it. Try it and see what happens. Some of my clients that try this are skeptical at first but are pleasantly surprised to see how well it works.
7. Satisfy your sugar cravings with healthy sweets Sometimes we reach for a sugary snack out of habit. Approximately 40% of what we do each day is purely the result of habit. If we had to think about every single thing we did, it would be completely overwhelming, wouldn’t it? Some of our eating patterns are purely habit and we do it without much thought.
Look at what some of your habits are and the food choices that go along with them. Do you pour yourself a cup of coffee and automatically reach for that donut or bagel? Do you nibble on a cookie before dinner to “hold you over” and then not feel so hungry when you sit down with your family? Does dessert automatically mean ice cream or cake?
Healthy sweets are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that HELP us become healthier and feel better. Find the fruits that you and your family like and keep them on hand.
Sometimes cravings are caused by things we feel are missing from our lives and food fills the void for us. We may be conscious of the void, or not. Stress, feeling bored, or being lonely can do this as well. When you feel cravings coming on be real with yourself about whether it’s the food or something else. Get in touch with what you’re craving that’s not food and learn ways to nourish yourself without food.
Ask yourself if you’re REALLY hungry…or is it something else? If you just ate a meal an hour ago and felt satiated, maybe you aren’t hungry. See if doing something else takes your mind off mindless munching as a distraction. Boredom can be a big trigger for cravings.
What are some things you can do instead of focusing on food?
Create your own list: • Take a walk • Get a manicure, pedicure, or massage • Enjoy a hot shower or relaxing bath • Spend time with friends • Practice yoga • Learn something new • Read a book • Garden • Paint • Put together a puzzle • Spend time doing something you love that has meaning for you
These are just a few ideas. Try different things to see what works for you and focus on doing something you enjoy. Remember, sometimes we crave food when we’re bored because eating gives us something to do. So, check in with yourself to determine if you’re hungry.
And here’s a Bonus Tip: Stay hydrated! Most people don’t consume enough water and dehydration leads to cravings. So, the next time you have a craving, drink a glass of water, wait 10 minutes, and see if you still have the craving.
To recap, here is a list of 9 total ways to conquer cravings: 1. Don’t skip meals – when you are super hungry, it’s easy to make poor choices 2. Don’t keep it in the house – if it’s not in the house, you’ll find something else to eat 3. Eat enough protein and healthy fats – these keep you satiated longer, and you’ll consume fewer calories without being hungry 4. Get enough sleep – we eat more when we’re tired 5. Know what you’re eating (hidden sugars and chemicals) and read the food labels 6. Eat something healthy first – then you might not even want the sweets or junk food 7. Use healthy sweets – eat fruit instead of a treat with processed sugar 8. Ask yourself if you’re craving something besides food. 9. Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water
Remember When you understand the connection between WHAT you eat, WHY you eat, and HOW you feel, you will feel more in control and be able to make better choices. Try to determine if some of your cravings are based more on habit or what you may be keeping in the house and look at how to best address that to make changes. We don’t need to feel guilty about food. We just need to understand our cravings better, so we figure out what we really need and do our best to make choices that support our health and our goals
To-Do Tune in to your cravings. When do they happen? What are you craving and why? (are you tired, bored, or hungry?) Decide what you will try this week. For example, try eating more whole foods during the day and not skipping meals and see how that helps. Create your list of things you can do instead of focusing on food when you realize you aren’t hungry.