Curbing Cravings



Take a minute to imagine your favorite dessert or snack being placed in front of you. Is it a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven? Or maybe it’s your grandma’s apple pie? Or, for those of who prefer salty versus sweet, it’s a big bag of buttery popcorn. You know you’re going to regret it but you tell yourself you’re just going to have one bite. You have done so well all week and you deserve a treat. Moments later, you have completely ruined your diet. Oh well, there is always next week…

Why do we go through this vicious cycle each week? You work hard to eat healthy, exercise and avoid those delectable treats that you used to indulge in all the time.  Sometimes it is just too hard. The craving is just too strong.

There have been many studies that suggest why we have cravings and how we can control them. The good news is that there are ways to overcome them and stay on track to a healthier lifestyle.

Why do we have cravings in the first place?

Cravings can derive from a multitude of places, such as stress, influences from others, good and bad emotions and many more.  According to nutritionist Chrissie Douglas of From the Inside Out Nutritional Therapy, cravings can be physical or psychological. Physical cravings develop with an actual addiction to a certain food or when your body is in need of vitamins or minerals.

For example, Chrissie says, “If the immune system is not being supported and an illness is about to come on, you may crave food higher in Vitamin C. Sometimes the body needs to balance itself out through minerals.” Naturopathic Dr. Jenson Benard, author of “The Chemistry of Man” explains how a craving of chocolate determines that your body actually needs magnesium and that fruits, raw nuts, seeds and lentils can supplement this craving. A desire for carbonated drinks can communicate a need for calcium. Chrissie says, “these types of cravings should be respected because it could be the body’s way of communicating what it needs.”

The second types of cravings that we can experience are psychological cravings. Douglas says these can come from “a place where we are yearning to return to a time when food and an event had a special meaning.  Food can be symbolic of good times.” Going out to eat, heading over to a relatives house or even coming home to a home cooked meal, heightens your emotions and can cause food addictions.

On a more anatomical point of view, Chrissie goes further to explain what is known as Hedonic Hungry. This theory “describes craving food that is driven by are seeking pleasure or the pleasure food can provide.” Research shows that sugar and carbohydrates can actually have addictive properties. “When serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) is low it can make you feel depressed and overwhelmed, unable to make decisions,” causing intense cravings for carbs and sugars. Your brain, now in serious need of serotonin, desires tryptophan, the amino acid that not only aids in making serotonin but is responsible for your post Thanksgiving slumber.

When there is a large intake of sugar into your system, the pancreas releases insulin. Douglas says, “insulin comes in and clears out not only the sugar in your blood, but also all the amino acids except tryptophan, leaving it easy for tryptophan to enter the brain to make the serotonin.” This causes a release of relaxed and peaceful feelings and causes people to gravitate back to foods.

Whew…that was a mouthful. Fortunately, there is good news. Cravings can be easily managed by making a few changes to follow a clean and healthy lifestyle.

Curbing Cravings

The first step in curbing a craving is to realize that different methods work for different people. Some people will be able to give foods up instantly while, for others, it will be a process. A good start is to keep a food journal, noting the foods you eat throughout the day, as well as your feelings.

“Keeping a journal not only keeps one aware of their eating patterns and cravings, but can also shed light on where those cravings are coming from,” says Douglas. After a while, a food journal can allow you to easily make shifts, for a more balanced diet.

A diet high in protein and water is a great way to avoid cravings. In his latest article, Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management Tom Nikkola says, “Protein takes longer to digest and helps reduce the blood sugar-raising effects of meals. With a more stable blood sugar, and a digestive system that’s breaking down food for a longer period of time, you’re less likely to feel hungry or have cravings.

Additionally, drink a lot of water. Surprisingly, hunger pains and cravings can arise when a person is dehydrated. This sudden feeling can cause a person to reach for a snack, instead of a glass of water.

“I would suggest that anyone having a craving reach for a glass of water first and let it settle, then read your body’ cues,” says Douglas.

Lastly, incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Whether you enjoy running, taking an exercise class or going for a walk, you will find that you feel better and that your cravings have disappeared. Cornell Professor Brain Wansink, PhD, says, “Cravings are fleeting. They’ll diminish or go away within an hour, if not sooner.”

Don’t worry if you choose to indulge or even if you make a mistake. It is all about balance and planning ahead will set you up for success.

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