Part 2: Recoding
In part 1 of our food cravings series, we discussed some of the causes for cravings. Now we’re going to address how to pinpoint what’s causing your food cravings and how to take control of them.
How To Pinpoint What’s Causing Your Food Cravings:
You are hit with a craving for chocolate covered pretzels—what’s the first thing you should do? Pull out your phone and start typing!
One of the most important things you can do to figure out what’s causing your food cravings is to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. When you are hit with a food craving, write on a piece of paper or make a note in your phone the following points:
- What time did you first start to feel the craving?
- What is your current mood?
- Who are you with?
- What food are you craving?
- What about this food satisfies you?
- How much of this food do you need to satisfy the craving?
- What have you already eaten today?
- Have you failed to eat/drink something that you should have?
Once you have a few notes on some of your cravings, you can start making a plan on how to deal with them. Take a look at the “seven reasons for food cravings” that we mentioned in Part 1 of this series. Which ones apply to you?
How To Control Your Food Cravings:
Depending on the cause, there are specific ways to deal with your cravings. The changes you make do not have to be dramatic, but they do need to be consistent. Take a look at the suggestions below:
The first and easiest action you can take to overcome a craving is to have a refreshing glass of water. According to a survey of 3,003 Americans, by the Nutrition Information Center at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, up to 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. As we discussed earlier, dehydration often leads to the desire for foods that are high in sugar. So have a glass of water and get those nutrients flowing through your body!
Note: Having sodas and sweet juices will not satisfy dehydration and will only cause further dehydration as your body tries to excrete the excess sugar in them.
When we use food to deal with emotions, we tend to eat foods that we normally would refrain from in large quantities. You may get momentary pleasure from the food, but this is often just a side effect from the high amount of sugar that the food contains (which is why most people don’t binge on broccoli as a way to deal with stress). After the momentary sugar rush is over, we are often left with the same undealt emotions in addition to the guilt of having eaten something that we know won’t serve us well in the future.
So how do we get out of this spiral of binging and shaming? Start by dealing with the emotions. Whether that be through talking to a close friend or immersing yourself into an activity that destresses you. Different people work through emotions in different ways, so find one that works well for you.
Note: Make a habit of self-caring. Make time to do things that you enjoy. Whether that’s reading, yoga, or just taking a hot bath. If something good happens in your life, don’t be afraid to treat yourself and celebrate the win. Celebrating success is an essential component in emotional health and therefore avoiding emotional cravings.
Probably the hardest type of craving to break, chemical cravings simply must be waited out. Similar to a drug addict that goes through withdrawal, people withdrawing from chemicals such as sugar or caffeine will experience lightheadedness, sugar cravings, anxiety, depression, headaches, moodiness, irritability, tiredness, and muscle aches. These symptoms usually last anywhere from 1-4 weeks.
In most cases, it is not necessary to cut off the chemical completely. Slowly cutting back on the food or beverage makes for a smoother and easier transition without the messy withdrawal symptoms. When dealing with sugar, reducing the number of sodas, juices, sauces, and sugary snacks is a good first step. From there, the best thing to do is to crowd out the less healthy foods you eat by adding in healthier foods.
Blood sugar fluctuations often leave us sluggish and craving sugar to make us feel normal again. However, replacing your sugary mid-day snacks with snacks that are higher in protein and healthy fats can help you feel full for longer, as well as stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day.
Ask your doctor to check if you have any nutritional deficiencies. Most people are deficient in magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, so plan to eat foods rich in these nutrients. You can also take a multivitamin; however, the nutrients from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and meats are often more bioavailable, and therefore easier to absorb into the body.
Note: If you have any type of restrictive diet such as vegan, lactose-free, or ketogenic, you may be missing nutrients that you would usually get from those restrictive elements and plan to get those nutrients elsewhere.
The setting factor effects most people much more than they realize. If you’re at work and the only restaurants around are fast food, chances are that you are going to eat fast food more often. Conversely, if you surround yourself with people who are health conscious, you are more likely to make more health conscious decisions.
When it is possible, try to avoid settings that you know will result in unhealthy eating. More often though, it is not feasible to avoid settings that will tempt you, so planning for those temptations will be the best way to avoid them. If you work in an office that provides too many unhealthy snack options, bring in your own healthier alternatives. If you are going to a place with a lot of snacks that you love (ie. the supermarket or the movies) eat beforehand so that you are not as tempted to hit the snack section.
Ask yourself, are you actually eating because you are hungry and want to eat or just because there is nothing else to do. We are creatures that need stimulation, if we have extra time we will try to fill it with some sort of stimulation. Instead of feeding that need for stimulation with food, try to take on a hobby, exercise, or reading a book.
- Sleep – Often, when we are lacking sleep, our body is less able to absorb the nutrients that we need in order to get through the day. As a result, this causes us to crave the foods that give us the fastest source of calories, refined sugary snacks. Getting approximately 8 hours of sleep a night will help curve the need for these fast acting sugars and will help you better absorb the nutrients you are already eating.
- Eat slow – Eating slower allows us to enjoy the parts of our food that we crave, thus prolonging the satiation period. We also get full with less food due to the delay between food entering our stomach and the actual signal in the brain saying that we are full. In addition, chewing your food more makes the nutrients in the food more easily available for the body to absorb.
- Tongue scraper – Using a tongue scraper can help remove bacteria and micro food particles that could be feeding your craving mechanism.
- Chew sugar-free gum – a great alternative to mid-day snacking is just to chew some sugar-free gum. It helps satiate our need for something sweet and the chewing pleases our need for mastication (moving your jaw).
Figuring out how to control your cravings is an introspective adventure. Though it takes some effort at first, you will soon find that once the underlying cravings are dealt with, the food that used to control you suddenly become powerless. This process becomes enjoyable as you find out that you have more control over your life than you think. It’s important to be patient because not all of your cravings will be solved at once and most importantly enjoy the journey.
- Food Cravings Part 3 – Healthier snacking options
- We will discuss how to optimize your snacking experience so that you are snacking healthier and feeling fuller for longer.
Personal Trainer, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Rehab Specialist