How to Combat Cravings
By Brooke Bouwhuis, Unite Fitness Retreat Dietician
Do you reach for salty gooey, cheesy goodness, crinkly crisp potato chips or good ol’ mac and cheese when your life is in stress mode? Maybe you prefer a creamy sweet indulgent pint of frozen goodness or a scoop of cookie dough batter to satisfy your craving for something sweet.
What on earth causes us to crave these foods we know aren’t great for us, yet they seemingly satisfy and taste so good in the moment? Ever notice most cravings are for junk food that are heavily processed foods packed with gobs of sugar, salt and fat?
Simply being on a diet increases cravings for food that has been prohibited. The body perceives dieting as starvation, even if you volunteered to do it to yourself.
Cravings are more than the habit of grabbing something sweet or salty when a pick me up is needed.
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a chemical made by our brain that triggers our drive to eat carbohydrates. When we diet and deprive ourselves of food, NPY triggers the body to find the carbs and put the fire out. We are driven to binging on plenty of carbs NOT because we lack will power but because our body is demanding carbs.
Our drive for carbs is fundamental. It’s the body’s best food (glucose) to create energy for out body to function.
When we diet it leads to a vicious cycle of deprivation which leads to cravings and intense cravings can lead to out of control eating.
How on earth do we combat this cycle when trying to eat better with the desire to lose weight? Your first goal is to intuitively reconnect with yourself to recognize how to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Really? Yes. It’s an ability we covered up long ago and re-learning how to recognize hunger and fullness is the foundational step for living the rest of your life with better health.
Slowing down and relearning the intuitive signals we had as children takes time, work, patience and practice. It also leads to learning how to cope better with emotions (boredom, stress, anger, joy, etc) without using food.
Recognizing how to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full leads to being satisfied and when we are satisfied, we eat less.
Here are a few more tips on how to reduce cravings:
• Balance stress with mindfulness, meditation, yoga or other exercise.
• Drink plenty of water. Our bodies are 70% water and when we are dehydrated our body signals us to eat because something is out of balance. Drink plenty of water all day long.
• Get plenty of sleep to combat the hormones that cause overeating.
• Changing your habits once you see an unhealthy pattern. Maybe it’s the 3pm slump and it’s easy to reach for a can of soda, bag of chips or a few cookies. Recognizing when you reach for food that undermines your goal can help you find a healthy way to combat the situation. At 3pm hit the stairwell at work for some hill repeats to wake yourself up, pack veggies to crunch on when you would rather grab a bag of chips or take a break and touch base with a call to a friend to break up the pattern of an unhealthy habit.