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We all get cravings. Some of us harbor a gigantic sweet tooth while others won’t be satisfied until they devour something salty or fried. What makes us crave certain foods and how can we stop them from wreaking havoc on a stellar health streak?
As the cliché goes, we’re all creatures of habit. I once noticed myself reaching for pita chips and hummus every day after I got home from work. I wasn’t hungry; it was just the thing I did at that point in my day. Eventually, I noticed that I would go through half a bag of pita and a whole tub of hummus all before dinner. These habits are hard to break, but if you do, your waistline and your health will thank you. Test out these tips to kick the habit cycle once and for all.
Remove all tempting foods from the area. Out of sight, hopefully out of mind! You’re less likely to drive 10 minutes for ice cream than simply reach in your freezer.
Determine your weakness. What food do you reach for most often? Perhaps there’s a healthier alternative that can satisfy the same desire, like banana ice cream instead of the full-fat dairy version, or baked sweet potato fries instead of McDonald’s fries.
Craving This? Reach for These…
Schedule other activities during the time temptation strikes. I started going for a walk as soon as I got home, so I didn’t start munching on that pita and hummus. If it’s late night snacking, maybe start reading a good book or treat yourself to a warm bath before bed. Divert your energy away from eating and toward something more productive and healthful.
The environment you surround yourself with has a huge impact on behavior. For example, fast food commercials on tv or the junk food ads on the Internet, billboards along the highway, even ads on social media — we’re bombarded with unhealthy messaging from various avenues. We can pass up a brownie every now and then, but if we see that same brownie over and over, we’ll eventually give in. Surround yourself with positive health messages and foods so part of the struggle is minimized.
What are you lacking?
Cravings for certain foods could mean there’s something missing in your diet and your body is trying to send you a message.
While the research is somewhat scarce, there is a belief that some cravings stem from nutrient, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies. Magnesium is one of the minerals regularly called out for causing those chocolate, carbohydrate (bread, pasta, crackers), and sugar cravings. Cheesy, fried, and oily food cravings could be caused by a lack of essential fatty acids in your diet. By including a variety of colorful, whole foods you provide your body with the nutrients it needs, helping reduce the occurrence of specific cravings.
Drink half of your body weight (in pounds) in fluid ounces of water. For example a 150-pound person should consume 75 fluid ounces (or a little more than 9 cups of water) per day, more if he/she is highly active. Dehydration and thirst can feel like hunger or a hankering for certain foods. Next time you’re “ jonesing for French fries, drink a glass of water and re-evaluate your cravings after you’ve finished.
You may need a microbiome overhaul. “Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said Carlo Maley, Ph.D., director of the UCSF Center for Evolution and Cancer. Some bacteria work for us and some against us, altering mood, health, and even cravings. The good news is that they can be altered in part by what we consume. Fermented foods, veggies, and other healthy plant-based foods can help populate your gut microbiome to your advantage.
Protein is a critical micronutrient when it comes to preventing cravings. High protein foods can help keep you full, manage blood sugar levels, and replace excess carbs that can lead to energy highs and lows, the blood sugar roller coaster that can set you up for cycles of sugar cravings. Aim to consume high protein foods at each meal or snack. Lean, organic meats and poultry, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, tempeh, and clean protein powders are great options to boost your daily protein intake.
Like I mentioned before blood sugar plays a big part in the onset of sugar and carb cravings. If you learn one thing from this article, it’s that blood sugar balance is your best bet against banishing cravings. We eat sugar, we get a surge of the “feel good” chemical serotonin and a burst of energy in the form of blood glucose-insulin is released and the sugar is shuttled into our cells to be utilized – blood sugar then drops, energy dips and those carb-cravings resurface, often stronger than before. It is believed that a malfunction in serotonin processing correlates with an addiction to sugars and flours. (2) Choosing slow-releasing carbs filled with fiber and void of excess sugar can help prevent those energy dips and subsequent need for a quick fix.
Another example is shown in a study done by a French researcher showing that intense sweetness – not just refined sugar, but also artificial sweeteners – surpasses cocaine as a reward in laboratory animal studies. This alludes to the idea that there’s a connection between the brain’s reward system and physical changes within the body that produce these cravings.
When do they strike?
The time cravings strike may provide useful insight as to how you can battle it out once and for all. For example, if you’re a late-night nosher, then that could mean you are a habitual eater looking for comfort from food out of boredom. Or maybe you hit the vending machine at 3 pm every day for a snack. Again, could be boredom or it could mean that your breakfast or lunch wasn’t a well-balanced meal and may have been shy on protein or healthy fats or even fiber. These components can help slow the release of sugar into your blood and can help sustain your energy for longer periods of time after each meal. Be sure to eat breakfast with protein included to prevent unnecessary pre-lunch snacking.
Cravings can rear their ugly head at any time, however as we become mindful of how we handle them, the time they arise, what might be missing from our diet or other messages our body may be sending, then we can break free of the vicious cravings cycle.
Remember, it’s not about lack of willpower; it’s psychology and physiology at work. Discover what you can do to swap out your cravings for potato chips or candy bars and start craving wholesome foods filled with nutrients your body requires to live a long, healthy life.