food cravings

How to Handle Food Cravings (Part 2)

As women, we all have food cravings.  And we all give in to them sometimes. 

Furthermore, you need to know those food cravings are very common. They’re ingrained in our biology.  In the meantime, try the following solutions.

Understand that food cravings are natural, we all have them, and they’re not a character flaw!

Keep healthy snacks available. 

sources of magnesium
Keep nutritious snacks and meals on-hand and ready for when your cravings hit:
  1. Storing nuts and seeds in the fridge and adding some raisins, or cranberries are ways you can prepare ahead of time.  
  2. Having apple slices dipped in sesame, cashew, almond, or peanut butter can be satisfying for a mid-afternoon snack.
  3. You can also make a hummus or guac dip ahead of time for veggies such as carrots, cucumbers or celery.

The Joyous Health blog has a good homemade hummus recipe here.

Try to reduce your exposure to food cues in the first place.

food cues
If you find certain activities you do are strongly linked with food cravings (such as sitting in front of a screen is “popcorn time” or walking past the convenience store means “chocolate bar or potato chip time,”) try going the extra step and doing something different whenever you can.

You may need less of these activities:

  • TV or screen time or
  •  passing the drive-through or your favorite coffee shop or bakery. 

Identify what you associate with craving any particular food (e.g., relaxing in front of the television, preparing to watch a movie, commuting). You can try making a quick note on your smartphone or jotting down in your journal when you experience a craving.  

Or you can try doing something else such as taking a walk, relaxing with your favorite hobby, or calling a friend or family member.[11]

Having a snack prepared ahead of time, will help with food cravings when they come up and you can carry these snacks with you when you are out or keep them in a container for a movie night.

By preparing a meal for dinner that will give you sufficient protein, fats and fiber,  you will be kept full for several hours. 

When experiencing a food craving, try to identify where it came from. Was there a food cue (advertisement, smell, memory, or are you looking at something right now that makes you want to enjoy it)?

Are you stressed or bored? 

If you’re responding to a food cue, try to remove that cue. Stop paying attention to it by changing the channel, hiding the food, or otherwise distracting yourself from it.[11]

Are you truly hungry?

hungry

Physical hunger has a feeling of emptiness in your stomach, fatigue, and/or lightheadedness. If you’re not sure whether you’re hungry or just have a craving, try to delay acting on it right away. 

For example, drink a glass of water and wait 10 to15 minutes. If that craving hasn’t gone away, try a nutritious snack or meal.

When that doesn’t work either and it’s an insatiable craving, try another distraction.[11]  Otherwise, you are probably hungry.

.

Enjoy the craved food slowly and mindfully.

Start with a small amount of the craved food. Usually this will be salty or sweet.  (Unless it’s fruits and vegetables, but who are we kidding?). Have you started with a few potato chips and almost finished the entire bag before you realized it? Is sure have!

And another way to deal with your craving is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness includes paying attention to whatever arises in the present moment with an open, curious non-judgmental attitude. It is a state of “enhanced receptive awareness and attention to present reality.”[7] 

Therefore, mindful eating is eating slower and paying more attention to your food. Do this by chewing well and savoring the smells, tastes, and textures.

As a result, your body feels satiated when your stomach feels physically full.  Your hunger hormones, such as cholecystokinin (CCK) and leptin, send a signal to your brain that you’re no longer hungry.  By eating slower, you’re allowing these signals to work before you get a chance to eat too much.[11]  Get more information on your appetite signals here.

Do a mindfulness exercise to prevent food cravings.

Studies show that being mindful of thought and emotions can help reduce cravings. One clinical study showed that participants ate fewer cookies when they did a mindfulness activity, as compared to those who did not do the activity. 

Doing a brief mindfulness exercise can even change your level of hunger to reduce the influence of the attractiveness of less-nutritious foods.[7]

For example,  I often try to eat alone and practice chewing.  If I am talking with my family at the dinner table, this is not so easy.  But concentrating on your chewing is one of the best habits you can start.  Your digestion will improve and your cravings may be reduced.

Try putting the fork down after each bite and see it make a huge difference in the amount of food you eat and the pace you eat it.  

Make nutritious foods more appealing.

A few studies show that it may be possible to change the foods we crave.  By focusing on the long-term health consequences of frequently eating junk food, in a process called “cognitive reappraisal,” some people have been able to reduce their cravings for less-nutritious foods and increase them for more nutritious foods. [12,13,14] 

In one recent study, 58 college students were asked to look at a picture of a food and think about whether it will increase their risk for heart disease or whether it will provide vitamins and minerals to keep them strong.

This "cognitive reappraisal" exercise affected how frequently and how strongly those foods were craved (e.g., cravings for nutritious foods became stronger and more frequent than they were before the experiment). Just one week later, some participants reported that they ate less of the less nutritious foods.[12]

If you have children still living at home , you can expose them to nutritious foods as often as possible.[10] One way to do this is by using a meal planner such as the one I use called Plan to Eat, so you always know what you will be cooking and the foods and ingredients to have on hand.

Take care of your mental health.

Remember that our emotional state—including stress— is linked to food cravings.  If it is a day of much activity or deadlines, then my energy needs go through the roof.  I need the quickest snack to get me feeling good.  Usually it is a salty one if I am stressed.  If I have any chocolate in the house, it won’t last long!

Your mental health is important.  This is why getting out in nature is so important.  For me, I need to get out and go for a walk where I can see trees and birds or some form of nature like flowers.  It does me a world of good and changes my mood dramatically.  Do you feel the same? Let me know in the comments.

Try to reduce stress in ways that work for you:

  • meditation,
  •  physical activity,
  • socializing with people you care about,
  • getting enough sleep.  

Have you tried a guided meditation app?  The one I use now is called Soutime.

If you slip up with a food craving, don't do this.

food cravings

Don’t beat yourself up! We both know that this is so common. Indulging does not make you a bad person. It makes you a human with a deep biological need for physical and emotional wellbeing who is surrounded by food cues and easy access to those foods.

If you are becoming more self-aware, then you can work to mitigate triggers to food cravings.

You may want to reread strategies 1-8 again.

Read my blog post on Three Strategies to Help You Avoid Overeating at Meals.

You may be deficient in nutrients or have an underlying condition.  See your licensed healthcare professional.

Food cravings may be a sign of nutritional needs, so reach out to an excellent practitioner who can help you.

I remember when I was very unwell over 15 years ago and had lost a lot of weight.  I was craving olive oil.  I believe my body needed good omega 3 fats and vitamin E provided by the olive oil.

If you have not read Part 1 of this topic, you can read Part 1 here.

References:

1 - Kahathuduwa, C. N., Binks, M., Martin, C. K., & Dawson, J. A. (2017). Extended calorie restriction suppresses overall and specific food cravings: a systematic review and a meta-analysis. Obesity reviews: an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 18(10), 1122–1135. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12566

LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28557246

LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6226249/

2 - Examine’s Nutrition Examination Research Digest. (2017, October). Can dieting actually suppress food craving? Issue 36. Retrieved from https://examine.com/nerd/article/can-dieting-actually-suppress-food-craving/

Leave a Reply