How do you deal with cravings? With Halloween around the corner, the thought of mini chocolate bars and skittles have my craving alert going MAD!
Alright, let's hit the science of it first. Why do we have cravings in the first place? What is the process involved in our gut sending a signal to our brains that we want something sweet or salty... and we need it now?!
There are a few reasons why we have cravings:
1. Neurological. When we give in to our cravings we get a chemical reaction in our brains that feels OH so good. It makes us happy! It also works the same in the way that we become numb to small amounts of the food - our brains tell us more, more, more! Our brain needs more sugar or salty foods to get the chemical release that it needs to feel satisfied. This is the most common reason we get cravings, most of the reasons below all tie back to #1 in some way. (darn brain!)
2. We are deficient in certain nutrients. Likely because we are lacking balance in our diets. We need to make sure we are hitting macros, for instance, or at least getting a large dose of veggies in every day.
3. Memories, experiences, and smells can all trigger cravings for certain foods. Ah, the nostalgia of mini donuts at the fair. Can someone just come slap these out of my hands?
4. Our emotional and psychological environment. Stress, anxiety and food associations can all cause cravings. Some people are stress eaters, others eat when they get anxious. A symbolic association with food such as “baking a pie makes me happy” is another way our cravings are tied back to our feelings and thoughts.
5. Not eating enough food throughout the day. When we restrict ourselves from eating the proper amount and types of foods our body needs, we develop hunger cravings. Not eating enough overall is the #1 reason for binge eating. When we are underfed our gut sends signals to our brain (again) that you need to eat - and eat a lot. When you start eating it takes about 20 minutes for your gut to send the full signal to your brain to tell you to stop eating. So if you are gorging on a large pizza at night, because you didn’t eat enough during the day (#momlife) you will probably be full after 3 pieces, but if you ate those pieces very fast, you don’t give your body time to run its natural course. So instead of stopping when you were full, you crushed 3 more pieces of pizza by the time your fullness cues hit. (oops)
6. Eating too much food throughout the day. Yes, this can lead to cravings as well! (can't win!) If you eat when you aren’t hungry, your body never gets satisfied because you are eating when your body isn’t sending the signals for food. When you do this consistently, your body remembers when you eat and you will need more food to feel satisfied.
Now that we know why we get cravings, here is how we beat them.
One way to beat your cravings is to fight them at their own game. Cravings use the part of your brain that is responsible for sights and sounds. To shut off a craving try visualizing a brilliant picture, a landscape, or a sunrise. Think of exciting memories from your past, or activities that you enjoy. Since both your cravings and your visual memory come from the same parts of your brain, you are able to flip the switch on your cravings when you think about something else!
Another way to stop cravings in their tracks is with smells. Certain smells can trigger a craving. If you can replace that smell with something else you can stop the craving in its tracks! Aromatherapy scents like peppermint and jasmine are known to curb hunger.
Move your body. This is a simple one! Whenever you feel intense cravings do something physical to flip the switch and refocus your mind. Go for a walk, do some yoga, workout, even just a short 5-minute circuit can flip the switch in your brain and take your thoughts to a different place.
Give in to your cravings once in a while. (Phew!) Constantly restricting yourself from “bad” foods, or just being on a very restrictive diet will cause cravings. The longer you restrict yourself, the worse the cravings may get. Don’t let them get that bad. It is totally ok to enjoy yourself once in a while. Life is too short to never have dessert! The key is to just enjoy a normal sized portion and not go totally off the rails and eat an entire tub of ice cream or a box of cookies - which may or may not have happened in my life, shhhhh... ;)
Take the time to enjoy every bite, savor the flavor of whatever it is you are consuming.
The last tip I have for you is to make your treats count. Don’t eat something just because it is there. Have something amazing when you are going to treat yourself or at least make it something you really crave! Plan it into your weekly schedule, I've heard this works great for most people who meal prep/plan. Set aside one evening where you can have whatever it is you enjoy. When that night comes, have zero guilt about your “cheat” foods, enjoy yourself and then get back to your regularly scheduled nutrition plan. Also, don't be so hard on yourself. In one moment, you can get right back on track!
Dear Halloween Candy, you won't beat us this year!!