Cravings can be both physical and emotional. Often times it is triggered by stress, or intense emotions, and the thought of eating the so-called “craving” food helps bring comfort or makes bad feelings go away (for that moment). Of course, it is a fleeting solution and, inevitably, after the food is consumed you’re still left feeling the same way, if not worse, as before.
Another cause of cravings might be under-eating or an unbalanced diet since it often leads to nutrient deficiencies. Your body requires a certain amount of calories and nutrients to function. If you’re skipping meals, eating at inconsistent times everyday or avoiding major macro-nutrients such as carbohydrates or protein, cravings will likely grow stronger and stronger as your body demands it. Eventually you might find yourself staring at the bottom of an empty carton of ice cream. Restriction is the most common cause behind a binge, or feeling out of control around certain foods. Lastly, hormonal changes can also intensify food cravings as it messes with energy levels, mood and the body's ability to feel full.
No matter what the cause, follow these guidelines to help fight cravings and gain back control:
1. Eat every 4-5 hours to keep blood sugars and appetite in control. Keep snacks on you during busier days so you're always prepared.
2. Include a balance of lean protein, high-fiber carbs and healthy fats at every meal. Lean protein is found in fish, white meat chicken, low-fat dairy and lean beef. Complex carbs are 100% whole grain bead products, beans, sweet potato, quinoa and brown rice. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, oils and avocado.
3. Stay hydrated as dehydration can be confused with hunger. Drink at least half your weight in ounces.
4. Manage stress levels by getting enough rest, exercising and doing things you enjoy.
5. Allow yourself to indulge on occasion and don’t deprive yourself. Give yourself 100-200 "free" calories everyday to eat or drink whatever you want.
6. Distract yourself for at least 15 minutes when a craving strikes. Go for a walk, call a friend or family member or even get a massage to melt tension and keep yourself occupied.
7. Practice mindful eating techniques. Chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing and engage your senses while doing so. Ask yourself "how does this taste?", "how does this smell?", etc. Avoid doing other tasks while eating as this easily leads to mindless eating and feeling unsatisfied.