7 Strategies To Help Prevent Cravings
We've all felt powerless at one time or another. You know the feeling...as your body automatically walked over to the donuts (or cookies or cake or chips or...) and your hand reached out, grabbed some and put it in your mouth without your permission. As I’m sure you know, even the best intentions can be easily derailed. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard we try, our cravings get the best of us and we feel at the mercy of their power.
From an evolutionary standpoint, cravings served us. When food didn’t appear on every street corner and easily stored in every kitchen we needed motivation to make us go out and kill that buffalo or dig up those roots. But now that same part of the brain is telling us we must--have--donut--now.
The problem is that our brains and bodies are not cut out for the foods we’re currently eating. They’ve been designed to process and use whole, real food. Today’s processed, refined foods induce supernormal stimulation to the pleasure centers of our brains. Essentially these foods are like drugs to our brains and have the same effect. What most people don’t know is that consuming these foods actually changes the brain, rewiring it so that it continues to demand more of these foods.
When the brain is overstimulated (from processed, highly palatable foods) it “downregulates” which means that it becomes dulled to the experience of these intensely pleasurable foods. So to feel the same level of pleasure, you need more of the stimulus the next time. You can see where this is leading. A cycle where we continue to crave the foods that are causing the cravings to begin with.
What can we do to stay true to what we say we really want? The best strategy is to prevent cravings from happening in the first place. Here are some powerful strategies to prevent those cravings from sabotaging our efforts.
1. Drastically reduce or eliminate processed carbs.
This may be the most important thing you can do to prevent cravings. Blood sugar swings can cause major cravings, so regulating blood sugar is crucial to prevent them. One of the best ways is by staying away from processed carbohydrates like concentrated sugars, flours and things made from them, like crackers, breads, and baked goods--and lowering the total amount of carbohydrates you eat in general.
2. Eat protein.
Whether your blood sugar is high, low or in between, including protein with your meals and snacks will help keep blood sugar even, keep you satisfied longer between meals, and decrease cravings.
3. Manage your stress.
We all seem to lead such fast paced lives and don’t always take time to unwind. Stress raises cortisol levels in your blood which increases appetite and cravings. Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both, and that over time chronic stress leads to weight gain.
4. Get adequate, good quality sleep.
Did you know that lack of regular, quality sleep increases your cravings? It does. Especially for highly palatable junk food. So it ends up boosting your overall calorie intake without you even thinking about it.
5. Eat enough.
If you start getting hungry an hour or so after your meals, either you’re eating too many processed carbs and not enough protein or your meal size wasn’t sufficient. The answer to the latter problem here is fairly simple - increase your meal size. As long as you’re eating whole, unprocessed foods, eat enough to feel satisfied until the next meal.
6. If you must snack, make it healthy.
If you find that you still feel hungry between meals even though you’re eating substantial, healthy meals, you can also add a healthy snack to your routine. If this is you, make sure you always have snack options available that include protein.
7. Become Mindful.
If you are constantly craving foods, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Many of us don’t realize what true hunger is and mistake boredom, getting antsy or anxious, or other feelings for hunger. We also tend to follow ingrained habits regarding when we feel like we’re supposed to eat. If you always eat a snack late morning, when 11am shows up, you’ll be perking up, looking for your snack. Or if watching TV at night is always accompanied by chips, just sitting down to the TV can give you a hankering for chips. One way to mitigate this is to start paying attention to when you reach for food. Each time you decide to put something in your mouth ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” or “What else might be going on that’s causing me to reach for food?” Try this for a week and you will automatically decrease your non-hunger eating as well as learning a ton about yourself!