Have you successfully follow a diet plan for few weeks but only to surrender to an uncontrollable craving to have some candies, ice cream or even an entire pack of cake? If you’re honest with yourself, then surely you’ve experienced such. Yet, you are not alone and these simple tips will help you manage your food cravings as well as help you stay on your diet plan.
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Probably you may be asking yourself…
How can I resist food cravings?
What’s the secret to managing my food cravings and stay on my diet plan?
Well, these are tough questions to answer. But you will possibly agree with me that other people have managed to suppress their longings for “unhealthy foods” and easily follow their fitness goals.
So, how do they do it? Do they know some food craving secret that you don’t know ?
Yes, they do! And I am one those people 🙂
So, today I’m going to share my top 5 strategies that have helped me to successfully cope with food cravings and also motivate me to stay healthy and even lose weight naturally.
The Oxford dictionary defines craving as “a powerful desire for something”. This could be anything ranging from our desire for love, wealth, success to simply those candies, ice cream, cakes, processed foods, cigarette…the list could go on forever.
In reality, it is rare to see people crave for food like broccoli, carrot, cabbage or vegetables in general. Nonetheless, some people do and if you’re one of them, I greet you with the utmost respect.
On the other hand, we usually crave for foods high in sugar, fat, or carbohydrates. This is because most of these foods when eaten causes the release of natural opioids, which gives us a sense of pleasure because of its addictive properties. It lights up areas of our brain associated with craving, and as a result, people keep longing for specific food.
Also, it’s important for you to understand that certain hormones contribute to craving spike. For example, Ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite and triggers the feeling of hunger naturally rise and fall before and after eating a meal. As a result, it plays a significant role in our usual cravings for sugar as well as our longings for other “unhealthy foods”.
A study in 2013 shows that the level of ghrelin in a number of study participants followed the natural rise and fall pattern even after eating a relatively boring meal, but instantly rise steeply off the charts after eating a tasty meal (precisely cakes, ice cream, custard, and Nutella) even though the participants were full.
So this suggests that ghrelin drives our hedonic signals which interact with our regulation of food intake. Thus, increases our desire to consume foods that are highly delicious even after we realise we are full. This kind of desire for food is called Hedonic hunger (i.e., “susceptibility to environmental food cues”), and can be described as the drive to eat for pleasure instead of eating to stock up energy. This has been shown to possibly present a hurdle to successful behaviour change and weight loss in humans, even though this has not yet been looked at.
Some people eat to satisfy cravings while others eat just out of a binge. It is important for you to note that eating to satisfy a craving is different from that of a binge. A binge normally feels like eating out of control and is frequently driven by boredom, anxiety, stress etc. We sometimes associate binge with our actions to use food to manage our emotional problems.
Cravings, on the other hand, are in fact not driven by emotions, but then they can get caught up with them. Because most often our craving for a particular food goes side by side with other emotions. So it’s important to know and understand what you might be dealing with, as this is the very first step to holding back your cravings.
My opinion on food craving is that it could be as a result of some chemical addiction in our brain or whatever it is. Because recent studies demonstrate that food has a similar effect to drugs on our brain reward system, although less powerful as compared to drugs. So, what normally happens is that we seek to eat what our body thinks it needs, as a result, the sooner we eat it, the better for us as our brain reacts with bliss.
But it shouldn’t be like this on a level playing field, I am convinced that chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and endorphin affect our brain reward system. So I would presume that the better a food tastes, the greater the chances for our addiction to the taste of the food. This is because studies have suggested that the delicious tastes have an impact on our serotonin and endorphin levels, which is why we easily remember these foods and very often crave for them.
Well, you need not to, as recent studies suggest that the dopamine release from food is considerably less than it is from drugs.
However, this may bring up another question in your mind…
Well as discussed above, the delicious tastes of certain foods have an impact on your serotonin and endorphin levels, which will make you easily remember yummy foods. So, our memories of the tastes from delicious foods are the central reasons as to why we crave certain foods. Studies suggest that when we eat foods we enjoy, we always create a positive memory of the feelings it brings. So the more we eat the foods we like, the more we strengthen such memory. Which is why cravings are somehow hard to resist.
This shouldn’t be that hard to understand because once we formed positive memories with the foods we like, it’s easy for these newly formed memories to automatically intrude on our conscious knowledge as “cravings”, which is the central reason carvings are so hard to ignore. In addition, it often gets us reminded of the foods we like through smells or once we associate certain feelings with a place. This will automatically recall the memory and can potentially bring on a craving.
So, to this end, here are 5 strategies to help you suppress food cravings
Remember, the very first step to prevention is awareness. So it’s important to know and understand what you normally crave for. Try to identify the “forbidden foods”, and figure out why they are so appealing to you. Is it because of the taste? Can you get such taste or attribute from other foods if you include them in your diets?
So I would suggest you make a list of the “forbidden foods”, and try to replace them with healthy alternatives that could provide you with similar taste or attribute.
This may sound simple, but we most often ignore the simple things in life. I don’t know why, but it seems just like that…...
I don’t buy or keep the “unhealthy foods” I normally crave for at home. It’s easy to overcome your cravings if you don’t have access to the foods you crave for at that moment. So my advice is to ignore the temptation to buy the “unhealthy foods” and cut them out of your weekly groceries list. Instead, add healthy alternatives like nuts and vegetables to your weekly foodstuffs.
If you can’t resist the temptation at first, then it would be helpful to ask a friend or family member to do the shopping for you. In addition, if you are sharing an apartment/kitchen, ask household members to hide the “unhealthy foods” from you.
One practical tactic that has worked for me is that I always lean into my cravings. I let myself become aware of the intentions and tune myself with the feelings. Always remember that your cravings are not an emergency, so you need not catch up on the urgency of “I need to fulfil my cravings now”. Instead, use the moment to understand why you’re craving for a specific food and try to associate healthy alternatives with such feelings. Let the craving be and move around with it for a while, trust me as time goes, the craving will fade away and pass off.
In addition to leaning unto your cravings, researchers have shown that simply imagining yourself eating a specific food, can reduce your actual consumption of that food and also reduces your cravings. For additional information about the research, check out cmu.edu
This approach has also worked well for me, not only with food cravings but in reality with every “bad habit” I want to change and even in making decisions. I always associate pain and unpleasant emotions with things I want to change and beautiful emotions with things I want to integrate into my life.
For example, before now I always crave for sweet foods, especially in the evenings. I used to enjoy having ice cream and cakes while relaxing on my sofa watching the evening news or one of my favourite series. Yeah, sounds cosy right.
So what I did was I faced the reality and consequences of eating ice cream and cakes. I associated obesity, diabetic and the risk of dying of heart diseases. Slowly I managed to overcome the cravings because I don’t want the risk of dying of heart disease. Also, I replaced my cravings for cake and ice cream with healthy options like nuts and vegetables. I associated the potential health benefits of having healthy options like nuts and slowly reinforce my memory. Now, I would say I no longer crave for sweet foods like before and this has helped me to maintain my weight almost effortlessly.
If you crave for a certain food, always try not to ignore the feeling. Instead be willing to think about it and use the moment to question the consequences and why it would be better for you not to have it now. Associate pain with eating the food, tell your body you may have another time.
However, if the craving is still strong, I would suggest you eat a bit of what you’re craving instead of trying to trick your body. Because our body and taste buds are smart enough to tell if they’re being tricked, but always try to delay the craving. With time you will see yourself overcome your cravings as long as you always try to delay and associate unpleasant emotions with eating them.
Finally, I would suggest you learn to listen to your cravings and know what you’re craving for. So, let’s say you’re always craving for something salty. Instead of eating salty snacks, you may as well add salt to you food.
Also, try to determine whether you’re hungry or just craving. Cuz if you’re hungry, I would advise you eat, but not just the “unhealthy food”. Be aware that our emotions also play a big role in our cravings, so try to understand your emotions at a particular moment, instead of delving into your cravings. Researchers have shown that emotions like stress, anxious, lonely, frustrations etc. can trigger our cravings.
Do supplements help control food cravings?
Well, I haven’t found any research to support that taking supplements can help control food cravings. However, studies suggest that certain vitamins and minerals can boost your mood and make you more responsive to a healthy lifestyle. So consider taking your daily multivitamins and minerals, as well as eating nutrient-rich diets.
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I hope this article inspires you to overcome your cravings and if you find it interesting I'd love to know how this approach works for you. If you have any questions or you encounter difficulties when trying to implement these tactics, you're always welcome to leave a comment.
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Peace and blessings!
Samsu is an industrious and dedicated civil and environmental engineer. He is also a health and fitness enthusiast, a fan of tech and sport, as well as a self-confessed personal growth addict. Samsu is keen on reading about new health, fitness, and self-development trends and is constantly trying to improve himself.