Constant Cravings and How to Beat Them

Wouldn’t life be simpler if instead of craving cakes and chocolate your body cried out for lettuce?

But unless you’re Bugs Bunny, that’s never going to happen.

The good news is that there are ways to control your cravings so they don’t lead to unhealthy eating habits and an expanding waistline.

Prevention is better than a cure

At 10 am it’s chocolate, by noon it’s KFC, at 3 pm you can’t live without that Coke, and by 9 pm you’re spoon-deep in a tub of ice cream. Sound too familiar? If you feel like you’re constantly craving one food or another, it’s very likely that you’re simply not eating properly.

First, you may just be hungry. Do you get enough calories from protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates? Do you eat at fairly regular intervals? When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to crave high-calorie, high-fat foods. Cravings are also often related to dips in blood sugar levels, which happen when you don’t eat regularly enough. If you experience a dip in blood sugar, you’re likely to look for a quick fix in the form of chocolate or other sweet treat.

Eating regular, well-balanced meals, with plenty of low-fat protein (eggs, fish, lean meat, legumes, leafy greens) will ensure that your blood sugar levels are stable and that you are getting the calories your body requires throughout the day. This can make a huge difference to getting your cravings under control.

Smart snacking on fruit, nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower etc.) chopped vegetables, homemade soup, yoghurt or low-fat cheese will also help you prevent a mid-afternoon blood-sugar slump and the cravings that accompany it.

Also keep in mind that lack of certain nutrients can lead to cravings. For example, lack of protein may cause you to crave ice cream, lack of carbohydrates may cause you to crave fries, and so on. The same goes for micronutrients – chocolate contains zinc and magnesium, so your afternoon Hershey’s bar may simply be satisfying a physiological need for more broccoli. Although if you’re craving chocolate, sometimes no other food will hit the spot – there’s a reason Cadbury doesn’t make a broccoli bar!

No “no-no” foods

When people want to lose weight or change their eating habits, they often deem certain foods “forbidden”. This may seem noble, but in reality it’s just a set-up for cravings. Saying “I’m never going to eat any chocolate at all” is a sure-fire way to end up craving it a week later. It’s better to have the occasional, planned treat than to deny yourself a food altogether.

Restricting a certain food group, such as carbohydrates, also pretty much gurantees a craving. For example, if you eliminate bread from your diet for an extended period of time, it's bread that you’re most likely to crave.

Staying interested in what you’re eating is key to preventing cravings. A monotonous, boring diet in which you only eat certain foods will inevitably lead to cravings.

A little satisfaction

If you can’t prevent it, often the best way to beat a craving is actually to satisfy it – a little.

The problem with many cravings is that they get out of control when you don’t satisfy them initially. For that reason, it’s best not to eat "around" the food you are craving. If you really feel like having a piece of chocolate, have it. Don't try to substitute it with a range of other foods if you think you'll end up eating the chocolate anyway. If you obsessively avoid the food you’re craving, you’re also far more likely to binge on it eventually than you would if you had a small amount when you first crave it. But be warned, this advice can be dangerous if you ignore the “a little” part. If you know you can’t stop at a little, it’s best not to start at all.

If you are facing a craving that a small portion won't fix, try putting the 'Four Ds' into practice. This is a system used in smoking-cessation programs to help smokers relieve the need for a cigarette, even when they're desperate.

  • Delay for a few minutes and the urge will pass
  • Drink water
  • Deep breathe
  • Do something else to take your mind off eating

Seeking solace in a hamburger?

Cravings are not just physiological – emotions can also play a huge part in why you crave the foods you do.

It’s easy to associate certain foods with certain times or places that make you feel soothed or comforted. These associations can be directly related to your cravings. For example, if you're tired or ill, you may crave chicken soup like your Mum used to make. If you’re lonely, you might crave ice cream because that’s what your parents gave you to cheer you up when you were a child. In times like these, it's important to focus on the nurturing that your body really needs. For instance, do you need a break? More rest? More nutrients?

There is a very fine line between what can be called a craving and what may be an episode of emotional eating. Next time you experience a craving, ask yourself if it has any emotional motivation.

It might be hard to admit to yourself that you're reaching for food to help make you feel better, and even harder to face and deal with the stress and emotions that lead you to seek comfort from food in the first place. But if you can establish a connection between a craving and an emotional need, you can learn to satisfy the emotional need instead of numbing it with food.

Before you go craving mad

Everybody experiences cravings now and then, whether for physical, emotional or any other reasons. It’s nothing to stress about and nothing to feel guilty over. The most important thing to remember when dealing with cravings is not to let them get out of control – learn to recognise what’s going on with your cravings at a physical and an emotional level, and try to prevent the craving if you can. If you can’t prevent it, remember that sometimes satisfying your craving a little, before you go craving mad, is the best way to respond.

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